The other day I was telling my teenage daughter how odd it is (if you think about it — which I do) that if you are having trouble with some object — let’s say a cell phone that loses it’s signal — it’s considered completely normal, perfectly reasonable behavior to curse that object and treat it roughly. You might say something like “You @%&** piece of junk! Why are you doing this to me?!” You might slam it down and push it away from you in disgust. On the other hand, if you were to do the opposite — thank the object, cradle it lovingly, and appreciate it every time it worked — well, then people would think you were a complete lunatic. If you overheard a co-worker at their desk saying, “Good morning, dear pen. Thank you for flowing with ink every time I need to write something. I really appreciate you. I can always rely on you,” you would think that person had gone completely round the bend. But if you heard that same person muttering obscenities at their slow computer, you would feel that they were just acting as any normal, sane person would if their computer were failing them at a critical moment.
I just think it’s odd, I told my daughter, that if we treat objects as adversaries we find that to be sane behavior, while treating objects as friends would indicate your being out of touch with reality. How wonderful would it be, I asked her, if we treated everything in the world (whether a living, breathing creature or an inanimate object) lovingly — as we would a child or a friend.
My daughter laughed and said that just the previous night, she had removed her glasses to get ready for bed (her vision is quite blurry without her glasses) and saw what she thought was her black sweater lying on her bed. She went to grab the sweater and toss it to the floor. As soon as she grabbed the sweater though, it yowled. She pulled back her hand as soon as she realized that this was obviously not her sweater, but the family cat. As she smiled and recalled this story, she reflected that if she had treated her sweater with respect and gentleness, she would not have alarmed the cat.
As she finished telling me the story, she absently picked up a book that was lying out where we were sitting: a small volume called “The Buddha’s Little Instruction Book” by Jack Kornfield. She smiled and handed me the book. “This is a weird coincidence,” she said. I looked at the page that the book had opened to. It read, “Like the mother of the world, touch each being as if it were your beloved child.”
Of course, sometimes the world requires more than a gentle touch. It requires firmness, strength, direction. As I told a friend recently when we discussed this idea of treating the world as beloved: when a child’s bone is broken, it sometimes requires firm force to be reset, then needs to be splinted until it can be healed well enough to bear weight and grow in a healthy direction once again. But this action, though it may be painful, is not done with violent force or the intention to cause harm.
Treating the world as beloved means we touch the world with the intention of bringing healing, comfort, joy, and strength. It requires us to be lovingly aware. And that awareness requires us to have the wisdom to know when we must be gentle and when we must be firm; when we gaze with adoration and when we move to take action.
If we treat the world lovingly, we will never fail it, or ourselves.