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.

Sunday, February 12, 2023



And love is such a small word
For something that is so vast
But in it lies the future
The present and the past

"January Song," Alan Hull/Lindisfarne

This afternoon I got to spend some time doing something I hadn't done for a long time - play guitar. Just me, on my own, at home, strumming and noodling around.

I used to love playing guitar. As a teen I was a little obsessed, and when I wasn't playing I would be reading music magazines or listening to my favorite guitarists.

Now, I am really not a very good player. Even at my best in my early twenties I was just OK, and now I am seriously rusty. But today I still had a lot of fun and enjoyed it immensely. Note to self - I should do that more often. As long as no one can hear.

One of the songs I was remembering (poorly) as I played was "January Song" by Lindisfarne. They were one of my favorite bands as a kid, and the songs that Alan Hull wrote for them were top-notch. And, more importantly, fairly easy to play so they formed a big part of my repertoire as a youngster.

Hull's words - "And love is such a small word / For something that is so vast" have always resonated with me deeply. As I have observed before, in English we overload the word love in so many ways. We use the same word for our feelings toward so many things. From love of a good curry to love of music to love of a life partner - same small word.

Today is Superbowl Sunday and for many it is the day to express their love for their team, or for the sport as a whole. Or Rihanna. And in two days time it will be Valentine's day, when those with romantic partners celebrate love for each other. And of course, thanks to Leslie Knope there is Galentine's Day tomorrow, to celebrate the love of friends.

All using the same small word. Love.

Sometimes I think this is a real weakness of the English language, that we overload the word in so many ways. At other times I think it is just fine. The word is just a word. The various emotions and states of being it represents are so different and so impossible to put in to words it is OK to just give up and use the catch-all. After all, when I say I love tacos I don't think there are many people thinking I am romantically attracted to them.

The name of this newsletter is "Metta Letter" and the Pali word metta describes a form of universal love. There is no direct translation of it so depending on context we might use the words love, lovingkindness, friendliness, goodwill - the reality is that they all describe a facet of metta, but none of them describe it fully. So we keep using the Pali word.

Which brings us to a big question - if we can't translate metta into English words, then how do we know what it really is? On the one hand I would say we can't, as we really don't know the minds and the understandings of the first scribes who wrote down the words of the Buddha after his death. But at the same time, we have a very vivid practice - Metta Bhavana or 'cultivation of metta,' and as we do this practice we learn and grow in how we understand it's meaning. I was first taught this practice some twenty five years ago, and my understanding has changed radically over that time - and continues to do so. As we put metta into practice in our daily lives we continue to learn, and our understanding continues to grow.

Wittgenstein once observed "How small a thought it takes to fill a life." For us, you could ask "How small a word it takes to fill a life."

That's my Love-Letter to you.

Metta, Chris.

PS: I have written on the Superbowl and on Valentine's Day before, you can check them out through the links if you like.

PPS: I have linked below a fully guided Metta Bhavana meditation. If you aren't familiar with the form then this might be a good place to start. If you are familiar you will already know how powerful it is, so feel free to use this in your practice if you wish.

Photo by Jimmy Conover on Unsplash

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

First Time?

First Time?

Every year, at around this time, I have a minor internal struggle trying to decide what is the latest time that I can get away with wishing someone 'Happy New Year.' The first week of January is a given. After that, well, it depends. After the end of January it is definitely too late. Today is 31st of January so I am pushing it a bit. But it is technically still Lunar New Year so here I go:

Happy New Year everybody!

It has been about six weeks since I last sent a 'Metta Letter,' - my apologies for that. I have needed to regroup a bit and during that time I have been thinking about how best to focus future letters. I think I have some ideas about how to position these going forward. I know that you all get a metric tonne of these in your inbox, many of which are awesome and from far worthier writers that me. So I want to make sure that in some way I am adding something of value and substance, with maybe a viewpoint or angle that isn't covered in other newsletters. I think I know how to do that going forward, in a way that is consistent with the themes I have been covering but which has a clearer direction. Some of the topics I cover may seem a little random, but there is a theme and a viewpoint - it has just taken me until the last few weeks to realize it myself!

