We are not currently meeting 'in-person'

We are not currently meeting 'in-person.'
I have made the difficult decision to stop holding our in-person Sunday night meetings - you can read more about this in my post here. I will be continuing to post weekly content here and in our newsletter. Do remember to sign up for the 'Metta Letter' newsletter below as I will be sending out weekly meditations there.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Introduction to Metta Bhavana

Metta Bhavana” meditation practice is one of the oldest and most beloved practices there is. Today, over two thousand years since its introduction, many thousands – if not millions – of people around the world practice it regularly. For many people this is their main meditation practice, that they spend their whole life developing.

So what is “Metta Bhavana”? Metta is the Pali word for loving-kindness, goodwill, love or friendliness. Bhavana is the Pali word to cultivate, or to “make happen”. Metta Bhavana is thus the practice of cultivating loving-kindness.

The underlying idea here is that our emotions are choices. We aren’t just passive beings whose emotions spring up purely because of what happens to us. Instead, we can make choices about how we react and feel to what goes on around us. This is incredibly empowering. We don’t have to feel slaves to our emotions – we can learn to choose the emotions that are best for us.
Metta practice thus helps us get into the habit of choosing loving-kindness. This loving-kindness is special, in that it is unconditional. It is not dependent on how others behave, or what we hope to get in return. It just is.

Traditional Metta Bhavana practice goes through a specific series of steps. Here is an overview of the whole practice:

Calm your body and mind.
Take time to sit and relax in your posture, with a straight back and a firm connection with the chair or cushion. Allow your mind to calm, as thoughts arise acknowledge them and let them be.

Develop Metta for yourself.
We start by developing a feeling of loving-kindness or goodwill for ourselves. When you first start it may be helpful to start by recalling a time that you felt good about what you had achieved and your place in the world. Develop that positive feeling by repeating the mantra “May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering”. Then acknowledge that you deserve to feel that for yourself even when things aren’t going so well, even if you feel lost or that you’ve messed up. Practice giving yourself Metta, unconditionally.

Develop Metta for a friend.
In the next step we bring to mind a friend, someone who is easy to feel positively about. When you start it is best to choose someone who you don’t have any ‘complex’ feelings for, so initially avoid anyone you are attracted to, or who is dead, or who you have complex family relationships with. Again, offer them Metta, reciting the mantra “May you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering”. As you do so, you will probably be reminded of some of their quirks or faults, but still offer them Metta, understanding that you give Metta not because of what they do, or what you personally get out of the relationship, but you give it unconditionally.

Develop Metta for a neutral person.
We now bring to mind a ‘neutral’ person, someone who we can recall, but who we know nothing or little about. Maybe it’s a person who works at the supermarket check-out, maybe it’s someone you pass on your way to work. Whoever it is, offer them Metta, again reciting the mantra “May you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering”. Remind yourself that this Metta is unconditional – you know nothing about this person, they could be a saint or a criminal, but you still offer them Metta unconditionally.

Develop Metta for a difficult person.
We now bring to mind a ‘difficult person’ – traditionally and ‘enemy’. This is someone who we find it hard to feel good about, for whatever reason. Yet we offer them Metta in the same way, unconditionally, regardless of what they have done or what the effects of their actions have been on us personally. Again we repeat the mantra “May you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering”. Again, it is unconditional.

Bring them all together.
We now bring all four players together, imagining that we are standing together with them in a room. Our self, the friend, the neutral person and the difficult person. We offer each person Metta in turn, noticing our feelings as we do so. We try to equalize the feeling between each person (including our self), so as to make it truly unconditional.

Spread Metta to all sentient beings.
The final stage of Meta practice is to gradually expand the circle of those who we are offering Metta to. We give Metta to those in the town we are in, then spread outward to the state, the country, all countries, the whole world, out to the whole universe, wishing that all sentient beings everywhere be well, happy and free from suffering – unconditionally.

Metta Bhavana practice is a very powerful practice, and as you work with it you will change the way you look at the world and interact with the people in it. It can be a difficult practice, so don’t feel discouraged if you struggle with any of the steps. Keep at it – you will slowly build a habit to “choose Metta”.


Metta – Developing Lovingkindness for a Friend

The Full Metta Practice:
The full Lovingkindness Practice (Metta Bahavana) is a highly structured one which leads us through the process of generating unconditional lovingkindness to all ‘sentient beings’. The understanding is that all beings suffer, and that as we are all deeply connected then it is right that we wish them all to be well, happy and free from the causes of suffering.

The full practice leads us through this in a number of stages:

1. The generation of feelings of lovingkindness (Metta) for ourselves
2. Developing lovingkindness for a friend
3. Developing lovingkindness for a ‘neutral’ person
4. Developing lovingkindness for an ‘enemy’
5. Bringing all four people together and equalizing the feelings of metta
6. Sending that unconditional lovingkindness to all beings in all directions

This is a powerful meditation practice that can take half an hour – or a whole lifetime.

The basic fact is that humanity survives through kindness, love and compassion. That human beings can develop these qualities is their real blessing. – His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Metta for a Friend:
For the moment we will just concentrate on taking the feelings of metta and applying them to a ‘friend’. Traditionally this person is called the ‘ally’ or ‘benefactor’. It is important to understand in this practice that we bring to mind in the early stages real people who we know. Before embarking on the practice we should choose a specific person who we generally feel good about. Some guidelines on the choice will help. Firstly, choose someone who is currently alive who you know well. Be careful for the moment not to choose someone who you have complicated feelings about – it is best not to choose parents or children, or anyone who you are emotionally or physically attracted to (in the literature these relationships are called ‘sticky’). The reason for choosing a ‘non-sticky’ person as we start the practice is so that we can focus on metta, and not get caught up in the complexities of the relationship. Metta can be a lifetime practice, so you will have the opportunity to work the ‘sticky’ people into your practice as you progress.

The practice then is to first generate feelings of metta for yourself, then to bring to mind your friend. You wish that person to be well, as you did for yourself, and you focus on how that wish is unconditional. It is not based on what that person has done, or what that person can do for you. It is based purely on the fact that that person deserves to be well, happy and free from suffering. Again, as you practice metta for a friend notice the tone of your feelings, and work on replicating or equalizing the feeling you had for yourself and the wishes you are offering your friend.

Practice: Metta for My Friend.
This meditation is designed to develop the ability to build the same feelings of metta for another person by starting with a friend.

Start by settling into your meditation position and gaining focus through mindfulness of the breath. Now, begin to develop feelings of lovingkindness for yourself. Tell yourself that you deserve that feeling of happiness in all of your life, regardless of the mistakes you make or situations you find yourself in. Repeat the mantram ‘May I be well, May I be happy’ and try to let go of any negative feelings, realizing that you deserve to feel well and happy – unconditionally. Now bring to mind your friend, and apply the same mantram to your friend – ‘may you be well, may you be happy’. Observe your own feelings as you do so, and meditate on the fact that your friend deserves to be well, happy, free of fear and free of suffering unconditionally – not because they are a good person, or because you want them as a friend, but just because they are human.