“The process by which we transform our more instinctual attitude to life, that state of mind which seeks only to satisfy desire and avoid discomforts, is what we mean when we use the word meditation. It is the technique by which we diminish the force of old thought habits and develop new ones.” – H.H. Dalai Lama
According to the Buddhist viewpoint, compassion arises from a happy mind. This is why it is so important to cultivate loving-kindness and compassion for ourselves. “Maitri” is a concept in Buddhism that is translated as “unconditional friendship toward oneself.” This can be a hard concept for Westerners to grasp due to the tendency in our culture to be constantly driven and often, self-critical. What Maitri really means is to be able to relax with yourself, to feel at home in your mind and body and to get in touch with your own essential goodness. This is where the seeds of happiness arise. But, they come from letting go of the struggle against the pain in our life – the fear, anger, shame, loss and so on.
We naturally want to turn away or escape from our pain but when we can to sit with it and allow our own tender hearts to just be, as they are, then we can begin to feel compassion for ourselves. It often takes our own experience of loss and grief to open us to the pain of others. This is why creating this foundation is such an important part of Metta practice. Allowing all of the tenderness, vulnerability and softness we feel in our own hearts to arise can open us up to love and compassion in a new way. So, patience becomes part of that compassion; we need to be willing to go slowly and allow ourselves to be in our own hearts with whatever may be arising.
This is not only a Buddhist concept; it is part of many spiritual traditions. As Sufi Master Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan shared,
“It is our suffering, our broken heart, that gives us insight into the suffering of others….The extraordinary thing is that the insight of the heart is the magic that unleashes talents and potentialities within people that have been blocked as a result of their suffering.”
We will spend two more days practicing for ourselves. This will make it a full week, 7 days of focusing on showering ourselves with loving-kindness, being present with ourselves more fully, and building a strong foundation to extend Metta to others.
Daily Practice – Do the foundational practices. Begin by getting comfortable and settling into your breath. Spend a few moments centering on your heart. Imagine yourself sitting in a circle surrounded by loving beings. They may be ones you actually know or those who you imagine are loving. Allow your self to feel enveloped in this love. Also, at this point I recommend finding the way that works best for you, some folks really resonate with the circle of loving beings, others do better by connecting directly with the heart.
Part of the foundational practice is finding how you can best generate the feeling of loving-kindness and compassion at the beginning of your practice. Each person is different and part of being loving with yourself is taking the time to find which practice and way of practice best supports your journey. After our month of practice, you may find that Metta is not the daily practice for you and you can move on to exploring other practices. For now, Metta is the vehicle for getting to know yourself better and moving into a more loving way of being with yourself, others and the world.
So, once you have generated a deep sense of loving-kindness. Begin to send Metta to yourself by using the phrases you have chosen to work with.
- May you be safe.
- May you be happy.
- May you be peaceful.
- May you be free from suffering.
If you notice your mind has wandered, return to the next phrase or begin again. Also, you can always reconnect with your heart center or your circle of loving beings if difficult feelings arise. Practice for as long as you have committed to or as much as you can for today.
Journal Notes – Are you noticing difficult feelings arising as you practice? Are you feeling more of your vulnerability or tender heartedness? Are you able to be patient with yourself and your practice? Are you practicing? Are you journaling? When difficulty feelings, critical voices or limiting beliefs arise, it can be a powerful tool to write them down and a good way to explore where your inner work lies.
Wishing all of you a peaceful and happy day.
For those in the Annapolis, MD/DC/VA area, I will leading Introduction to Metta: Exploring Loving-kindness at 12:30 PM today, May 6th at Evolutions Body Clinic.