Last year around this time we went on a family vacation to Walt Disney World. My husband and I made a decision before we went that we would embrace the experience completely. That we would not allow knee jerk cynicism or sarcasm to be our fall back position which it very often can be. That doesn’t mean that we walked around wearing mouse ears, nor could we bring ourselves to eat those giant turkey legs that seemed to be readily available at all times of day. However, on that first evening when the sun started to set and the sky turned a specific shade of orange that triggered the castle in the magic kingdom to be lit up in the perfect complementary shade of lavender, I allowed my heart to swell. I did not entertain the little voice in my head that was insisting that I was a sucker for being manipulated. It felt awesome to believe, and it is outrageously beautiful when the sky is orange and the castle is purple and your family is happy.
There were many rides that the boys wanted to go on that Mae was too small for, and given that riding in the back seat of a car makes me sick I was happy to pass on the roller coasters. So, for some portion of every day, Mae and I would find a shady spot and watch the people go by. The thing about Disney that no one tells you is, it is the best place to practice Loving Kindness meditation. Everyone comes to Disney to have fun, to be the best version of themselves, to revel in a curated experience of togetherness, and most importantly everyone is working to stay present. There is every kind of variety in the crowds, every color, every age and size, there is an enormous tolerance for special needs of any kind. The tickets to the parks are expensive but there is every variety of residence option, and food plan, and day rate or special. Disney is inclusive, and consuming, it is almost impossible for your mind to wander from the experience because you are making every effort to stay present.
When I was a kid I used to play a game in my head, I would look at strangers and try and imagine I loved them as much as I loved my mom and dad. I would really focus on their faces, or hands, and wait until I felt that feeling in my chest that I associated with love; and I would aim it at them, imagining I loved them as much as I loved the people who defined my whole universe. The first time I heard about Loving Kindness meditation, I recognized it as a formal version of this childhood game. Disney, is the perfect place to practice this. It is a world of strangers, but they are all walking around with their hearts open. Every day as the boys sped up and down man made mountains, I would watch the people go by and try and imagine that I loved them. That I felt the same generosity of spirit towards the English couple with the matching face tattoos, as I did to the family with the adopted Ethiopian twins, and the man with the oxygen tank on the motorized cart, and the legions of families in between. I would watch them being their best most awake selves, and my heart would fill with incredible love and affection for what we can be.
I have been on several meditation retreats in the last few years. They have all been at beautiful, peaceful centers in the woods. The food has been amazing in its simplicity, and the staff has been young, eager and pierced. I have loved these experiences. However, it was that trip to Disney that reminded me what it really means to be open and connected. To watch perfect strangers go by and to connect with their experience and know that it was mine as well, was incredibly powerful. I still play the game in my head, looking at someone until I can feel myself love them. When I was a kid as soon as I felt that intense love, I would look down or look away, overwhelmed by it. Now, I am hoping people feel it. The world would be a very different place if we approached each other with our Disney face on, wanting to be present, connected and loved.
Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg is an amazing resource to learn more about the formal practice of a loving kindness meditation. It is one of my favorites.