As most of you know, Metta (or Loving Kindness) is one of four Brahma Viharas (or Divine Abodes), along with Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity. We practice cultivating these virtues in order to open and balance the heart.
Metta is a mental state more than a feeling or a reaction. Practicing Metta purifies the mind, releasing fears and doubts. Over time, we develop unconditional friendliness and let go of negative judgments about ourselves and others. We learn to receive life as it is, without trying to manipulate it or to change it according to our preferences.
Life flows like an eternal river, and we are happiest when we follow its natural current without resistance. As we learn to bring appreciation to each pleasant moment and compassion to each unpleasant moment, we foster contentment and inner peace.
The Buddha taught that people who love themselves don’t harm others intentionally. So it is worthwhile to act like your own best friend, offering yourself friendship. We long to be recognized for who we really are, but we resist exploring what lies beneath our idealized self-image. When we can accept ourselves just as we are, we are freer to change our unhealthy habits.
Nobel Peace Prize-winner Gandhi identified seven sins:
Wealth without work
Pleasure without consciousness
Knowledge without character
Commerce without morality
Science without humanity
Aspirations without sacrifice
Politics without principles
His grandson Arun added an 8th sin:
Rights without responsibility
Meditation teacher Marie Mannschatz says that Dharma practitioners are on a path of self-education in a course that lasts for the rest of their lives.
Metta practice helps us discover an inner teacher, whose message is, “Be kind to your self and to others.” Loving oneself is different from egotism, which is associated with addiction to desires, physical contraction, and separation from other people. Healthy self-love is characterized by liberation, physical relaxation, and generosity towards others.
During a Spirit Rock retreat one March, we practiced sending Metta to a difficult part of ourselves and to a difficult person who represents that aspect. The characteristics that most bother us in others often mirror our own unacknowledged characteristics. Trudy Goodman, a meditation teacher and psychotherapist, reminds us that difficult behavior stems from unfulfilled needs. When we act unskillfully, it takes extra practice to treat ourselves kindly.
On the month-long retreat, there was a meditator who was so distracted and rushed that sometimes she bumped into people who were walking with slow, attentive steps. I noticed my impatience with her speediness and her insensitivity towards others. During Metta practice, I recognized the anxiety beneath her hyperactivity, and I faced my own tendency, when I’m anxious, to speak or act impulsively without consideration for people around me. After I practiced substituting Metta for harsh judgments about this shared tendency, I was less bothered by the rapid rhythms of my fellow meditator.
EX: Identify a difficult characteristic in yourself.
Visualize a person who embodies this same characteristic.
Repeat several times to yourself:
May I accept myself and my imperfections.
May I accept imperfections in others.
Now we’ll send loving-kindness in turn to ourselves, to loved ones, to a neutral person, and to all beings everywhere. With traditional Metta practice, we use four simple, honest phrases that we plant like seeds in the heart.
Sense your heart resonating with the last word in each phrase:
May I be peaceful and happy.
May I be healthy in body and mind.
From inner and outer harm may I be safe.
From all suffering may I be free.