Category Archives: loving kindness

Love doesn’t have to hurt.

Metta heartsWhen we talk about love we may mean romantic love or the family and friendship ties that bind us in a love that varies in degree and complexity, depending on our own nature and what each party contributes and expects from the other. Think of all the relationships in your life. Each one has it’s own course, doesn’t it? Some are lifelong, some are brief interactions. Almost all are complicated.

Try this little exercise:
Pause and bring to mind a person with whom you once had loving feelings but no longer do.

Looking at that relationship, let yourself remember what was the initial connection: physical attraction, chemistry, shared experience, shared values, shared confidences or something else entirely.

Answer any of these questions that readily activate a response:

  • What was your initial goal in that relationship?
  • What were you planning to have happen that maybe didn’t?
  • How did that person fail to live up to their part of the deal?
  • How did you fail to live up to your part of the bargain?
  • What would have made the relationship a success?
  • What was that person’s agenda in the relationship, as far as you can tell? Was the agenda overt or hidden? Was it different from yours?

Before you get too caught up in a painfully familiar mental romp or rant, let’s look at the words in this exploration: Goal. Plan. Failure. Deal. Bargain. Success. Agenda.

What do they have in common? What world are they a part of?
Clearly these are all business terms. What business does business have in our relationships? We don’t like to think of love relationships in these terms. But if answers to the questions came up for you, then the business model fits, doesn’t it?

To whatever degree you suffered from the end of that relationship, I send you metta, infinite loving-kindness, and apologies for bringing it up. But I did it for a reason: It is valuable to distinguish between love that brings joy and love that causes suffering. And the difference is tied up in those business words. Love that causes suffering is a negotiation, and we think it’s not going well or it failed because we didn’t understand ‘the art of the deal’.  Sad.

Love that activates authentic joy is not a business transaction. It is not confined by the limited view of ‘I’ and ‘you’. It doesn’t require a return on investment. It doesn’t require a winner or a loser. It doesn’t circumscribe a small group of people who by reason of blood, hormones, preferences or proximity are the ‘us’ that in turn defines some external ‘them’ for whom we have no love or maybe even understanding.

Love that activates true joy, softens the heart, and deepens contentment is called metta in Pali and maitri in Sanskrit. There is no English word that properly captures its meaning. Some people call it friendliness. I call it infinite loving-kindness. Every meditation I lead, I end by doing a traditional abbreviated metta practice of well wishing, first to ourselves, then to someone (or a group of people or a situation) that’s in particular need of loving kindness right now. Then out and out so that we are sending metta 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.

But there is a longer traditional practice that actually teaches us how to access the ability to send metta. Many people are uncomfortable with sending metta to themselves, feeling they don’t deserve it. Many people find resistance sending metta to a challenging or difficult person. This practice helps in both cases.

Take a few minutes to meditate, and then give this metta practice a try.

EXTENDED METTA led by Stephanie Noble

This practice is not just for meditation. Activate infinite loving-kindness whenever you are being hard on yourself or someone else in your thoughts. Someone cuts in front of you? Send them some loving-kindness: May you be well. Someone in your life causing you heartache or headache? Send them some loving-kindness: May you be at ease. Discovering yourself putting yourself down in some way? Send metta: May you be at peace.

Metta practice grows joy in the moment and in your life, expanding in ripples out in all directions. Perhaps you are actively working with energy. Or perhaps you are simply grounding yourself in a loving space. Either way the effect is powerful, transforming your relationship with everyone and everything around you.

This all sound pretty good, right? Naturally we would prefer to love in a way that creates joy, not all the suffering that comes with clinging, worrying, trying to match the other person’s level of engagement, etc. But we have been loving in one way for so long, and our culture totally supports that way, fascinated by all the emotional turmoil, intrigue and drama. We may want to get rid of the suffering way and switch over to the joyful way, but pushing anything away just activates more suffering. Instead, we use the mindful tools we have been developing:

We cultivate spaciousness to hold all that is arising in our experience. If what is arising is the limiting entangling kind of love, then we cultivate spaciousness to hold all that tangled mess in a compassionate way.

