― Thich Nhat Hanh
Welcome, everyone. This is our first day of May is for Metta 2012. Each day will offer a guided practice and exploration in Metta, Loving-kindness meditation. This time is also an opportunity to develop or deepen your meditation practice. We will begin gradually with the focus on cultivating loving-kindness for ourselves, which is the foundation of Metta practice.
Take some time to decide where you will do your practice. It is helpful to have a set place to practice that is clear and quiet. However, do not let this be an obstacle. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Wherever you go, there you are.” And wherever you are can be the perfect place to practice. For instance, if lunchtime is the only time you have, perhaps going outside is a good place to go this time of year. Be open and creative to find a space that feels good to you whether it is in your home or elsewhere. One of my friends recently shared that after struggling to find a time and place to meditate for so long, she just started practicing in her car right as she gets to work.
Take some time to decide how long you will practice each day. This can change over the 31 Days and as the practice develops and deepens. Five minutes can be a good beginning if that‘s what works for you. Can you commit five minutes or fifteen minutes a day to allowing more love, compassion and stillness into your life? Making a time commitment can be helpful especially as you are beginning to practice. It’s okay to start with less time and expand it as the practice develops.
Now, find a comfortable position for your body. This can be on a chair or on the floor. If you are on a chair, it is good to sit with your spine straight and feet on the floor. Sometimes, it helps to put a pillow behind your back for support or to sit at the leading edge of the chair rather than leaning back. If you are on the floor, sit cross-legged or in lotus posture. Make sure to have a cushion or blanket to sit on and adjust your leg position so that you feel comfortable. Once you come into your sitting position, check that your spine is straight, but not tense; shoulders and stomach relaxed. Your hands can rest on your knees or your lap. Allow your chin to tuck slightly toward your chest. Let the eyes close, or if you prefer, leave your eyes open, gazing softly at the floor in front of you.
Begin with a few deep breaths, breathing in for a count of five and out for a count of five. It is important to allow the body and the mind to relax. Take a moment to scan the body for any areas of tension or discomfort. Allow the next few breaths to wash over those areas melting away any tensions. Also, scan the mind for any thoughts, worries or business of the day, and send that all out with the next few breaths, just letting it all drift away like a cloud passing by in the sky.
Now, bring your breath and awareness to the heart center in the center of your chest. Notice how it feels to be present in the heart. This is the center of love, compassion, gentleness and mercy for your self and for others. So, as we begin, we connect with our own heart. When the Buddha spoke of Metta he used the example of a mother’s love for a child; he taught that we need to love all beings as a mother loves her child. This is the feeling we are working to cultivate in our practice.
Remember a time when you felt loved in that way, when you felt totally enveloped by love and compassion. Sometimes calling on the memory of a moment with a grandparent or even a loving pet is a way to generate this feeling. Let that feeling, that quality fill your whole being, every atom and cell. This is the quality of Metta, of Loving-kindness and this is where the practice of Metta begins. Spend some time just being with this quality, with this feeling. If your mind wanders or distractions arise, just remember to come back to the quality, the feeling and to breathe right into the center of your chest, your heart center. Allow yourself to spend some time being present in the heart, with the quality of loving-kindness.
This is your formal practice for today. We are beginning by keeping it simple and developing the essence of Metta, the feeling of loving-kindness. If the chance arises and you remember, try to bring up the feeling of loving-kindness as you go about your day. Bring your breath and awareness to your heart center whenever you feel to. Just notice how it feels to connect in this new way. Today is the day to invite loving-kindness and compassion into your life in a more conscious way.
Although not required, it can be helpful to create a journal for this practice period and to spend a few minutes in the evening to reflect on your daily practice and exploration. Did you do your practice today? If yes, how did it feel? If no, what stopped you? Did you gain any insights? What does Loving-kindness mean to you? How does it feel?
An important message from your sponsor: This practice is about loving-kindness and compassion. For many of us, our tendency is to be harsh and critical with ourselves. When we begin a new practice, we set high standards and when we don’t meet them, we tend to beat ourselves up emotionally. This is an excellent opportunity to change that pattern, to approach change and growth from a place of gentleness and self-love rather than harshness and self-hate. As Zen teacher, Cheri Huber, says, “If you had a person in your life treating you the way you treat yourself, you would have gotten rid of them a long time ago…”. So, however your practice unfolds, remember to be gentle and loving with yourself. This is the heart of Metta.
Have a beautiful day.