Unconventional Metta Practice

Spiritual life is something I have to live in the midst of my life. Sometimes, I suffer from the delusion that if I only have time I could dedicate more time to spiritual practices. I think intentional time set for prayer and meditation is very important, but so is incorporating spiritual practices outside of that intentional time.

I wanted to write a blog post about metta meditation practice, and thought it might be helpful to share my experiences with some more unconventional times and places, where I practice metta. Metta is Pali word is roughly translated as loving-kindess. There are different ways to do metta meditation practice, but here’s one way that’s part of my practice. There are numerous phrases one can use to wish oneself and others metta or loving-kindess, but my teachers have always told me to begin with myself. A simple phrase I use are: “may I be happy, may I be healthy and may I be free from suffering.” I am sure you’ve heard other versions, so use whatever phrase that comes easily to you. I first start with myself, someone I know in passing, someone I am close to, someone that’s I have difficulty with, then I often return to wishing myself metta before I move onto people in my neighborhood, then all beings near by, and then all sentient beings everywhere.

Most teachers tell you not to do metta for someone you are romantically involved with, but teachers like Judith Simmer-Brown from the Shambhalah Buddhist tradition have encouraged such practice. I was at a lecture she gave at Duke years ago, and she encouraged folks to do metta to loved ones. Traditionally, metta for those you are romantically involved have been discouraged, because there can be strong feelings of attachment and mixed emotions, but my own experience has been that it has often been helpful to do metta for my significant other.

Some of the more unconventional areas I like to practice metta meditation is when I drive, especially if I am stuck in rush hour traffic or on the highway due to an accident. I find this practice very grounding and helps me not to jump to road rage, and extend compassion to other drivers and even other living beings as I travel.

I also have begun to pratice metta around grief and loss, even extending it to the soul/life force of a departed person, and then usually some metta for friends and family of the deceased. As I said before, I find it helpful to return to practicing metta to myself and returning to it if I find my heart hardening or just hitting a wall, which can include drowsiness, tension, or other forms. Like all meditation practice, root yourself in your breath and body as you repeat these phrases. There’s no hard rules on how long you have to dwell on each person, but I typically like to spend some significant time with each person/subject I am wishing metta too. I typically like to do 20 minutes of metta meditation, but sometimes do shorter or longer practice depending on the occasion. Sometimes an hour long metta practice is needed on the highway, so I don’t loose my shit. ๐Ÿ™‚ I also like to practice metta while my daughter naps, and extend loving-kindess to her. I used to practice metta meditation when she was a baby while I was holding her, which is a wonderful practice since you can feel your child breath and stomach rise and fall against your own rising and falling of your breath.

Meditation Poem Series: #64

There’s a Buddhist notion of cultivating bodhicitta, or empathy and compassion for all sentient beings. I know I often think of love as a feeling, but it’s something we can cultivate and grow into more and more. I really love this notion that we can cultivate kindess, love and compassion.

I think in the Christian tradition, I am always taken by even the worst sinners’ hearts can be awakened to Divine Love through an experience of mercy and grace. I have been especially contemplating why one thief on the cross was able to accept Jesus, and the other was not.

Meditation Poem #64
May compassion grow
in me and in you
each day

Meditation Poem Series: #44

I didn’t really make new year’s resolutions, but I would like to set the intention to keep meditation on a daily basis, to go deepen my experience by connecting more deeply with my Sangha (community), study the Dharma (the teachings), and find a teacher or guide in the Dharma. I don’t fit into a neat spiritual category, but for now I am happy being a Catholic/Quaker/Buddhist. ๐Ÿ™‚

I woke up bright and early to attend a 7AM All Team meeting at work, and to offer a prayer to start the meeting. I was able to sit and breathe in my office for 20 minutes, before facing the tasks of the day.

Meditation Poem #44
stillness, peace, quiet,
noise, chaos, movement,
all converging in me

Meditation Poem Series: #18

Today, I sat in meditation on a wooden bench at a Quaker meeting for worship. There are different sects of Quakerism, but I belong to one where people sit in Silence and speak out that Silence. I was pretty physically tired, the drowsiest I’ve been in sitting meditation.

Meditation Poem #18
the deepest silence cannot
hold the infinite emptiness
of heart

Reflection: Just Sitting

There’s form of Zen, where teachers stress shikantaza, or just sitting. If we just sit fully, then we just are, nothing special. Zen teachers like Kosho Uchiyama teach this sort of zen that embraces the everyday life, in his exploration of Dogen’s writing on the cook of a temple, Uchiyama writes:

The most important point to bear in mind here regarding the buddhadharma is the expression mantoku enman, or perfect harmony. To have goodness emanating naturally from your character is living more truly by Buddhism than having had some so-called kenshล or satori experience. There should be no doubt that living out your life, acting and being in perfect harmony, is indeed living out the life of the Self. A satori which is unrelated to your personal character is nothing more than a kind of drunkenness. It is no more than the elation you might get from taking drugs. Needless to say, this has nothing to do either with religion or with the buddhadharma.

We are not practicing for some goal, even for a goal of enlightened. We do zazen to do zazen, and in just sitting, we are just being.

Needless to say, I have not been able to just sit, I am distracted by a myriad of thoughts and feelings. But I try to keep coming back to the practice of sitting meditation over and over. Uchiyama says of zazen:

Your practice of zazen must not be something separate from your own experience of your day-to-day life, nor from the overall direction of your life. Rather, in constantly working to refine and clarify your everyday life, or the life of your total Self, your practice accords with the dharma.

I hope I can live this way of being, and live in a way that spiritual life is not a theory but a lived out experience in each moment.