We also do inquiry, noticing that kind of love’s thorny nature. Without judging it, we can simply be present with it. This clear seeing softens our attachment to it. Just like some junk food you might be addicted to, if you saw how it was actually made, you might go off it. When we see the toxic components of this long-suffering love, we see how ill-fitting it is, how insidious it can be, how it is all surface glamour with no depth, all soap opera and no real feeling, all fear and not in fact love at all.

Seeing that, we might want to toss love on the junk heap and live a life of solitude. While there’s nothing wrong with solitude, we often choose it as a way of hiding from something we are afraid of. Perhaps we’ve come to the conclusion that we’re no good at relationships, and we accept that judgment without inquiry. Naturally, as part of our practice, we’ll want to question such assumptions: Is this true? How do I know this is true? Examples of failure in relationships will arise to answer these questions, but there is likely to be more answers than we have previously noticed. We stay with the process, continuing to cultivate spaciousness and compassion to hold it all in an open loving embrace.

Whatever we find, we do metta practice. This practice can become an inherent part of our being present in the world. We can do it whenever we think of someone. We can do it when we are with someone. We can do it for ourselves every time we feel ourselves faltering. Metta practice keeps us in touch with the expansive nature of all being. It softens the seemingly impermeable barrier between this seemingly finite person and a world of seemingly other beings. How joyful it is when recognize there are no barriers, that we are all one infinite ongoing cycle of life loving itself.

As to those negotiated relationships, hold them in loving-kindness. See when you are slipping into a contractual state of mind; send metta to yourself and the other person.

If you are doubting this will make a difference, just try it. It can’t hurt. And if you discover it does make a difference, let me know! I love gathering stories of the wondrous effects of metta.

The Ripple Effect

The impact of our words and actions cause a ripple effect beyond our immediate circle of family, friends, neighbors, associates and brief encounters with strangers. Each impact affects them and in turn everyone in their circles, rippling out further and further until no being is untouched. This is true for each one of us. We are all powerful. Our words and actions truly matter.


This ripple effect has no time boundaries. My parents died over twenty years ago, my grandparents over forty years ago, yet their words are alive in me, still affecting my idea of self and my interpretation of situations. Their words or actions are still sending ripples reverberating down the generations to my children, their children and beyond; to nieces, nephews; to friends and casual acquaintances and their progeny. There truly is no end to it, especially to harsh statements with echoes that keep wounding again and again. The self-doubt that sabotages me so often comes in the form of ‘Who am I to do…?’ My aunt says this is the question the women in my family have lived with for generations. No need to keep us barefoot and pregnant! It seems we have a built in self-stifling mechanism. I doubt this is something exclusive to my family. Does it sound familiar to you? Recognition of the power of our actions and words might make us afraid to say or do anything for fear of causing harm. We could become very self-conscious and tentative. Or it could inspire us to be fully conscious, to be present in this moment and to generate universal loving-kindness. (Which sounds kinda sappy until you do it.) To be present in the moment takes practice. (See basic instructions.) Transmitting lovingkindness is also a practice that begins with ourselves first (May I be well. May I be happy. May I be at peace.) because otherwise we are saying we don’t deserve it. In this way we belittle ourselves and think our words and actions don’t matter. When we think we are of little consequence in the world, the consequences to ourselves and those around us can be painful, sometimes even catastrophic. As you know all too well, the news is filled with the horror stories of some person’s destructive actions. Notice how that someone is always reported to have felt powerless. We are each of us powerful. We don’t acquire it or earn it. This is not a pep-talk. Power is a pre-existing condition of life. It is just the nature of our interconnection, the ripple effect of our actions and words. Through meditation we develop the skill to be fully in the moment, awake and connected. We can sense the ripple effect that we and all beings have in the world. If this seems like an overwhelming responsibility, relax. Remember that at the same time this is true, it is also true that our whole galaxy is only a speck in the cosmos and we are one of seven billion people on this little planet. So it is not all up to us to save the world or to solve every problem.
We can look at history and see that one person can make a difference in the world. Look at Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. to name just a few. They weren’t born any more powerful than any other person on the planet. They just used their power as skillfully as they were able for the benefit of all beings. Of course, we don’t need to be high-profile to make a difference. We are all powerful in our own ways, using the skills we inherit and the ones we develop as the natural expressions of the life force that we are. But even more important than believing that we each CAN make a difference is understanding that we each ARE making an impact on the world already. If we are stuck in fear, feeling powerless, our words, actions and non-actions are causing pain. If we are present, if we can let go of the need to prove anything to anyone, then we send out powerful waves of loving-kindness that benefit all beings for generations to come. Now that is power!

