Warmth and Friendliness
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a two day retreat with a focus on Metta.
Metta has, for many years, been translated as “lovingkindness” and that is how the concept is often taught. While it has always sounded pleasant and lovely to me, I have struggled at times with the notion of being loving toward everyone. If I am honest, not all beings are easy to be loving toward, at least in my experience.
The teachers of this retreat, Donald Rothberg and Heather Sundberg, offered a different and more current definition. Apparently, some scholars who are well versed in Pali (the ancient language in which Buddhist text are written) have been revisiting the translations to investigate whether there is a better, more accurate word to capture the essence. The translation offered to us was “warmth” and “friendliness.” As I typed those words, I felt some ease and lightness in my heart. I think it is easier to find a little warmth and friendliness toward even the most difficult person…. Love can be such an intense and convoluted concept.
The practice of Metta is a concentration practice.
The method of practice starts with extending warmth and friendliness toward ourselves; then toward a benefactor (anyone who has inspired or supported you); a good friend (could be a pet); a “neutral” person (see more below); a “difficult” person (see more below); extending to all beings in all directions.
There are many phrases that can be used while practicing Metta; the options for well-wishes are endless. The four that evolved for me last week are:
May I be happy (replace “I” with “you” as the practice moves through different people)
May I be healthy.
May my life unfold simply and with ease.
May I be held in love.
While saying the phrases, I definitely notice my mind wandering off and thinking about something; totally normal; just return to the phrases and continue.
I want to share a couple of thoughts on the “neutral” and ‘difficult” persons.
For a neutral person, the suggestion is to choose a familiar person but not someone you know well. For example: a neighbor, a clerk at a store you frequent, the mail delivery person that you see around, etc.
The “difficult” person teaching was especially interesting and poignant for me. Donald spoke about what makes someone difficult for us. It really comes down to how we react. If it is a negative reaction and experience, it is difficult. Rather than acknowledging this and/or seeing the situation as difficult, we tend to point fingers and decide that we are dealing with a difficult person. Wow! This blew my mind. Self-compassion and forgiveness can then be interwoven into the Metta practice. This doesn’t mean that everyone gets “off the hook” and we become doormats. We need to have healthy boundaries. Also, if there is a difficult experience and we are working with it through Metta, Compassion and Forgiveness, this doesn’t mean that what has been done is condoned. Lily Tomlin is credited with the quote: “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” I think forgiveness holds some freedom.
Lastly about this; I also am a difficult person. I think this is a helpful and useful reminder. Each of us suffers and struggles.
My main practice has not been Metta focused and after this retreat, I don’t think it will be at this point. However, I have begun to incorporate a few ways of practicing Metta, formally and informally.
During the first couple of minutes and the last couple of minutes of my sitting practice, I send Metta wishes to myself. During the remainder of the sit, if someone pops into my mind, I send them Metta. If I notice that I’m quite consumed by thoughts/emotions, etc., I send a couple of rounds of Metta to myself and then resume noticing whatever is most prominent.
Informally, when I walk down the street, I send Metta to people I see, cross paths with, etc. As I prepare to spend time with someone, I may send a couple of rounds of Metta to myself and to the person I am about to see. I have found that this practice softens my heart and creates some delight in meeting the person. Lovely!!
Another tidbit for practice: throughout the day, ask yourself, “Where is my kind heart right now?” No attachment, just checking in with what’s here.
Thank you for reading.
May your life unfold simply and with ease.
May you be held in love.