Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stealth Metta

Metta Bhavana is a type of Buddhist meditation that involves sending loving kindness to ourselves and all sentient beings.  In Pali (the language the Buddha spoke), metta means love, or lovingkindness, and bhavana is the word for cultivation - so this is a meditation on cultivating loving kindness.

I really like the use of the word 'cultivation.'  Its use shows that the Buddha came from an agrarian culture, where people related easily to language linked to their livelihoods. I think it's also a very gentle way to describe a meditation practice; we just plant the seeds, till the soil, water the plants, and protect them from harm, and one day we'll have some delicious food to eat!  It can feel awkward if we try to force feelings of lovingkindness, but this meditation encourages us to just take it slowly -  dropping a few small seeds of kindness and compassion into the soil at one time.

Metta Bhavana usually consists of sending loving kindness to yourself, then to a loved person, a neutral person, a person you have difficulties with, and finally, the whole world.  This is a link to a free audio podcast of a guided Loving Kindness meditation and here's a longer written description of the meditation.

There's also something called 'Stealth Metta' - which I heard Tara Brach talk about a few days ago in one of her podcasts.  This is where you use opportunities during the day to secretly send lovingkindness to people. You might spend two minutes while waiting at a traffic light to send lovingkindness to other drivers around you: 'May you be safe, may you be peaceful.' Or waiting in a doctor's surgery you could send the thought, 'May we be well, may we be happy,' to everyone in the waiting room.  If you're lying in bed listening to the radio you could send out feelings of lovingkindness to every talkback caller.

Like all meditation practice, a routine can be helpful. I had a practice for a while that involved sending feelings of lovingkindness to anyone I handed money to.  So, whenever I was in a shop and paying for something, I'd think, 'May you be happy,' as I handed the money over.  It can also help to visualise that person being happy while you say the words.  That seems to help connect the words to the feeling you're trying to cultivate.

If you're doing this type of practice and find yourself thinking, 'Actually, I don't really care that much about you. Why do I care whether you're happy or not?' - don't worry!  Noticing who we care about, and who we don't care about, is all part of the practice.  Just let feelings of ambivalence, or even dislike, be there as you keep going  with the practice. If you judge yourself for not feeling enough lovingkindness, just try to notice those judgements, but don't buy into them - this is also just part of the meditation.  Slowly, your metta muscle will build up.

If you have any other 'stealth metta' ideas, please let me know - I love to get your comments.

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