Metta Meditation: Meditation on Loving Kindness
It is hard for most of us to be in a continuous state of loving kindness towards other living things. It is not easy. We get disappointed, we disappoint; others are angry at us, we are angry at them; people don’t understand us, we don’t understand them; they hurt us, we hurt them.
In a book called the Dhamma Pada, Gauthama Buddha has this to say
All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts:
If a person speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage. If a person speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.
For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule.
Loving Kindness meditation is one of the foundations of Vipassana (Seeing Things As They Are) or Insight Practice in Buddhism. It is a companion to the sitting, walking, and doing mindfulness practices, and like them, has as its foundation, the mindfulness of the in and out breath.
It is not easy to have loving kindness always, even to the ones we love, let alone to people we have aversion to, those we dislike mildly, or those we really dislike strongly, especially to those we feel have wronged us. It certainly may seem paradoxical or nonsensical to wish loving kindness to people who appear evil: criminals, murderers, mass murderers. In Buddhism we say those people are ignorant. They lack true happiness. The kind of happiness that takes nothing away from anyone else’s happiness. If they had that–true happiness, and wisdom, they would not commit crimes against the living. So we lose nothing by wishing that for them. What we gain is a softening of our own bitter hardness, a lightening of our own hot burning, of the weights the pull down our hearts and minds, a relief from the kind of feelings that make us ill, feelings that are not useful or necessary.
Let’s keep it simple. At my and your level it’s simply true that we just make ourselves sick with our feelings of aversion, our resentments, grudges, balance sheets, dislikes, hatreds, meanness, spite.
(We can make ourselves sick with our likes, too, of course, too much delicious food, etc.)
Our feelings of aversion, our holding of hatred and grudges is a huge weight that pulls us down, that preoccupies us, that even leads us to shoot ourselves in the foot by being unable to interact wisely with difficult people in our lives, from our own siblings or parents to the boss we dislike, to coworkers, etc.
In our sitting practice, whether practicing noting, or choice less awareness, whether working with mindfulness of sensations, emotions, or thoughts, our foundation, ground, stability comes from awareness of the breath, the “mindfulness of the in and out breath.”
It is the stability and comfort we gain from this practice that enables us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, whether that be unpleasant physical sensations; unpleasant emotional states; or any of the other infinite things we are capable of being averse to, of struggling against. That includes thoughts and memories revolving around people we have unpleasant pasts, unpleasant presents, and potentially unpleasant futures with. It could be your older sister, or it could just be the guy who cut you off on the road while giving you a vulgur gesture.
Let’s pose a question. The last example. The guy who cut you off and gave you the finger. Does anyone think he is not suffering? If he were happy and without fear would he have done that? One of our Rabbis said, “let he who is innocent, cast the first stone.” Cannot other people be different or wrong, when we ourselves are different and so often wrong?
So we lose nothing by intending him good will and loving kindness, and at the same time our heart is lightened, and our capacity for letting go of these feelings of aversion is expanded.
A man in a truck yelled at me when he saw that I rolled through a stop sign on my bicycle. It was a tiny street. There were no cars. I did not feel like braking fully. But he saw me, and it affected him enough to yell at me. Who knows why? Maybe he wanted to protect me from myself. Maybe it upset his sense of order. Maybe that created fear for him. Maybe he is a control freak. Why is anyone a control freak? Attempts to control the others is usually a result of fear, some attempt to prevent the thing the controller is averse to. An attempt to avoid suffering. An unwise attempt, usually, that just creates more suffering, for oneself and now others.
So when the controller learns to be present with the discomfort that lack of control gives, then he does not need to shout things at strangers. When the stranger can stop and think, sincerely or not, “may you be happy, may you be safe, may you be healthy…” then he sets the wheel turning that stops the hatred and fighting.
I was able to do that that day, because I had meditated, was feeling peaceful, and so was able to see beyond the pinched muscles of anger on that guy’s face, and consider other possibilities. That’s what this is about, opening up what is closed. Practicing love is very practical in that creates space for other possibilities, for a thousand shades of grey, rather than just black and white.
Here is how the practice works.
Sitting Loving Kindness Meditation
Its this simple:
1) Begin your mindfulness of the in and out breath. Gently close your eyes. Get comfortable. Feel your whole body breathing in and out. In your nostrils, your lungs, your belly, your skin. What your breathing feels like.
2) After a while, thinking of yourself, repeat–softly, gently, lightly, with real meaning, “May I Be Happy, May I Be Healthy, May I Be Safe, May I Be Peaceful.”
3) Try that on for size, being mindful of your reactions as you repeat these words. Are there any physical sensations, resistance? Do you feel embarassed? selfish? See what it feels like to cultivate good will and love to yourself.
See what it feels like to let go of self hatred and criticism. So much holding. Have mercy on you. It may be healing for some of us. May it be healing for some of us.
4) After doing this for a while, one day, one week, try thinking of someone you love, your child, spouse, dog, friend,
someone without much complications, and repeat the same process: the wish, the intention, the observance of your reactions, softly, gently, without trying to change anything, without judgment, a scientist, not a judge, an observer/feeler in real time.
5) Now repeat the process with someone you have challenges with, someone you dislike. This may be difficult at first. Watch what happens, note if it is difficult; using you mindfulness of the breath as a comfortable ground locate the sensations associated with aversion and track them, follow them, note how the aversion softens, notice if things change over time as you hold the space of loving kindness. You may not be able to summon a genuine feeling of love or good will. That is o.k. What you are doing is summoning an intention. Just as when you take a step with your foot, before you move the foot, there is the intention to move the foot. Here we are building on the foundation of intention. It builds over time through practice. And good will is limitless, the opposite of the tightening we experience with aversion, judgment, and dislike.
These are not affirmations. This is finding even a hint, a trace, inside your self, of the desire to be happy, and watering that hint, that trace, with these simple phrases, “May you be happy, may you be safe, may you be healthy.”
There is a similarity here to elements of prayer, except we are not praying to a higher being, rather we are treating our own hearts like good gardens that deserve water of mind, cultivating good will and all the stability that good will gives us.
Even if this feels artificial at first, over time you will get to experience how your feelings of aversion cannot hold on in the face of conscious good will combined with mindfulness of your present experience. Everything is impermanent, even our feelings of aversion. They change, they grow stronger and harder, they grow softer and weaker. This is a method to hasten the softening of aversion and liberate us from the tyranny of grudges and ill will. As with mindfulness of the in and out breath, there is a great stability that comes over time with loving kindness practice.
And stability is a foundation for the rest of our practice.
People always say to let go. But how can you let go? This is a way. As things we thought were so fixed loosen in our meditation, we find less identification with our thoughts and feelings, more spacious experience, even forgiveness, a softening of the heart.
One objection some might have is on the political sphere, the sphere in which there is fighting for injustice. How can we fight injustice without feeling anger?
There is a difference between feeling anger and being angry.This meditation is not about rolling over to be taken advantage of. Just look at how much was accomplished in the civil rights struggle through non-violence and love by Dr. King and his disciples
Buddhist monks in Tibet fight for justice. But it is a fight in which the means and end are the same. Some of the most grounded firm people I have seen are Buddhist monks. And they speak up. But they are firm without hatred, they stand for a belief without making themselves and others sick from their beliefs. Without doing harm.
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