Metta resistant? Exploring deeper.

Some people are uncomfortable with sending metta (loving-kindness), but metta practice is an important part of awakening to the present moment. Why? Because metta is the way we can stay fearless in the face of what terrifies us in any given moment. That’s right! Loving-kindness may sound like some wimpy practice, but it is brave and valiant! Practice it and you will see this for yourself.

In class we did another extended metta practice. Metta uses phrases in the form of “May I be…”, ‘May you be…” and “May all beings be…”. These blessings are empowering. They are not begging for something from someone far away. (If you believe in God, don’t imagine your God as small and distant. Let God be infinite! That is the nature of God.) Metta is infinite and we quiet down enough to attune to it. In this state we are able to be both receptors of and conduits for metta. This is most definitely not a wimpy practice!


But perhaps if you feel resistance, it is not the wimpy factor but the woo-woo factor. Okay, I get that. I’m very uncomfortable with anything that seems too ‘out there’ myself. There’s this inner skeptic that just shudders. That’s good in that I don’t easily succumb to any old idea that comes down the pike, but it’s unfortunate in that even something that is valid and valuable may just be too much for me to embrace. 

There are two things that can help you if you feel the same. First, Buddhism’s been around 2500 years and is a solid established set of teachings that works. Second, science is catching up! The deeper research goes into understanding the nature of energy and matter, the more it sounds like Buddhist teachings. I doubt there’s a scientific study on metta per se, but I also have no doubt there will be. Waiting around for some white-coat in a lab to tell you it’s okay is kinda wimpy. Give metta practice a try and see for yourself.


Even though I always use the same four blessings: ‘May you be well’, ‘…at ease’, ‘…at peace’ and ‘…happy’, you might choose variations on those. For example, a traditional one is ‘May you be free from harm.’ I don’t use that one because it is more complex and incorporates a word — ‘harm’ — that brings forth constricting mental imagery.


If you find different phrases that feel right for you, feel free to use them instead. But remember that they are not requests for specific outcomes, like, ‘May I win the lottery” or ‘May my son ace his test.’ This kind of specificity cuts out the infinite nature of metta. It’s back to just you thinking you know best, wishing for something out of fear. Very constricting and definitely not metta.

Here is a deeper look at the ones I use:


May you be well.
This covers all physical and mental imbalances that cause any kind of disease. By sending the metta of wellness to ourselves and others, we are attuning the balancing energy of wellness. We do not have to provide any other prescription or cure. We do not have to define the illness. May you be well is sufficient for the purpose.
Clearly this is not to be confused with any anti-medical agenda. May you be well might include, without actual mention, ‘may you be smart enough to go see the doctor’. But for the purposes of well wishing, if we get specific we are putting too much of a constraint on the energy, putting it too much through our own knowledge based, instead of allowing it to activate a field of energy and allow for whatever needs to happen to happen.
Sometimes ‘May you be well’ is in effect, ‘may you be well in this time of transitioning out of life’ when sent to someone who is dying. ‘May you be well’ accepts Wise View of the nature of impermanence and interconnection.


May you be at ease.
As we sit in meditation, we become aware of tension in the body and mind. We learn ways to release the tension to whatever degree we are able. We can see how this tension is the way the body holds onto the stories of the past and the fears for the future that keep us from being fully present. If we let go of the tension in the body then the mind is better able to stay fully present in this, the only moment that exists. All other moments are just thoughts — memories and imaginings. This is the ease that we are wishing for ourselves and others. May you find ease in this moment. It’s not about having an easy life, living in the lap of luxury, only sitting on the softest of chairs. However, if you find that you tend toward harshness and spartan ways, a little of that kind of ease would not go amiss!


