Friday, September 16, 2011

More Metta, Please!

In honor of Laker Ron Artest officially changing his name to Metta World Peace today, I thought I'd write about metta.   Not the man named Metta, but metta.

"What the hell does his first name mean?" you may ask. We all know what his new last name - World Peace - is, if not in reality, then at least in theory.  

And while world peace may not be something that can happen overnight,  metta is entirely possible right now, right here, in this very moment as you read this blog or pump gas or say hello to your nosy neighbor.  And it's impact could very well lead to world peace!  

Ron - oops, Metta World Peace - might be on to something. 

In Buddhism, metta is a Pali word (maitri in sanskrit) and is one of the four brahmavijaras - aka the four immeasurables or higher emotions of:  metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha.

Metta is loving kindness, karuna is compassion and mudita is appreciative joy - like when your nosy neighbor gets a bonus at work and buys a brand new Lexus.  You're happy for him, right?  Right?  Hellooo?  And finally upekkha, or equanimity - that unflappable, even quality you maintain in the midst of whatever is thrown your way, like your neighbor's tendency to point out how your crappy '83 Honda Civic is on its last legs.
We cultivate these higher emotions, these sublime and limitless qualities of loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity in our meditation practice so that they become second nature.  Practice may not make "perfect", but practice makes a happier, fulfilling, more peaceful life for yourself and those around you.

Metta is many things: unconditional friendliness, warm-heartedness, love, the wish for others to be truly happy, caring for others and expecting nothing in return.  However, there is a return on this kind of stuff.  Try it and see.

When we engage in metta practice, we practice sending to others loving kindness and the wish for their happiness.  We practice metta in our meditation and we practice it as we move through our daily lives.

And what Easterners have known for thousands of years, the West is slowly starting to recognize. Metta practice helps us with everything from chronic pain to better focus to general well being, a sense of connection with others and improved relationships.  

Personally, metta practice has helped me to not just feel warmth, love and forgiveness for those who have hurt me, but has actually changed how people respond to me, changed my relationship to myself and others, and therefore, changed my reality.

But sending metta to myself has been truly transformational.  As I got over how incredibly foreign and uncomfortable it was for me to send loving kindness my own way - whether I thought I deserved it or not - more of my inherent goodness began to shine through.  My creativity enhanced, my humor increased and so did my willingness to take risks, dream big, love deep.  I waste much less time on self loathing.  This is enjoyed not just by me, but by those around me as my best friends and boyfriend will attest.  How we treat ourselves is how we treat others.  Duh, right? 

And there is no way I would have been able to go in to countless seedy bars and comedy clubs each night making people laugh without a heart filled with metta.  Whether faced with surly, unhappy comics...or a surly, unhappy audience, booker, producer, etc...I've experienced transformation whenever I carry a desire for all those around me to truly be happy.  Because, look: when people are happy, they're less of an a-hole, you know?  And so am I! 

So go ahead.  I dare you.  Wish for those around you to be truly, completely, utterly happy.  True happiness that comes not from outside gain or reputation, but from our true nature - within.

Metta lives in all of us; it is part of our true nature no matter how obscured it may have become over the years for us.  When we practice getting in touch with it, we start to trust it's always there and easily accessible. 

If you want to give metta practice a try, all you need is a comfortable, quiet place to sit.  Turn off your phones and give yourself 15 minutes.  Soon, you and your neighbor will be throwing back jello shots and Googling videos of cats.  Or porn.  Whatever brings you together.

Metta (loving-kindness) Meditation

Your heart
See, feel or imagine your heart as a glowing orb of golden light at the center of your chest. Feel its warmth, see its glow.  Don’t worry if it’s just a sliver of warmth and light.  And if you can’t tap in to it at all, simply trust it is there.  Whatever you have is enough. As you breathe in, this light gets brighter and warmer.  As you breathe out, that light and warmth from your heart spreads throughout your entire body. Allow yourself to relax and enjoy this feeling.  Continue breathing in, allowing your heart to get bright and warm and then breathing out, spreading this warmth and light throughout your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Do this as long as you like before beginning the sequence.

Being who is easy to love 
Now bring to mind a being that is easy to love. Usually this is a child or pet, but can be a friend or family member if you like. This is a being who, when you think of them, instantly and easily warms and opens your heart.  Feel your heart get bright and warm. Send this warmth and light, this loving-kindness, to that being, along with the wish for their genuine happiness.  There is a limitless supply of this loving-kindness within your heart. 

Bring to mind yourself.  See yourself standing before you.  Not you when you have your act together, but you as you are right now, with all your quirks and faults.  Feel your heart’s brightness and warmth.  Send this warmth and light, this loving-kindness you have generated, to yourself, along with the wish for your genuine happiness.

Family and friends for whom you are grateful 
Now bring to mind a family member or a friend that are you are grateful for, living or dead, and do the same. If you like, continue to bring to mind as many family members and friends as you like, doing the same.

~ If at any time, you lose contact with the warm, bright feeling of loving-kindness, recall the being that is easy to love, contact that feeling, and then continue. ~

Now bring to mind someone you don’t know; a person who you’ve recently seen at the store, on the street, standing in line somewhere.  Send them that same bright, warm loving-kindness from your heart along with the wish for their happiness.

Difficult person 
Now bring to mind someone difficult.  It doesn’t have to be the most difficult person in your life.  Perhaps it’s simply someone who has rubbed you the wrong way.  Send them this same bright, warm loving-kindness from your heart along with the wish for their happiness.

All beings everywhere 
Now imagine the light from your heart getting bigger and brighter and shining through the pores in your body. You are now glowing and shining this light of loving-kindness from all directions: your front, your sides, and your back. This light and warmth from your heart continues to grow and shine out more and more and it reaches all beings in your neighborhood, then your city, then your state, the country, the continent, around the world, the universe and beyond. Send this warm, bright light and loving kindness you have generated, along with the wish for their happiness, to all beings everywhere.

 After awhile allow the image of all beings everywhere to fade...

...And simply rest in this light and loving-kindness.

When you’re ready, bring yourself back to where you are now, to your body, to your breathing and open your eyes.  

* Metta is sent to yourself after the being that is easy to love fans the flames of your heart and gets your metta going.  This is because sending it to yourself creates a foundation from which you can send it to others and move through the world with a heart full of metta. Students often have a hard time sending metta to themselves (just do your best!) and often forget this part. Here in the West, we love our self loathing; we are under the delusion that we need it.  Don't forget this part!
~ ~ ~