An ambulance raced down the street on full alert, red lights flashing and sirens wailing. Cars moved to the right as the ambulance negotiated the tight fit and sped away.
I turned down the radio in my car and silently began to pray. I’ve been doing this since I was a child, praying for strangers in speeding ambulances.
I believe it was my grandmother who first encouraged me to do this. She was a devout Catholic, the sort who lit candles and prayed feverishly during storms to invoke heavenly protection (the same beloved grandmother who set the bedroom on fire with those same candles one stormy day). I remember her once praying out loud when an ambulance sped by us. Since that day, I automatically say a short Catholic prayer for the occupant of any speeding ambulance I encounter.
It’s a small thing. A quiet ritual. But it always make me feel good to do it. I like to believe my prayer is sending up a cosmic flare, helping someone who is vulnerable and probably in need of a prayer.
As it turns out, my habit of saying prayers for strangers in ambulances is not so unusual. I didn’t know this when I was praying alongside my grandmother that day many years ago, but we were actually practicing the principle of metta–or loving-kindness. Metta is used as a Buddist meditation to encourage compassion and kindness. In the meditation, one prays or focuses on sending loving thoughts to others.
The meditation often starts with one sending loving thoughts out into the world for himself/herself, before one moves on to share the gift of compassion with others: family, friends, community–even enemies. The idea is that we are all connected, united in love. Praying for you is like praying for me. Cultivating loving-kindness is about loving ourselves and others.
I love this practice. Here’s a popular version of the meditation:
I wish you loving kindness.
I wish that you be well, in mind, body and spirit.
I wish that you be safe, from inner and outer dangers,
I wish that you be happy, truly happy and free.
I do this meditation some mornings, starting with a prayer for myself. Then, I move on to loved ones, friends, other people (or countries) to whom I wish to extend love and compassion to on any given day. When I do this, I feel bonded, connected, across space and time and race and religion. I send out loving-thoughts and in my mind’s eye, see them land like dew drops across faraway land.
There’s something magical about prayer. Especially the kind that feel less like a petition or a note you owe to stay in someone’s good grace.
So, try it. Start sending loving-kindness prayers or thoughts. Send the homeless person on the street a kind thought instead of judgment. Beem a ray of loving-kindness to the guy in the cubicle next to you who talks too loud on the phone to his creditors. Pray for the cashier who is struggling to find the price for the boston bibb lettuce while you hold up the line.
Pray for the person in the ambulance racing past you.
Actively practice metta and send out loving thoughts to loved ones and to random people. You might not know the difference you make in that moment, but I promise, your loving thoughts will boomerang back to you.
Who knows? Maybe the next time you step on morning dew, it might be prayers I’ve left for you.