By Hari Srinivasan
The Albany Waterfront Trail meanders behind the Golden Gate Fields Racecourse in Albany, CA and hugs the bay as it stretches to a little strip of land, simply known as the “Albany Bulb.” It’s a chance to see the Bay Bridge on one side and the Golden Gate Bridge on the other, even as the sun sets over the silver ocean at dusk. Nature and the universe continue to shower their infinite love upon all us humans living on this beautiful planet that we call home.
As I was ambling along the trail, I came across this sign painted on a wood bench:
“Love Each Other, Wear A Mask.”
It is such a simple statement, just six words, yet profound in its own way. We live in a time of global pandemic due to the spread of a new virus that we have not yet quite understood, and wearing a mask seems like a very simple ask. Do we not wear shoes to prevent harmful microbes on the ground from entering through the skin on our feet; it's not foolproof, but it gets the job done for the most part. And, it’s not uncommon for us to wear a mask when we catch the common cold so we don’t spread the cold to others or when we have the flu; both of which are viruses too. Given that COVID-19 is a respiratory airborne virus, it seems logical that we wear a mask to cover our nose and mouth. It is not just about protecting yourself but also being mindful of protecting those around you.
But what is even more timeless, is the first part of the statement, “Love Each Other.” We all witnessed the hoarding of toilet paper and panic buying earlier this year as soon as the Pandemic began. But during this time of global crisis, we also saw unprecedented levels of altruism, generosity and kindness towards strangers across the world. We had almost reached a state of “Agape,” the Greco-Christian term for unconditional love of our fellow human beings or the Sanskrit “Metta;” in transcending consideration of the self into seeking what’s best for others.
It turns out that humans are innately built for love, goodness, kindness and compassion.
So how do we consciously move towards this state so that this innate goodness becomes a part of our everyday existence?
In my class on “Basic Issues in Cognition” at UC Berkeley, we learned that loving kindness actually begins by developing acceptance towards oneself, and if there was resistance, it usually indicated feelings of unworthiness. If you cannot love yourself, you are an empty cup with nothing to give to others.
Professor Davina Chan led us through a simple loving kindness exercise, which can be practiced daily for a few minutes.
Start with Loving Kindness towards yourself by repeating:
May I be happy
May I abide in well-being
May I be secure
May I dwell in safety.
This warmth is then directed towards others, first to people you care about then extended to acquaintances, strangers and even those you regard as enemies.
Regular practice of simple actions can thus lead to an avalanche of profound change within ourselves and the world. The wood bench on the trail, sums it up - “Love each other. Wear a mask.”
Let us begin today!