Lessons in Metta (written 2008)
A fall retreat. The days passing on winged feet. Meditation, walks, the labyrinth. Settling, not stirring up.
I request an interview and take a couple of practice “bumps” to the monk leading. There I stumble along trying to describe my quandary over metta meditation and those I love most dearly. In traditional metta, there is a progression that begins with sending lovingkindness to one's self, then to those whom one feels affinity with. Thirdly to neutral persons and finally to difficult people. Why, I ask, do I so often find dear ones reappearing in the category of “difficult” people? And why is it here that I find the arising of resentment and blame that block my heart? Not an easy confession.
Bhante touches the right thread immediately and the problem falls away. I need to back up in this progression I follow too hastily. Back up and send lovingkindness to me. Working, thus, on myself, to soften my heart and heal emotional wounds, loosen clinging that is the source of the pain that comes when one feels resentment or blame. Notice the attachment in the guise of love. Build my capacity for lovingkindness where ego-clinging is not a part.
Even before the interview I had given the day over to metta/lovingkindness meditation, but as I return to my seat with a new resolve, settling to the breath and this aching heart, I am surprised to find the fear stories that arise. This is the source, I see, of those blocks. Fear of pain, of conflict, of turmoil of any kind. I move from my head and the thought of fear down into my body. Finding the tension and tight breathing. Stay. Stay. Not creating pretty distractions and not pushing this unpleasant stuff away in the quest for momentary peace. Stay. Observe. Feel. Periodically, I am off on the thought train once again. Old lessons learned over and over. Notice this too, then return. Breath and body.
Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of cradling the wounded self, the imperfect self, as one would a child. “It's alright, dear one. You are loved. You are safe. You are accepted.” Allowing these soothing inner voices to contain the pain, I see the struggles of an ordinary person here. No one wants to be miserable. I remember a teacher who said, no one sets that as an intention, yet we find our way there anyway. An inner smile. Back to feeling what I feel. Sending love. Opening the heart. It is a process.
The evening talk is on compassion. Bhante reminds us that when metta is cultivated in regular practice, compassion will naturally arise. Seeing one's own suffering clearly, compassion for the suffering of others finds its beginning. Compassion, he emphasizes, is not grief. Grief debilitates and does not allow us to be helpful so it is not a skillful response. Remembering when grief has overwhelmed me, in the case of my own losses or the losses of others, I know this to be true. Grief is a form of anger and confusion. A struggle against what is. Only seeing, accepting, surrendering, will allow movement toward one's own healing, or an effort to assist another.
And in a flash I see why this loving of myself is so vital in terms of the practice problem I took to Bhante earlier today. How is it possible to classify as “difficult” any being for whom one feels compassion? As ego subsides, there can only be loving kindness for all of us in this struggle, for every wounded child.