WEEK 6 - Metta moving forward
As you continue your Metta practice, please remember that we never use metta to try to change, fix, or bypass our emotions. Metta is a way to move closer to understanding and accepting emotions, holding them with compassion and kindness, as well as a way to deepen our understanding of our own heart and mind.
However, it is important to understand that Metta and Compassion are protections against that which can cause suffering. Metta is directly a protection from fear. Compassion is directly a protection from anger. When these emotions arise and the energy of Metta or Compassion are present, they can prevent fear and anger from growing strong and taking over our system.
To help motivate and sustain your practice, you can dedicate the merits of your practice outwards, not only to yourself, but to other people and to the world around you: "Radiating kindness over the entire world, spreading upwards to the skies, and downwards to the depths, outwards and unbounded... Above, below, across…" -- Metta Sutta
When the energy of Metta is strong within you, try to experiment with dropping the words (May I be happy, etc) and simply abide in the overall energy of Metta. At this point you may see that there is no one sending metta and no one receiving metta, but that the energy of Metta just is — feel without words the unconditional friendliness, the connection, the feeling of oneness with all things, and the life energy that sustains us.
WEEK 6 - SUGGESTIONS FOR HOME PRACTICE
Continue to practice and integrate loving-kindness into your daily life and activities whenever possible, and in the ways that work best for YOU. When metta arises naturally, use it as an opportunity to practice and strengthen.
If the practice ever feels forced or strained or if it is causing harm in any way, please offer yourself kindness by taking a break. Have faith that it will return in it's own time.
Try out Metta practice in a retreat setting (half-day, daylong, weekend retreats)... longer periods of time can help to deepen your understanding of the practice and integrate more fully the energy of loving-kindness into your system... practicing in a group is also very supportive and has a lot of power.
WEEK 5 - COMPASSION PRACTICE
This week we are moving to compassion practice. Compassion is closely related to Metta, but with subtle differences in practice and energy.
Metta is unconditional friendliness toward all (pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral - internally and externally). It is often experienced as the feeling you would get upon seeing a dear friend, a warmth around the heart, or a feeling of connection.
Compassion is experienced when suffering is met with love. One of my meditation teachers once described compassion as the feeling of "someone holding your heart." Compassion can arise in direct response to suffering. It is a very soft, very beautiful sensation around the heart.
The Buddha believed compassion is our true nature, our true self. All other selves are false.
The ability to turn toward ourselves and our physical/emotional suffering with compassion, no matter how disturbing or scary or unpleasant or painful, is what allows us to relate to the suffering of others. The recognition and compassion we have for our own suffering leads directly to the compassion and connection we have to the suffering of others.
When we are unable to recognize our own suffering and meet it with compassion, that suffering can spiral outwards or be projected on to the world around us (with a blaming others for our suffering mentality) and we then cause suffering to others.
Compassion excludes no one, it recognizes that everything and everyone, no matter how destructive or evil, is worthy of compassion. You can see how it would take a very skilled person to be able to do that, one with a very mature, open, and loving heart (i.e. a Bodhisattva or an "enlightened" being).
Fierce compassion = standing up to hatred and injustice, or setting a clear boundary (and doing it with love, compassion, and non-violence). Not backing down when your heart knows you are doing the right thing, even if it means causing difficulty for others (think Martin Luther King, Jr.).
When you practice compassion for yourself in a moment of suffering, you can place a hand on your heart and say, "May I hold this heart with compassion." You can also speak to your heart as though you would speak to a dear friend (not dismissing or minimizing the feelings or the suffering, but validating, comforting, and consoling). For example: "I'm so sorry that happened," "I understand why you feel this way," "I care for you deeply," "Everything will be ok," "I am here for you," "I love you." Find your own words...
WEEK 5 - SUGGESTIONS FOR HOME PRACTICE
Any moment during your day when you are not happy, peaceful and at ease is a moment of suffering. There are many, many small (and sometimes large) moments of suffering that we experience throughout our day. Try to recognize these moments, turn towards yourself, and practice compassion. Hold the suffering with gentleness, care, and understanding.
Allow yourself to see the suffering of others and of the world around you without trying too much to avoid or minimize the suffering as a way to protect yourself. Allow the suffering of others to soften and open your heart, rather than close it. Practice compassion.
Try to do some reflection this week on times when you have caused suffering for others. Can you meet that self with compassion, rather than with guilt or shame?
WEEK 4 - METTA FOR THE DIFFICULT
In order to grow the heart’s capacity for kindness and compassion, the Buddha instructed that we do metta for the difficult. We move to metta for the difficult after practicing for the self, the benefactor, and the neutral.
For the sake of this class, we will divide difficult people into three categories: 1. Mildly Difficult, 2. Medium Difficult, 3. Extremely Difficult
For this week's practice, please focus on mild to medium difficulty. These can be people (strangers, acquaintances or loved ones) who cause a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days of difficulty. Though unpleasant and hurtful, the harm these people have caused is temporary and not long lasting, and doesn’t cause any extreme emotional response.
Please DO NOT practice metta for the extremely difficult this week. Extremely difficult are people who have caused great harm in childhood or adulthood through abuse or neglect, violence or trauma, sudden loss, etc. Extremely difficult can also include people who have not necessarily caused great harm, but who have triggered an overwhelming emotional response, i.e. a very high level of anger, anxiety, grief, fear, or shut down (think trauma response).
The reason we are staying with mild to medium level of difficulty this week is because we want to feel successful in our practice and increase our heart’s capacity to grow and strengthen.
My suggestion for the extremely difficult is to only go there if metta is very, very strong in the system, and only if it feels like a heart’s calling. Please wait until after this series and after you feel confident and strong in the metta practice before tackling the extremely difficult. This may take years of practice.
When offering metta to the mild and medium difficult, please be cautious with your phrases. It can be easy to slip into a non-metta mind-frame of fixing, improving, or changing someone. Example: "May you be happy, May you be healthy, May you get your act together and do the dishes"...or..."May you be peaceful, May you be at ease, May you be a less condescending jerk."
We want to keep the Metta pure if possible... it’s never about fixing or improving ourselves or others. It’s about wishing genuine peace and ease for all beings everywhere, including ourselves, and including difficult people.
If certain Metta phrases create a block in your heart, stick to the ones that feel genuine and realistic. For example, you may not be able to genuinely wish a difficult person happiness, but you may be able to wish for them to find peace, or be free from harm.
When offering Metta for the difficult, if painful or unpleasant emotions arise within your heart, please stop and turn the metta to yourself.
WEEK 4 - SUGGESTIONS FOR HOME PRACTICE
Observe who or what in your life is difficult, what you have an aversion to, or what you find unpleasant including certain behaviors, looks, or words from strangers, acquaintances, or loved ones. Notice what in the world around you causes you to move away, or causes your heart to close or shut down a little -- perhaps certain smells, sounds, insects or animals, even weather, etc...
This week's practice can be discouraging because as we start to bring our attention to difficult things, we realize just how much aversion we actually have and how much in the world we find unpleasant. Please do your best to observe and notice difficult people and things without judging yourself.
Remember that practicing Metta for the difficult has a lot of power. As we become skilled, the practice can help move the difficult into more of a neutral zone.
It is normal for the heart to feel small or contracted at times during this week's practice. Please remember this is a temporary state and trust that it will re-open! Please continue to practice Metta for the self as a way to soften and care for yourself this week.
Also, please continue to practice Metta for the benefactor and neutral!
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 unique to 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.