The ninth Paramita is Metta or lovingkindness. This is a quality we are very familiar with in class because I end each meditation with a metta practice, sending it first to ourselves, then to some person, a group or a situation in particular need of metta right now. And then to all beings: May all beings be well. May all beings be at ease. May all beings be at peace. May all beings be happy.
This is such a wonderful practice. In the middle of a difficult meditation, when the mind is glued to solving some life problem, it is hugely helpful to send metta to that problem or person, and then return to the breath. The practice is all we can do, and the best we can do, in that moment.
Since my paired intentions in life for a number of years have been to be present in this moment and to be compassionate with myself and others, metta practice is very much a part of how I am able to live my resolve. My students have also found it to be a very useful practice.
This week, focusing on metta itself, I led a full metta practice. So I include a recording of that practice here in case you want to try it. It attunes you to the true nature of metta. This particular practice is very helpful if you have difficulty being kind to yourself and for any reason feel you don’t deserve lovingkindness. It is includes the ‘difficult person’ component of the practice, and that is super helpful if you are struggling with someone in your life who pushes your buttons.
METTA PRACTICE (10 minute audio recording)
As mentioned in the audio recording, you can send metta from any distance. Sometimes you have a person in your life who is very draining, who activates difficult volatile emotions in you, and you aren’t feeling strong enough to be with them. That reminded me of this poem I wrote twenty years ago when I was recovering from a long illness:
Dirt Bag Dharma
I don’t know how long I had been ill…
Long enough to see myself as
fragile, wan, weak, in need of protection
from violent images and emotion
that could suck the life right out of me.
But I needed soil for my garden
and the young worker assigned to shovel
ten bags of dirt for me was apparently
way overdue for a break, and no doubt
had other grievances fueling his anger.
I backed off — to give him space, I thought,
but really more to give me space,
as I retreated to the cocoon of my car to wait.
Feeling guilty, I began to send him metta:
May you be well, may you feel ease.
At first the words had a begging quality
like the prayers of a small child, cowering
in a corner, terrified of the boogey man.
But the words became an invocation
And suddenly I saw myself more clearly:
how knotted in fear I seemed,
as knotted as the worker out there
both of us suffering our grievances.
The metta repeated became a shaft of light
breathing into me, releasing me
from my victim stance, revealing instead
my capacity to be a conduit
of compassionate healing energy.
Across the muddy yard, I saw him too.
still shoveling dirt into bags,
still bent, still angry, still suffering.
So I returned to his side and soon
we were chatting — who knows about what,
it didn’t matter, because — all the while
I breathed in his suffering and out that radiant light.
Soon his shoulders softened,
his voice lost its edge. I heard a low
chuckle at something I said,
and when his boss yelled another order,
he didn’t bark or bristle as he’d done before.
Instead he smiled at me, rolled his eyes as if to say,
‘Maybe it’s not much, but it’s mine and I can handle it.’
In that moment, standing amidst in the mud,
amidst my ten bags full of dirt,
it dawned on me that I am well.
I have taught and written so much about metta over the past decade of teaching that I’m just going to supply links to previous posts.
Anxiety about the election?
This is from another political season, where we explore sending lovingkindness to the candidate we are voting against. Now there’s a challenge that brings up the true meaning of metta and adds clarity to our understanding.
Trouble with a relationship?
This post includes examples from my students about the difference sending metta has made in their relationships.
People you think don’t deserve lovingkindness?
This is an exploration with good stories and examples of the infinite quality of metta and the trouble with trying to withhold it from the ‘undeserving’.
Metta is also the first of the Four Brahmaviharas, or ‘heavenly abodes’, another set of Buddhist teachings. These are beneficial states that are both practices and experiences of being: Metta or lovingkindness; Karuna, compassion; Mudita, empathetic joy; and Uppekka, equanimity. We spend most time focusing on metta, because that practice leads quite naturally to the other three.
May you be well. May you be at ease. May you be at peace. May you be happy.