WEEK 3 - METTA FOR THE NEUTRAL
After practicing loving-kindness for the self and for the benefactor, we then go on to practice loving-kindness for a neutral.
To understand neutral, you must first understand that we relate to life in terms of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. Pleasant are things we are drawn to or naturally take an interest in, or even desire. Unpleasant are things that repel us, shut down the heart in some way, or cause us to move away from. Neutral is something we aren't particularly drawn to, nor repelled by, but remain in that gray space in between.
A few examples of pleasant, unpleasant, neutral: I love ladybugs, I hate spiders, I’m indifferent to ants // I could eat kale every day, I try to avoid Brussels sprouts at all costs, I could go either way on celery // I’m very drawn to artists, I don't trust politicians, I’m neutral when it comes to grocery store clerks // Please come up with your own examples, these are just a simple few.
What is unpleasant, pleasant, or neutral is very particular to and different for each individual.
For formal meditation practice, allow yourself to sift through your memory and think of a neutral person in your life -- a store clerk, a neighbor who you don't know very well, a yogi that you see in class or in passing at the studio, someone at work that you don't interact with much, etc.
Neutral is an important part of our practice. Metta is about offering unconditional friendliness to ALL. So we must include neutral in our metta practice.
WEEK 3 - SUGGESTIONS FOR HOME PRACTICE
Observe who or what in your life is neutral - perhaps strangers that you walk by, grass or certain plants, perhaps certain objects, foods, or animals are neutral...
Especially notice people in your life that you might not otherwise particularly pay attention to. Pause and do Metta for them.
As you do Metta for the neutral, you might find that you feel a connection and discover that some neutral people have the potential to turn into benefactors…
Also, please continue to practice loving-kindness for the self and for the benefactor from weeks 1 and 2!
WEEK 2 - METTA FOR THE BENEFACTOR
This week we will continue to practice metta from a place of ease. The Buddha instructed, after practicing loving-kindness for the self we then go on to practice loving-kindness for a benefactor.
A benefactor is someone who inspires metta to rise into the heart with ease. A benefactor can be a child, an animal, a tree, a place you love, a stranger who does a kindness, a dear friend, someone dear who has passed away, someone who you've never met before but who inspires your heart like the Dalai Lama… You can even just imagine something that brings warmth to your heart, i.e. “kitten meditation.”
If you choose a teacher or a mentor or a parent as your benefactor, be aware that it may be a more complicated relationship than you think. If the heart feels blocked as you do loving-kindness practice for this person, turn back to yourself and do metta on yourself for a few minutes. When you resume your practice, you might consider finding another benefactor to work with, one that is simpler and less complex.
You may use a variety of pronouns as you do the metta practice for your benefactor: "you," "he/she," or "they" (ie: May "they" be happy...). If it feels easier to do loving-kindness for you and your benefactor at the same time, try using "we."
Feel welcome to get creative with your phrases as needed.
Additional Metta phrases: May I/you/we be protected from all harm or ill will. May I/you/we know kindness and compassion.
WEEK 2 - SUGGESTIONS FOR HOME PRACTICE
Observe who or what in your life is a benefactor, or easily inspires loving-kindness in your heart.
Notice what you are drawn to naturally in daily life as you go for a walk or are out and about. Notice what softens your heart or makes you feel connected or creates a little warmth inside (perhaps certain animals, trees and plants, the sky or the water, children or elders, good friends, a stranger who smiles at you, even certain songs or smells or foods).
When you find an easy connection, take a moment to pause and send that particular being some loving-kindness.
Also, please continue to practice loving-kindness for the self from week one!
Week 1 - Metta for THE self
The Pali word "Metta" is most often translated as "loving-kindness." Some also translate it as "unconditional friendliness" or "good will toward all." In these weekly instructions, we will use "metta" and "loving-kindness" interchangeably.
We will practice loving-kindness with seated, walking, standing, and lying down meditation.
The Buddha instructed that we first start with the self for loving-kindness practice, both to start in a place of ease and because the relationship we have with ourselves informs our relationship with everything and everyone around us.
You can offer metta to the physical body in the form of a loving-kindness body scan (during seated, standing, or lying down meditation): breathe gentleness and kindness into each body part as you softly scan your body from the toes to the head to the heart. Optional to repeat the words, “kindness” “metta” or "breathing in kindness, breathing out kindness," to yourself.
Metta or Loving-Kindness phrases: May I be happy, May I be healthy, May I be peaceful, May I be at ease.
If using “I” doesn’t feel natural, try using “you,” and address yourself as though you are a dear friend.
You can stick with the phrases above or get creative with these phrases and find your own words.
If physical or emotional pain arise during this practice, try turning towards them with kindness and understanding, repeating the words to yourself or directly to the area or feeling of discomfort.
The words are repeated in the spirit of evoking a boundless, warmhearted feeling. They are spoken gently to the self, with an attitude of unconditional friendliness and acceptance, as though you were sincerely wishing well to your dearest and most beloved friend.
Week 1 - Suggestions for Home Practice
Home practice is an important way to generate and grow the energy of loving-kindness throughout these 6 weeks. Please practice as often as feels natural, and feel free to get creative with how you integrate the metta phrases into daily tasks and activities.
Practice in bed, when you wake up in the morning and before you go to bed at night. Place one hand on the heart, one hand on belly as you repeat the loving-kindness phrases to yourself lying down.
Practice during daily tasks - shampooing hair, putting lotion on feet, going for a walk, drinking tea, driving in car, brushing teeth, chopping vegetables, etc...
Practice a Metta body scan (you can practice doing it seated, standing, or lying down). Tip: a metta body scan can also be helpful for insomnia... if you are lying down try repeating a word or phrase of kindness to yourself as you exhale (focusing on the exhale calms body and mind).
When you feel self-criticism or self-doubt arise at any time during your day, see if you can interrupt your negative thoughts by concentrating your mind on the metta phrases and repeating them (sometimes it helps the mind to focus if you repeat them to yourself at a faster pace). Allow the metta phrases to interrupt negative thoughts and try to bring your awareness to the feeling in your body with a gentle and kind presence.
Since this week is focused on offering kindness to the self, you may want to take the opportunity to offer some kind activities for yourself — anything that feels relaxing or helps you to feel connected.
If you are interested in starting a more formal home practice (in addition to integrating it into daily tasks and activities), you can find a place in your home for time to do seated, walking, standing, or lying down meditation. Some people like to have an altar or a special cushion to inspire them.
Remember it takes time for this energy to be generated and to feel connected and sincere within the practice. If you find yourself getting frustrated or if it feels forced, take a break. You can also try turning towards that feeling of frustration and direct loving-kindness energy toward that particular emotion that is arising, seeking to understand and accept.