May you be at peace.
This is a blessing that acknowledges that within each of us is an ongoing struggle. Various aspects of self (rooted in misunderstanding of experiences we were too young or too blind to understand at the time) vie for power over our thoughts and actions. As we sit in meditation and our thoughts settle down, we are able to hear the ones that arise more clearly. We can see the contentious nature of the things we constantly tell ourselves. We can see the inner struggle.
So this blessing creates a spacious quality of awareness and understanding that creates a peaceful abiding within us. When a fear-based thought arises, it is seen, acknowledged but as it passes through the spaciousness of metta and awareness, it is just a thought, and doesn’t have the power to cause harm. This is blessing we give ourselves and others through our wish for peace.


May you be happy.
This blessing may feel like someone is suggesting we just ‘snap out of it’ and put on a happy face. Given all the good things in life, they feel we should be happy or we are ingrates.


When sending this and other blessings to a ‘difficult person’ we might have resistance as well: If that person is bent on doing something immoral, aren’t we wishing them success in this wrongful endeavor?


In both cases, we need to better understand the nature of metta. The happiness we are talking about is not the result of any external cause or condition. It is not the thrill of achieving or acquiring anything. It is a joy that arises when we savor the experience of being alive in any moment, regardless of circumstances. This comes from understanding the nature of impermanence and interconnection; and that grasping, clinging and pushing away cause suffering. Challenging experiences are seen more clearly. With metta we are empowered to face fear that in the past has made us run the other way. We are better able to hold the joy and the sorrow of life with equanimity. This is what we wish for ourselves and for all others. We recognize that harmful behavior is a reaction to fear. So if someone is behaving badly, sending metta is not condoning their behavior. It is addressing their core fear, and in doing so might cause a shift of understanding within them. But when we send metta we are not trying to change anyone. We don’t need to! Accessing metta is powerful beyond measure and doesn’t need or benefit from specific instruction from us.


Metta in any moment
Sending lovingkindness is not something we reserve for a particular time of day when we are sitting in meditation. In every moment we have perfect opportunities to practice metta. For example, when driving, if another driver does something really unskillful, that could have killed us, we naturally contract into fear. Often that kicks us into judgment, anger and sometimes causes us to do something unskillful ourselves. What if instead of reacting, we take that action as a reminder to be present and to be compassionate. We might remember times when we been unskillful on the road. Perhaps this person is going through some life challenges, is racing to the hospital to be at the bedside of a loved one who is dying. We don’t know! And because we don’t know, there is room for us to negotiate a little with our judgments and anger. We can decide to give that person the benefit of the doubt. In that moment we may feel moved to send them some loving-kindness. ‘May you be well.’ And in that instant, something shifts within us. We are present, alert, alive and sensing our connection with all of life.
There are moments when we would benefit from sending metta to ourselves. We notice we’re upset about something. We focus on physical sensation, and probably notice tension in the body. We send some loving-kindness to ourselves and to the person or situation we are upset about, and we find we can come back into balance.


Always keep your access to infinite loving-kindness handy. It’s free and it has so many valuable uses!

Metta Questions Answered Here

At the end of every meditation I lead, I offer some guided metta (loving kindness) practice, usually just to ourselves and then to all beings. In this week’s class I led a series of metta exercises to more fully explore and experience the power of metta.


Traditional metta practice is to first send metta to ourselves with well-wishing phrases like: May I be well. May I be happy. May I be at ease. May I be at peace.


Then we send out metta to a person it is very easy to send such well-wishing to: a small child, a beloved elder, someone we wish all good things without any undertow of grumbly qualifications.


Then we send metta to what is called a neutral person. This is someone we know only through brief interactions, such as the grocery store checker, a neighbor, a mail deliverer, etc. May you be well, etc.


