'Neutral People' by Jeremy Lander
In Metta Bhavana (the cultivation of loving kindness) we usually meditate on three selected people - a friend, a neutral person and a difficult person - plus ourselves of course! Neutral people are usually the most difficult to bring to mind. By their very nature they are the people we feel indifferent towards; we probably don’t know their names, and we have no narrative to attach to them. They are literally forgettable. But, occupying the space between the polar opposites of our friends and difficult people, lie these ‘inbetweeners’, the neutral people who make up the vast majority of the people we see, and - minus the few people we interact closely with - the mass of people on earth we call humanity.
One of the positives of the current crisis is that it has encouraged us to pay more attention to neutral people, the people we know only by their function; the supermarket shelf-fillers and checkout people, the delivery drivers, bus drivers, refuse collectors, milk deliverers, postal workers, nurses and hospital cleaners. Normally we do not consciously think of them as the living, hoping, struggling, feeling human beings they are, though not through any malice on our part. But now, with COVID 19, we have become more conscious of them. In fact, we have been specifically asked to pay close attention to them - or at least we were - during the Thursday Clap, an extraordinary and unprecedented recognition of neutral people.
The huge number of people that inhabit that space in between those we are close to and those we want to avoid gives us an inexhaustible supply of neutral people to cultivate loving kindness towards, though we still need to focus on their faces or voices when we meditate.
In a profound sense we should also remember that WE are neutral people. Although the ego is a powerful program that is hard-wired into us, we are not, no matter how much we may think otherwise, the star of the movie. And so what do all those neutral people think about us as we pass by? Unless we happen to be celebrities the answer is: not much if anything. The practice of Metta Bhavana towards neutral people is therefore one of great generosity. With our friends and our difficult people we can see the benefit to us - a closer relationship with our friends, and equanimity with our difficult people perhaps. But we have nothing to gain by cultivating kindness towards neutral people. There is no drama, and mindfulness is not about the dramatic. It is more often about paying attention to the ordinary, so that our indifference disappears and the object of our attention ceases to be neutral, is no longer ordinary.
Martin Luther King once said:
“It really boils down to this: all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.
Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent upon most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed you by a Pacific Islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning and that is poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you desire to have cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world.
This is the way our universe is structured. It is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality”.