I'll share that direction with you in my next letter - hopefully it will resonate with you. I am grateful for the support you have given me as I have been writing these over the last few years, and hope that I can continue to provide a different voice to help you on your path. But now, to the letter itself.

This week I have been thinking a lot about 'first times.'

I am old enough to remember the first time I heard Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody on the radio. I also remember the first time I saw the video for it. And I remember knowing that this was something special, that somehow I was witnessing something unlike anything I had ever heard or seen before. There was a buzz around it - it came just as punk was in its ascendancy and flew in the face of that by being something operatic and heavily produced - the antithesis of what was going on in popular music. For those of you younger than me (probably most of you), Bohemian Rhapsody might feel like something that has just 'always been around.' But if you can remember the before-and-after, you will know that there was something that changed, something that moved, when you heard it for the first time.

Now, I acknowledge, maybe I take music more seriously than many (or than I should), but I am sure that there is something that you can point to that had this nature of 'the time before' and 'the time after.' Maybe it was a book, or a play, or a passage, or meeting someone, or even learning a fact. Many commentators have talked about how, on Christmas Eve 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 took the stunning Earthrise picture from beyond the moon, showing the beauty and fragility of the Earth in a way humans had never seen before. Truly a 'time before' and 'time after' moment, credited by many as the start of a deeper consciousness of our responsibility to this planet.

I experienced one of these moments myself a few days ago. Now I am going to prefix this by saying that the work that was such a unique experience to me may not have the same resonance for you - that is not the point. But I did this week experience a work that, for me, was a real 'time before' and 'time after' moment. Maybe not quite at the Bohemian Rhapsody level, but at least at the 'O Superman,' 'Stan,' or Shostakovich's '8th Quartet' level. Again, for me.

The work is by an artist called Ren and is titled 'Hi Ren.' The piece is hard to describe, as it is a mix of song, poetry, rap and guitar in a structure quite unlike anything else. If you follow any internet music you will likely have come across the piece yourself, as since it was released in December it has exploded online, with millions of views and streams and it being shared everywhere. It has hit a chord with viewers and listeners partly because of it's unique structure, and partly because it addresses struggles with mental health in a way that resonates with anyone who has experienced even the smallest amount of self-doubt. It is a piece that is both disturbing and triumphant at the same time.
(note, if you do decide to watch it be prepared for some raw exploration of these themes and some bad language)

But again, this essay isn't about the work itself, but how it left me feeling. This feeling of having never experienced anything like it before. And then the feeling of now having experienced it. First time. Before and after.

It's actually quite a strange feeling - and the interesting thing is that it a common one. The internet is full of so-called 'reaction videos,' where some person - sometimes famous or noteworthy, sometimes not - posts a video of them watching something, so you can see on their faces how they react, and they can tell you what that 'first time' feels like for them. I have to admit I watched quite a few of these reaction videos to Ren's piece just to live vicariously through their experience of their own 'first time.'

There was a part of me that wanted to be able to experience the 'first time' again, something I knew I could not do. Or could I?

Contemplating this brought to mind Shunryu Suzuki's teaching “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” The question was, could I experience this piece with beginner's mind? So I tried. And sure enough, I found I could approach it with openness and awareness that almost - not quite - felt like I was experiencing it for the first time. And it underlined for me the role we play ourselves with art, how works change when we can approach them with presence and awareness.

These qualities that we cultivate in meditation can pervade our whole lives. Whether we are experiencing art, learning about the world, sweeping the floor or cleaning the toilet. We can be aware, open and present.

Just like the first time.

Metta, Chris.

PS: There's an internet meme that runs around taken from the wonderful Coen Brothers movie The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The meme shows a still of the actor James Franco standing on the gallows with a noose around his neck, asking his fellow noosed prisoner "First Time?" It's a very funny part of the movie, and makes for a very useful meme.

PPS: I have linked below a fully guided meditation on the idea of 'beginning again' in meditation, specifically for the New Year. Please feel free to use it in your practice in whatever way helps.

Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash