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.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

The Edge

The Edge

I have to admit that it is hard to write today's Metta Letter, to talk about lovingkindness and goodwill in a time where there is aggression and suffering in the world and when once again meaningless war is causing so much hurt. What does it mean to have unconditional metta in such a time?

Of course, the real answer is that it is more important, more relevant at these times, but working through that can be hard.

I am reminded of the wonderful words of Granny Weatherwax in Terry Pratchett's 'Carpe Jugulum' when she admonishes a young priest in this way:

‘There’s no greys, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.’

‘It’s a lot more complicated than that -’

‘No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.’

People as things. It is easy to see how in the current crisis that is exactly what we are seeing playing out. Real people - with hopes, dreams and faults just like you and me - are seen as just being 'things in the way.'

In our metta meditation we work to cultivate in ourselves the ability to view all beings with goodwill and lovingkindness, from ourselves to the most difficult of enemies. My first teacher encouraged us to identify in our practice the 'edges,' the points at which we started to stumble and reject sending metta. This could be for any of the people in the practice - even for our self. Generating goodwill for myself is hard when I remember what an ass I've been to someone earlier in the week. And if that's difficult then how much harder is it to feel lovingkindness for a dictator causing death and suffering across the world?

It's for reasons like this that Thanissaro Bhikkhu often prefers the translation of 'goodwill' for the Pali 'metta.' I highly recommend that you read his full essay on this, but I often find that when 'at the edge,' focusing on goodwill makes more sense.

As we go through this week we will probably all feel conflicting feelings regarding the current events and the people on all sides of the conflict. I'd like to suggest that if you do have conflicting feelings that isn't a bad thing - it shows that you are not 'switching off' your sense of compassion. At the end of the day this is a challenging time, but we can feel compassion for those suffering and still recognize that those perpetrating the violence are people, even if we find it hard to feel goodwill for them right now. Those who are causing the suffering do so because they treat people as things, let's not make the same mistake.

Metta, Chris.

I have linked below a fully guided Metta Bhavana (cultivation of goodwill and lovingkindness) meditation where we explore the 'edges,' the points where difficulty begins. This can be a challenging practice, but as I often say 'if you find it hard you're probably doing it right!' Feel free to use it in your practice in whatever way helps. If you have never tried the whole practice before this could be a good one to start with.

Photo by Alan Tang on Unsplash

Saturday, February 19, 2022

About That Bruno


About That Bruno

I'm going to start this by apologizing to any of you who have younger children, as you have probably been unable to get away from Bruno for the last six weeks. It is not an overstatement to say that the song "We Don't Talk About Bruno" from the recent Disney movie Encanto has been a huge phenomenon, topping the charts in the US, UK and many other countries. It also went viral on Tik-Tok and other platforms and is the most successful song from a Disney movie ever. And if your children are the right age, you probably haven't been able to escape it either. Sorry about that.

I have written about earworms before, but for those of you who are still blissfully unaware here is a little bit of background on the movie and the dreaded song in particular (don't worry, I will avoid any spoilers in case you choose to watch the movie later - which I would recommend).

Encanto is a piece of magical-realism set in Colombia. The story revolves around a multi-generational family living together in a beautiful casita, some of whom have special magical 'gifts.'  If you have read any Gabriel García Márquez this might seem very familiar to you! The 'family secret' is that Bruno has been ostracized and has left the family. When the main protagonist Mirabel asks about her Tio Bruno, they explain it all in the song "We Don't Talk About Bruno." If you wish you can listen to the whole song here.

The reason for Bruno's disgrace is that his 'gift' is that he can see into the future, and this, of course, is misinterpreted by the family as him causing the things he foresees. So let's have a look at the things prophet Bruno foretells. The list of his alleged visions start with family members being told that there would be rain on their wedding day (isn't that ironic?). Then various villagers add that he foretold:

  • A goldfish would die;
  • A middle-aged man would grow a gut;
  • An older priest would loose his hair.

Two younger family members then add that he foretold that they would struggle with love.

The humor of the song is of course that it doesn't take a prophet to predict any one of these things. Bruno is just aware of the human condition. He was ostracized not for his prophetic ability but because he saw the world as it really was.

I was reading earlier this week the well-known passage where The Buddha explains this to King Pasenadi:

Great king, no one who is born is free from aging and death.
Even those affluent khattiyas—rich, with great wealth and property, with abundant gold and silver, abundant treasures and commodities, abundant wealth and grain—because they have been born, are not free from aging and death.
Even those affluent brahmins…affluent householders—rich with abundant wealth and grain—because they have been born, are not free from aging and death.
Even those monks who are arahants, whose taints are destroyed, who have lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached their own goal, utterly destroyed the fetters of existence, and are completely liberated through final knowledge: even for them this body is subject to breaking up, subject to being laid down.
What is interesting here are the three examples given - the rich, the afluent brahmins, and the pious monks. No-one escapes the reality. I wonder what some of the monks listening thought - I am sure there was a bit of a 'wait a minute!' moment for some of them.