Then we send metta to ‘a difficult person’. This could be someone close to us with whom we have challenges. For whatever reason, they push our buttons. We just don’t get along. Interactions are frustrating, unsatisfactory and unsettling. This is probably a person whom we don’t like to think about too much because we get agitated.
If there is no such person that comes to mind, we can focus on a high-profile person whose beliefs, choices or actions we find reprehensible.


Of course, we can always send metta to someone we know whom we feel especially needs some extra blessings right now.


We always end by sending out metta to all beings. May all beings be well, etc. This is not just a nicety, but a reminder of the infinite nature of metta, and a reminder that we, as part of the circle of beings, are worthy of metta too.


Sometimes people have a difficult time sending metta to themselves, but we cannot skip this part or the rest will not work. In order to demonstrate this, I did an exercise where we skipped the metta to ourselves and just did the easy, neutral and difficult person. We checked in to see how that felt after each one.


If you would like to demonstrate this to yourself, try sending metta out to a ‘difficult person’. Then do a round of sending metta to yourself. Then try sending metta to the difficult person again, and see what shifts.


After the practice, I gave a dharma talk on metta, but because I have talked and written so much about metta, I think here I will provide a little Metta index with links to the various metta talks as they answer a variety of questions you might have.





















As you can see there are lots of posts on metta. Why? Because it is SO central to the cessation of creating suffering for ourselves and others. It can also help us be more present to savor and engage in this moment. So give yourself some metta and then share it far and wide.

We send loving kindness to the Five Hindrances and voila!

In our ongoing exploration of the Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness, we are lingering a bit at the Five Hindrances to give ourselves some time for it all to sink in. We need time to practice what we learn so that it is experiential rather than theoretical.

Whatever we are exploring, whatever we are doing, the two most important things we can remember are our paired intentions: To be present in this moment, anchored in physical sensation, and to be kind to ourselves and others, especially when we find that we or they have not been present at all.

So we bring this second intention to our exploration of the Five Hindrances. We send ourselves metta, universal loving kindness, as we practice noticing the presence or absence of a hindrance.

We send metta to whatever it was that had us so distracted up until this moment of awareness, and we send it out to all beings, without exception. This practice creates within us an intrinsic understanding of our deep connection with all of life. Our thinking mind can do the scientific research to explain that this oneness of all being is so, but metta practice brings it home to us in a much deeper and more profound way.

In any given moment, when we find ourselves distraught or lost, resetting our paired intentions to be present and kind is the skillful means to recognize what’s going on and to dissolve habituated patterns of suffering in our lives.

Pause and notice what’s going on with you right now. What is your current state of mind? See if you notice any of the Hindrances (desire, aversion, restlessness and worry, sloth and torpor, and doubt) in residence. If so, the recognition alone can do a great deal to dissolve a hindrance. But recognition alone can be pretty heartless, can fall quickly into patterns of judgment or discomfort with acknowledging a hindrance.

Enter metta!  We can greet the hindrance with universal kindness. This kindness is not an indulgence. It simply gives us the opportunity to be able to spend more time with the hindrance without having to fight it, avoid it, deny it, or claim it as a personality trait. With universal kindness we are able to simply be with it and recognize it for what it is.

Claim it as a personality trait? You may wonder who would want to claim any of these negative states. But in the chronic rush to get some sense of identity, we may claim even the most unattractive traits. We might call these hindrances ‘character defects,’ and own them, claiming the shame as well. We might say about ourselves, ‘I’m just lazy.’ or  ‘I’m a terrible worrywort.” Stop and think if there are some of these claims you have made, or continue to make. This level of noticing is very useful.

The Buddha asks us to look closer, to sit with any hindrance we discover. He asks us to see them for what they are, to meet the hindrance and know that it is not us.

It is not us. Phew! But does that mean we are not responsible for the words and actions that arise from our experience of one of these states? No, of course not. We learn how to skillfully navigate these challenging mental states by being mindful, which includes both awareness and kindness. We will explore Wise Speech and Wise Action further along, but the Buddha put this instruction of noticing hindrances first for a reason, so we will stay with it for now.

Metta dissolves the sense of isolation that keeps us so attached to the hindrance to shore up a sense of identity we can cling to. With metta, we sense our interconnection with all of life and don’t need to rely on what we thought were ‘personality traits’ to make us visible in the world. The hunger for visibility arises from a deeply ingrained fear of disappearing. But when we sense our interconnection in the infinite web, we can, in that moment, let go of our need to build up a separate identity.

In that mindful moment when we see a hindrance clearly and send metta to it and to ourselves, if we can stay present to notice what happens to the hindrance, then we teach ourselves the benefits of the practice. We don’t have to take anyone else’s word for it. We know for ourselves the effectiveness of mindfulness practice. The experiential learning of the practice is more valuable than all the teachings. The teachings are to inspire the practice and shine a light in the darkness when we are stumbling about. But the teachings without mindfulness practice are like a bouquet of cut flowers, pleasant at the time but not able to take root and grow. The practice and the teachings together are like a plant given all the right conditions to grow strong and produce fruit.

In meditation or any time during our day, when we recognize we have not been mindful, then suddenly we are being mindful in that moment. At that moment, if we can be kind, if we can send metta instead of castigating ourselves for having not been mindful, then we are able to be mindful in this moment as well. So metta plays a very important role in mindfulness training. It cuts off our tendency to see ourselves as uniquely unqualified to do this practice. With metta, we get that this is the natural way of things, and that we are as vital and acceptable a part of the fabric of life, knots and all, as anyone else.

Next week we will look at applying metta to each of the hindrances. Until then I hope you will take the time to practice noticing these mind states that arise, noticing the thoughts and emotions that arise when you notice, and add loving kindness to the mix, so that you can stay fully present with the experience.

You might be better able to notice these mind states arising in someone else. This is still useful, as long as it is done with loving kindness. If you find you are judging harshly, then you have a hindrance of your own you can notice! All good.

Being Kind to Ourselves Is Not Selfish

“The purpose of studying Buddhism is not to study Buddhism but to study ourselves.” – Shunryu Suzuki, author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Meditation is the practice of creating time and space to quietly listen in. Sensing in to our breath and other sensations that arise and fall away, as do all phenomena, we open to the possibility of insight. If we pair our intention to be present with the intention to be compassionate with ourselves as we proceed, then we create a safe way to explore ourselves and the world.

We may feel some resistance to this idea of studying ourselves, just as we do to sending loving kindness to ourselves. It is likely we have been raised to focus on the outer world and to ignore and control emotions, thoughts and physical sensations. This is meant to counter self-indulgence and self-devotion. The practice of Buddhist meditation and psychology is not meant to create a narcissistic cult within us. We begin where we are with our practice, and where we are is entrenched in the seemingly permanent situation of being embodied in a particular form, having a particular series of patterns of thoughts and emotions that we believe define us. So this is what we notice. This is what we study. We develop the ability to hold our inner experience in loving awareness.

If we skip this step, whatever focus we have on the outer world will be tight, rooted in the complex patterns of fear and ignorance we harbor. We leap to the defense of this set of patterns because we believe it is who we are, and we desperately do not want to disappear!  In this fortified, calcified state we will offer up with the best intentions what we think the world wants and needs from us. We will not understand why when we are doing the best we can, these efforts are so misunderstood or poorly received. We will then blame ourselves or blame the world, causing the complex patterns to get tighter, denser and more toxic. We may seek oblivion to blind us to these patterns in the form of overindulgence in alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, overeating and other temporary distractions that do blind us, but also bind us even tighter to the patterns we are trying to escape. We’ve all tried at least some unskillful means of escape and have found them to be lacking. This is why so many people come to Buddhist practice after exhausting all other avenues. They come to the wisdom of ‘no escape.’

In our practice we begin where we are: Here, in this body, in this mind. We set our intention to be present and kind. That’s all. When we do this, there is a quite natural unraveling of the knot of patterns that have stymied us in our attempts to satisfy our idea of how we should be in the world. (Expectation stops the process, so notice and release impatience for a faster pace or greater rate of return on time invested. Let go of comparing mind. Just set the intentions again and again.)

