Meditation for everyone.
Metta meditation is a method of practice, Buddhist in origin, that focuses the mind on repetitive phrases aimed at contemplating and creating compassion.
"May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be filled with and surrounded by loving-kindness.
May you be free."
"Metta" is often translated as "loving-kindness," a hybrid of abiding presence and a kind heart. To engage in this practice you find your position - seated, supine,walking, focus the mind on the breath, and begin to repeat the phrases out loud or silently.
The first round (a matter of repetitions or minutes) replaces the "you" above with the name of an uncontroversially good person: the Dalai Lama, Jesus, Mother Teresa or the like. Someone it's easy to wish good for.
The next round you move to focusing on a neutral to good person: the mail carrier, a cashier or even just some kindly seeming person you passed on the sidewalk.
Then you move to someone more difficult: you can pick someone you just don't have warm fuzzies for or someone truly challenging for you.
Then you move to the hardest of all: yourself.
"May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be filled with and surrounded by loving-kindness.
May I be free."
Then you conclude by moving back to your easy person.
I was practicing with the phrases the other day. When I moved to making myself the object, the phrases that seemed so declarative, so clearly surrounded their object with positivity and grace... suddenly turned into questions. "I don't know, may I? Dare I? Can I?"
And so I returned my attention to the phrases and my breath. I made the questions coming up the object of curiosity and continued with the phrases, with my breath.
The questions broke open something that had long been scared, feeling judged and unworthy. The focus on the phrases and my breath brought equanimity, and with it courage. To dare.
One of the touchstones of my sitting practice is listening to dharma talks and one of my favorite teachers is Gil Fronsdal of IMC (Insight Meditation Center). I was listening to a recent talk in the early quiet, slanting light of Sunday that feels made of possibility and care, when he said something like "...ethics make it [Buddhism] real."
Now he's specifically not talking about rule based ethics, like "Don't do this, Do that," and I definitely recommend you listen to what he has to say, because he's a masterful teacher. Masterful. The general point at this moment in the talk was that the awareness we practice on the cushion finds life and meaning when we apply it to how we're living in the world. Making this connection is an expression of integrity. Okay, so I added that last bit. You should really listen to the talk, Mr. Fronsdal is amazing.
I immediately started thinking about yoga. [I know, just because I was thinking about yoga doesn't make following my restless little wandering mind less ridiculous while listening to a talk about not following my restless little wandering mind. Irony perceived.] While I'm on the cushion, I'm practicing being awareness rather than getting caught up in it's byproducts. On my mat, I feel like I'm one step closer to bringing that to everyday life, practicing forms and flows, noticing how they feel without getting caught up in any one feeling, practicing kindness and noticing what is rather than what I wish would be.
And bringing that practice home, engaging it without being led, following sensation and intuition is a massive reality check. It feeds my curiosity and questions for when I have a teacher. It keeps me humble as much as it empowers. It takes my cartoon practice of following cues to look like what someone else is leading me towards, and makes it... real. This practice allows those forms and shapes to reveal things hidden in the sinews and synapses of my restless little wandering body and brings life and meaning to the classes I take and teach.
A new student remarked the other day that she'd not thought of home practice before, but it made sense to her because when you're learning anything else - French, piano, cooking - you're supposed to practice at home, on your own. Obviously part of this is that your piano teacher doesn't need to hear every scale you tinkle through to impart the knowledge of key tinkling. But a much bigger part is that it allows you to play, experiment, make adjustments.... listen. To yourself. Not to the teacher, to yourself. Listen.