Sometimes we choose to forget the reality of this world. Our goldfish will die, middle-aged men will grow guts, our hair will fall out, it will rain when it's least convenient, and young people will struggle with love.

Yet the world is still a wonderful place. The only issue comes when we choose to delude ourselves into denying the inevitability of our own impermanence.

Disney movies may or may not be your thing - but if you do choose to see it (I personally loved it) spare a thought for poor Tio Bruno. He was only telling the truth.

Metta, Chris.

I have linked below a fully guided meditation on Impermanence. Feel free to use it in your practice in whatever way helps.

 Aging and Death, From SN 3.3 translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Photo: "Encanto," from left: Mirabel Madrigal (voice: Stephanie Beatriz), Bruno (voice: John Leguizamo), 2021
© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures






Friday, February 18, 2022

Important Update for In-Person Meetings

Hi all, I hope that this message finds you well and happy.


I am writing to let you know that I have made the difficult decision to stop leading the in-person Sunday Night Meditation sessions. There are a few reasons for this, and I didn't make the decision lightly, but I feel now is the right time for me to take a bit of a break and re-center.


I want to thank each and every one of you for your support and encouragement over the years, I would not have kept doing this as long as I have without that. Special thanks as well to Blythe and Dave who helped immeasurably, especially when I wasn't able to cover.


Also special thanks go out to the good folks at Breathe Wellness who generously allowed us to use their space for free. I have let Shelby at Breathe know, and I would encourage you all to continue to support them and their classes. Do feel free to reach out to them if you want to know about other meditation opportunities.


So what now? For my part I am not going anywhere. I am going to use this time to re-group and re-set - I have already started on deeper study of the Pali writings and will be taking the opportunity to deepen my own understanding and practice. I will continue to write my weekly Metta Letters, and for now that will be my main vehicle for teaching. I hope you continue to enjoy and value them. I will be keeping up with the website too - I will update it in the next few days to reflect these changes, and I have some plans to update and broaden it in due course. In particular I want to make it a better resource for everyone.


I don't plan to teach in-person for now, but I am always open to teaching in the future. Who knows? I'm always open to ideas if you have any.


I know that for some of you this will come as a blow as there aren't a whole lot of meditation opportunities in the area. However I am hoping that as a group we can continue to share and chat through email - if any of you wanted to set up a more formal group on some platform I would encourage you to do that, and I would help however I can. Do reach out with any thoughts.


As I say, this was a tough decision and it wasn't taken lightly. Note this has nothing to do with the COVID situation, although that obviously hasn't helped. When I temporarily suspended meeting a few weeks ago I did so with the full expectation that we would be back together in a few short weeks. The recent spike in cases is on its way down now, and I was in the process of planning to resume. However, it was during that planning that I had the opportunity to re-think and re-assess, which has led to this change.


While it has been a privilege and a joy to lead the group over the past nineteen years (!) it has also sometimes been quite stressful. There is always a feeling of responsibility to the group and a not-insignificant amount of prep work. I have limited time and energy (I run my own business), and it felt like it was a good time to focus that.


I have always given the meditation leadership and teaching away freely, with no expectation of any return. That is why your support and enthusiasm has always been important for me. I would love it if that support and friendship were to continue, even though I am sure this is an unwelcome decision for some of you.


Things change, and this is a big change for me and for many of you. I am excited about what I will be doing next, even though I don't yet fully know what that is. Once again, thank you all for your support and I look forward to sharing new but different things with you all going forward.


                Metta, Chris.






“In fact, the mere act of opening the box will determine the state of the cat, although in this case there were three determinate states the cat could be in: these being Alive, Dead, and Bloody Furious.”

― Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies




Saturday, February 12, 2022

Rice Pots

Rice Pots

A question that often comes up is 'why metta?' - there are many aspects to meditation and following a spiritual path, so why the focus on metta?

There are, for me, several answers to this, but simply put I believe that the cultivation of metta - lovingkindness or goodwill - is exactly what the world needs today. As the world appears to get crazier and less and less understandable then the more important I believe it is for us as individuals to develop our own capacity for love, compassion, joy and equanimity (the four brahma-viharas that have metta as their core). As Leo Tolstoy said: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

When we work on cultivating lovingkindness we work on the one person who we can change - our self. Earlier this week I read the short Okkha Sutta - the Sutta of the Serving Dishes (or 'Rice Pots'). In it, the Buddha tells his monks:

Monks, if someone were to give a gift of one hundred serving dishes of food in the morning, one hundred at mid-day, and one hundred in the evening; and another person were to develop a mind of good-will (metta) — even for the time it takes to pull on a cow's udder — in the morning, again at mid-day, and again in the evening, this second action would be more fruitful than the first.