Over time – days, weeks, months, lifetimes — we may notice that we are increasingly able to be in the world with a sense of being fully present, feeling, at least at times, true and universal loving kindness, a connected sense of compassion and much more. As this happens, we see that our practice has not been selfish at all. We practice on ourselves first. We are clearing the way for full engagement in the world.

In recent weeks we have been focusing on metta (loving-kindness) practice. Buddhism provides phrases for sending loving-kindness, as we have discussed previously. We begin with sending metta to ourselves, for the reasons I’ve just given. For a helpful mental aid to remind ourselves why we do this, remember that the airlines direct us to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before we put it on our children. What use will we be to our children, or anyone, if we have passed out?

If sending metta to ourselves still feels too difficult, here is an additional instruction I just learned at Jack Kornfield’s daylong retreat on Buddhist Psychology:

Send metta to first one then another person in your life for whom you have unqualified affection, for whom you want all the best. Really spend some time with the feelings that sending this metta brings up for you. Notice the physical effects, the emotional tone, the way you hold these thoughts.
Then imagine these two people sending metta to you. You can draw on moments when they have exhibited loving kindness to you or have looked at you with heartfelt caring. Let yourself stay with this experience. Let yourself receive the metta.


You might try that practice and then notice how it feels in your body, how it feels in your emotions, and how it affects your thought processes. Perhaps it feels glorious. Perhaps it feels uncomfortable. Perhaps you can’t feel it or feel shut down by the process. Just notice what is present in your experience without trying to change anything.

Perhaps you can’t imagine two people who care about you. If so, then you might imagine being in the center of a circle of Buddhist monks with a lifetime of practice sending metta and seeing the Buddha nature in all beings. Imagine them all focused on sending metta to you.

Jack told us about his experience of meeting the Dalai Lama, how no matter how many people are waiting in line to meet him, he takes the time to look deeply in your eyes, holding your hand in both of his, until there is a deep connection, acknowledgement and understanding. So imagine the Dalai Lama sending you loving kindness! (He is doing so every day in any case, when he sends lovingkindness out to all beings!)

One of the students in my Thursday class said that ten years ago she was embraced by Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi is known throughout the world as Amma, or Mother, for her selfless love and compassion toward all beings.) and had that same sense of being held until some deep connection and release was felt. We discussed that feeling of total acceptance, so different from our usual sense of striving to be liked, loved, respected or admired. The nature of loving-kindness is universal, all-encompassing.

No matter what you have done, no matter what a mess you have made of your life, you can receive loving kindness. If you have done terrible things, allowing metta into your heart will give you the courage (from coeur, French for heart) to ask forgiveness and to make amends. If it’s useful, imagine metta as warm flowing liquid dissolving the granules of anger and resentment that have been keeping you from allowing yourself to forgive those you blame for past or current conditions, that keep you from forgiving yourself.

Our practice is to notice as much as we can about our present experience and to be as kind as we are able toward ourselves and others. That’s it. We don’t have to turn ourselves inside out. Whatever changes happen arise simply out of our practice. When a shift happens, it is from tight and fearful to open and loving. But we don’t force it. We don’t demand it. We don’t beat ourselves over the head until we are the ‘right’ way.

Our practice is to notice the arising and falling away of phenomena, including our thoughts, emotions and sensations. Our practice is to be kind to ourselves and others to whatever degree we are able. Sending metta activates our ability to feel deeply connected with all beings. From that sense of deep connection, we naturally become more compassionate.

Insights into Inner Rudeness

Our recent review of four obstacles to sending metta came from a series of insights. An insight is a naturally occurring result of open curiosity, inquiry and noticing patterns and conditions both in our minds and in the world around us. The kind of meditation we do here is called Insight Meditation. An insight is possible from the very first moment we begin to be present with our experience. It’s not surprising that when we begin to look we begin to see. When we begin to notice whatever arises in our current experience, we notice assumptions and beliefs. When we question them: ‘Is that true? How do I know that’s true?’ then we set into motion an exploration with real potential for illumination. What is this illumination or insight? Greater understanding of our own current experience, our habitual patterns of thought and emotion, the filters through which we see the world, the source causes and conditions that contributed to the tight knots of fear that we all hold in a variety of ways, unacknowledged.

