Thursday, June 2, 2011

First Stage Metta Bhavana: Remembering The Good Within You

After sitting with your breath for several minutes, calming the body/mind, call to mind something you have said or done that you feel was a kind or 'good' action. It could be a time you were generous, caring, or contributed to someone's well-being. Perhaps you offered a bowl of fresh, cool water to a stray dog near your home. Perhaps you helped a child-laden mother gather up some fallen groceries. It most certainly need not be anything "big."

If something comes to mind, note if a feeling of happiness arises at the recollection. The Buddha encouraged us to water happiness by remembering it. In fact, this practice is part of the "Four Supreme Efforts" listed under "Right Effort," the sixth limb of the Noble Eightfold Path.

If a feeling of happiness does indeed arise at the remembrance of your kind action or words, simply allow yourself to 'bask' in the tender warm glow. If nothing comes to mind, then gently turn your attention to a quality you like about yourself. It can be a skill, ability, or strength within yourself that you can recognize. Again, it needn't be anything big and 'special.' Perhaps you bake a really good apple pie, and maybe you like to share it with friends.

What is beautiful about this practice is how the tradition seems to 'bend over backward' to make it available to all of us, because if you cannot recall a time you acted or spoke generously, and if you cannot think of a skill, ability or quality you like about yourself, you can simply reflect on the primal desire you have -- like ALL beings -- to be happy! The desire to be happy is good, natural, beautiful and has a sense of 'rightness' about it.

If in any of the above reflections, impatience, irritation, anxiety or fear should arise, please don't fall into negative self-talk. See if you can return to your breath, stabilize your body/mind, and then return to the contemplation free of judgment. The real heart of any meditative practice is to let go and begin again and again and again....

It doesn't matter if the mind wanders countless times in any session of practice; in the moment you recollect it, you are already 'beginning anew!' There is nowhere your attention can go to, and no length of time it can be distracted, from which you cannot simply let go, and in that very moment, begin anew!

poep sa frank jude

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

June Daily Practice: Maitri/Metta Bhavana

The Buddha taught that cultivating a kind and loving heart with a love for all creation is the most important dimension of our spiritual practice. The Pali word metta (Sanskrit: maitri) has two root meanings. The first is “gentle” as in a gentle misty rain that in falling, does not pick and choose where it falls. It simply falls with no discrimination. The second root is “friend.” A good and true friend is one who is constant in good times and bad. The culmination of metta is to become a good friend to all of life.

While many folk believe they can love others unconditionally, I have found that if you cannot open and accept yourself unconditionally, it is truly not possible to do so for others. Sadly, it is not even possible to receive such love from another if you do not first have it for yourself. The Buddha said there is no one more deserving of your love than yourself. In befriending yourself, you open the door to your heart so that others can abide within.

Preliminary Practice: Take some time to recall your own goodness; calling to mind a time we did or said something that was kind, generous, caring or loving. If nothing comes to mind, reflect on some skill or talent that you possess. It could be something as apparently insignificant as making a great pasta sauce! If still nothing comes to mind, simply reflect on the basic “rightness” of our innate wish to be happy. The fact is, this practice is truly accessible and available to all of us!

Basic Practice: After settling in on the breath and having completed several minutes of preliminary practice, begin to repeat the following phrases, or others of your own choosing, that express what you most deeply wish for yourself. You can coordinate the phrases with your breath or not, as you prefer. Let the pacing and tone be gentle. When the mind wanders, or if difficult feelings arise, simply notice in a spirit of kind acceptance, and gently come back to repeating the phrases.

The Phrases:
May I be happy.
May I be peaceful.
May I be safe from harm.
May I be free from suffering.
May I have the ease and joy of well-being.

The Traditional Sequence of Metta Bhavana:
1.              To Ourselves. This is the essential foundation for being able to offer genuine love to others.
2.              A Benefactor. This is someone who has been very good to us, for whom we feel respect and gratitude. I had a blind student who would send metta to her guide-dog, so truly any being who has benefited or supported you can be included here.
3.              A Beloved Friend. This can include family members as well and also companion animals.
4.              A Neutral Person. This is someone we have no strong feelings for one way or the other. Perhaps someone we see in the neighborhood but do not know. It can be hard to find someone we truly feel neutral toward, as we so quickly assess and judge others when we meet them, so try to find someone truly neutral!
5.              A Difficult Person.* This is someone with whom we have experienced conflict; someone toward whom we feel anger, fear, or a lack of forgiveness. Someone we perceive as having hurt us in some way. It's advised not to begin with the most difficult or abusive person in your life. Start with the small irritating folk! Some students find that they themselves are the difficult person, or some aspect of their personality fits the bill.
6.              Groups or Categories of Beings including animals, those in prison, those who are hungry, people with AIDS etc.
7.              All Beings Everywhere
* Be very patient and gentle when working with a difficult person. If difficult feelings arise, you may need to return to directing metta to yourself. Go back and forth between yourself and the difficult person, reflecting upon how much pain holding onto these feelings is causing you. 

Please take up this practice this month, and share whatever effects you find coming up. Don't be alarmed if it feels like you cannot access this feeling. Sending love to a closed or defended heart is also part of the practice. Also, as a purifying practice, be aware that unpleasant feelings and thoughts may arise. Simply continue with the phrases, and if you ever feel like you are growing overwhelmed, return to the calming breath awareness practice.

When you finish practicing, sit quietly for a few minutes, simply opening yourself to your experience, without analyzing or judging it. 

This practice is done as a formal meditation, but you can also do 'on-the-spot metta,' sending it to anyone around you as you walk down the street, sit in a bus or on a train etc.

poep sa frank jude