Metta & Rest – 4/18/2018

Metta (or Loving Kindness) is one of four Brahma Viharas (or Divine Abodes), along with Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity. We practice cultivating these virtues in order to open and balance the heart.

Metta is a mental state more than a feeling or a reaction. Practicing Metta purifies the mind, releasing fears and doubts. Over time, we develop unconditional friendliness and let go of negative judgments about others and ourselves. We learn to receive life as it is, without trying to manipulate it or to change it according to our preferences.

Life flows like an eternal river, and we are happiest when we follow its natural current without resistance. As we learn to bring appreciation to each pleasant moment and compassion to each unpleasant moment, we foster contentment and inner peace.

The Buddha taught that people who love themselves don’t harm others intentionally. So it is worthwhile to act like your own best friend, offering yourself friendship. We long to be recognized for who we really are, but we resist exploring what lies beneath our idealized self-image. When we can accept ourselves just as we are, we are freer to change our unhealthy habits.

Loving oneself is different from egotism, which is associated with addiction to desires, physical contraction, and separation from other people. Healthy self-love is characterized by liberation, physical relaxation, and generosity towards others.

In my experience, an atmosphere of spaciousness and quiet helps me foster healthy self-love. If I am overly busy and feeling rushed or pressured, I find it harder to generate loving feelings towards others or myself. Slowing down and pausing provide respite and rest, which seem necessary for cultivating good will.

In his book Consolations, David Whyte writes a pertinent essay about the word “rest.” He states, “To rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right.” He continues, “We are rested when we are a living exchange between what lies inside and what lies outside…when we let things alone and let ourselves alone, to do what we do best, [to] breathe as the body intend[s] us to breathe…. When we give and take in an easy foundational way, we are closest to the authentic self, and closest to that self when we are most rested. To rest is not self-indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves…”

Residential meditation retreats provide opportunities to practice in a serene natural setting away from the noise and stress of daily life. On retreat, my heart gradually softens, opens, and resonates with each sentient being I encounter. During a month-long retreat at Spirit Rock, the following poem emerged spontaneously in my mind:

Nature is napping.
Alone in the walking meditation room,
I pause amidst mindful pacing
To stretch and yawn.

Through a window I watch
Two deer trot across
Grassy grazing ground
And traipse into a copse of
Sheltering trees.

Still in my view,
The fawn and his mother
Kneel down on spindly legs
And lower their rumps.
Pillowed by dry fallen leaves,
They lounge for a post-prandial siesta.

High up on the hills,
A gaggle of wild turkeys
Takes a break from
Rowdy amorous exploits
In a rare period of
Silent abstinence.

At closer range,
A pair of lizards lolls,
One atop the other,
On a sunny rock.
The only sign of activity is
An energetic butterfly
Dancing to and fro around
The immobile, dormant reptiles.

Although it seems oblivious to
These masters of repose,
The mariposa alights
On a small twig
And folds its wings together
For a quick snooze.

Insight arises in my mind:
“Even butterflies rest.”
Taking a cue from the creatures,
I lay my tired body
On the thick carpet
To bask in a rectangular patch
Of warm sunlight.
The more I follow
Animal instincts to relax,
The more deeply I can
Rest in inner light.

PRACTICE: Now close your eyes and imagine breathing into the area of the heart, soothing and resting your body in preparation for guided Metta practice.

Today we’ll send loving-kindness in turn to ourselves, to loved ones, to a neutral person, and to all beings everywhere. With traditional Metta practice, we use four simple, honest phrases that we plant like seeds in the heart.

Sense your heart resonating with the last word in each phrase:

May I be peaceful and happy.
May I be healthy in body and mind.
From inner and outer harm may I be safe.
From all suffering may I be free.