That exploration is aided when we infuse it with loving-kindness, metta. Loving kindness is not a state of constant praise to stroke the ego. It is a sense of oneness and connection that opens our hearts and our eyes to what is arising. It helps us to see more clearly how fear activates and aggravates patterns of beliefs, words and actions that keep us from being present with our experience.

Metta allows us to be spacious in our exploration. We can come upon some thought passing through our awareness that makes us very uncomfortable. Without the compassion of a metta view, we may tighten up into a strong reaction, usually a judgment or a justification, causing further suffering. With metta, we have a greater capacity to free ourselves from the ongoing pattern of reactivity that causes suffering. If we notice our thoughts, emotions, and the world around us without metta, we can come to a cold mechanical view that lacks sufficient heart to sustain us. We are much more ready to turn away and find relief in mindless distraction. So metta makes mindfulness more effective. In a way we might say it lubricates mindfulness to keep it functioning.

Likewise mindfulness infuses metta with clarity and understanding. Without mindfulness, we can easily misunderstand of the nature of metta. For example, as we discussed a couple of weeks ago, we might think of metta as something limited that must be doled out carefully and only to the deserving. That view of metta increases suffering. Mindfulness gives us the insight to see through that distorted view.

A friend who has been following the blog of dharma talks mentioned that she noticed how rude she is to herself. This insight came from skillful noticing, from mindfulness that she has been practicing for a while now, and from the metta she had incorporated into how she interacts in the world. So the words she was in the habit of using to speak to herself at the least provocation now stood in stark contrast to the sense of loving kindness she had been developing. When she heard herself internally muttering, ‘Idiot!’ because she had forgotten to take the meat for dinner out to defrost, she suddenly heard it with more clarity. She recognized that she would never speak to a friend in that way. Aha!

Now she is one of the most competent, accomplished, creative and generous people I know, but we are all capable of this kind of self-talk. We may call ourselves ‘dummy’ or ‘stupid’ without even thinking about it. So I ask you now to think about it. Notice how you talk to yourself. Once you have begun a meditation practice and find you are noticing your thought patterns, you can begin to hear the words you are using to talk to yourself, especially when you do something you didn’t intend to do. Just notice.

Once we recognize the rude way we speak to ourselves we have a choice. We can judge the rudeness and add it to our long list of personal failings, OR we can allow ourselves a spacious field of metta-infused exploration. We can notice where we feel the ‘idiot’ prod, the ‘stupid’ shot or the ‘dumb’ stab in our body. We may be numb to the words, think they carry no weight, but as we allow ourselves to become more awake and aware, we find that these words have been doing their number on us all along, draining us of energy, making us intolerant and angry, etc.

Perhaps you feel these are harmless jibes. But even if said with a kind of affection, they are just justifying words that may have been used on us when we were children, trying to prove to ourselves that it is possible to be rude and still love someone. If that is the case, that’s a worthy investigation.

Perhaps you are hard on yourself because you hold yourself to a higher standard, because you feel you are special or better than others, or are trying to fulfill some parental hope that you will be. That’s a worthy exploration too. ‘How stupid of me. I should know better.’ Should you know better than others in the same situation? Are you so much smarter, wiser, more enlightened, talented? If that resonates, then that’s another interesting vein to explore. It’s not that we don’t aspire to be the best we can be, but we undermine our ability to truly be the open loving insightful person we have the capacity to be if we somehow believe that everything we do must be perfect. If perfection is your goal, start asking yourself a few questions about what that means.

Next week we will be doing a more indepth exercise to see how we bring mindfulness and lovingkindness together, and additional instruction on sending metta to ourselves that I learned from Jack Kornfield at a recent day long class. But for this week, please notice how you talk to yourself, and explore whatever arises with both mindfulness and metta.
This balanced approach is called loving awareness.