Thus you should train yourselves: 'Our awareness-release (liberation) through good-will (metta) will be cultivated, developed, pursued, handed the reins and taken as a basis, given a grounding, steadied, consolidated, & well-undertaken. That's how you should train yourselves.
This is a really strong statement. Remember that the monks listening to this would have relied on the generosity of local lay-people for their food - no gifts, no meals. We don't know the situation when this was said, but maybe they had received such a generous gift and were rejoicing, or maybe things were tough and they were hungry - either way they would have greatly appreciated three-hundred dishes of food in a day! So the bar here is really high. And yet the Buddha says that three simple moments of mindfulness of good-will, three brief moments of metta, were even more fruitful.

This may seem like hyperbole, but it really isn't. If you think about it, the person who reflects on and cultivates goodwill will naturally be more generous, more compassionate and more liberated (translated here as 'awareness-release,' being free from delusion). People talk (shout) a lot about freedom and liberation at the moment but the dialog is mostly about selfish freedom or license. Liberation of the mind stems from cultivating metta - goodwill and lovingkindness towards all beings.

This idea of the importance of cultivating metta is echoed elsewhere - I wrote a bit about it last year in the post on 'One Sixteenth.' There I quoted from the Itivuttaka where we are told:

Bhikkhus, whatever grounds there are for making merit productive of a future birth, all these do not equal a sixteenth part of the mind-release of loving-kindness. The mind-release of loving-kindness surpasses them and shines forth, bright and brilliant.
So this week I would like to encourage you to practice those brief moments of metta. You don't have to be milking a cow to do it, it can be done at any point. Pausing and cultivating goodwill and lovingkindness can be a powerful act that we can all do.

Metta, Chris.

PS. If you would like to practice a longer, more traditional approach to cultivating metta then I have linked below a fully guided thirty minute meditation. You are welcome to use it in any way that you feel helps in your practice.


"Okkha Sutta: Serving Dishes" (SN 20.4), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition),
27 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn20/sn20.004.than.html

"Itivuttaka: The Group of Ones" (Iti 24-27), translated from the Pali by John D. Ireland. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition),
24 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/iti/iti.1.024-027.irel.html


Photo by Faris Mohammed on Unsplash

Saturday, February 5, 2022



This week the 2022 Winter Olympics started in Beijing. Now, I must admit that I'm not that into watching the Winter Olympics generally, but I do enjoy watching the odd event just to admire the amazing skills of the athletes.

The one event that does capture my interest however is the Curling. There is just something about the sport that is on the one hand totally ridiculous and on the other completely mesmerizing. I remember watching it with friends many years ago purely to make fun of it - but then becoming completely hooked.

There is something about the slow, measured pace, the concentration of the athletes, and their level of skill and focus that makes it an almost contemplative sport to watch. Who knew that pushing a rock (or a cat) over ice could be so absorbing?

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece on the mental focus of athletes which I repeat below. Hopefully there are things we can all learn here to help us in our practice.


That Moment

I love watching extraordinary humans. Whether they are athletes, artists, musicians, dancers... what fascinates me is how they manage to perform at their peak, consistently, on-demand.

When we think of these people we often focus on their amazing physical abilities - their strength, coordination, stamina or dexterity. And yet the more we watch them the more we see that it is not just about their bodies, but about their mental strength, focus and resilience.

Think for a moment of a gymnast, standing by the side of the mat, about to start a routine. They pause, close their eyes or maybe gaze gently forward, and prepare their mind for the actions that are to come. This is all clearly visible, and it is often in this very moment that the success or otherwise of the routine stems.

Of course it's not just gymnasts. The same can be seen with concert pianists before they start to play, basketball players before they take a free throw, soccer players before a penalty, singers before a solo... The key is that the action is preceded by the calming and the integration of the mind and the body.

In modern sports this phenomenon is called 'the quiet eye.' It has become so important that in 2017, the European Journal of Sport Science devoted a whole issue to it. For a less academic take you can read a great overview of 'the quiet eye' in the BBC article linked here.

This clarity - this connection between the mind, body and action - is clearest in our elite athletes and artists but is something we can all practice. More than that, one of the ways I have found to help cultivate the connection between mind and body in meditation is to start by visualizing an athlete or artist, and to meditate on what they are doing. I can then, in my own imperfect way, transfer that to a feeling and awareness of integration between my own mind and body.

In the Satipatthana Sutta The Buddha says this of a meditator:
'Experiencing the whole body, I shall breathe in,' thinking thus, he trains himself.
'Experiencing the whole body, I shall breathe out,' thinking thus, he trains himself.
'Calming the activity of the body, I shall breathe in,' thinking thus, he trains himself.
'Calming the activity of the body, I shall breathe out,' thinking thus, he trains himself.
While you and I are probably not elite athletes, we can gain inspiration from them and learn from them. Great sporting or artistic feats are not done purely by the body, but by the integration of the mind and the body. This is also what we do in meditation.

I have linked below a fully guided audio meditation on 'That Moment.' Feel free to use it in your practice in whatever way helps

 Metta, Chris.

"Satipatthana Sutta: The Discourse on the Arousing of Mindfulness" (MN 10), translated from the Pali by Soma Thera. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 13 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.010.soma.html
Photo, World Curling Federation/Céline Stucki