Kudos for Kindness: Practising Metta Meditation

For the western world ‘Metta’ remains a stumbling block, but with patience and practise it can be a pathway to peace.

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‘Whatever grounds there are for making merit productive of a future birth […] The liberation of the mind by loving-kindness surpasses them all and shines forth bright and brilliant’ (Buddha, Itivuttaka, 27)

At Amavarati Monastery, Ajahn Sumedo spoke of the familiar criticism levelled at loving-kindness:

Metta isn’t about practising superhuman love, it’s grounded in reality. One is asked simply to develop a more compassionate mindset. As Sumedo said:

Many of us are carrying a great amount of emotional pain. How are we supposed to practise loving-kindness for the world, when we have trouble practising it it toward ourselves? Before we can develop compassion for the world, we must develop it for ourselves

When it comes to a serious mental health problems a common accusation can be: ‘why do you behave like this?’ If I was a therapist, I wouldn’t ask these questions. But if they were turned back on me by a patient, and they asked: ‘why do I act like I do?’ I’d answer ‘because you’ve suffered a lot.’

Over the years I’ve discovered how stubbornly resistant to change personalities really are. In Buddhism they talk about ‘inclining toward Nibbana.’ The same can be said for recovery: ‘Inclining towards recovery’ is a much more helpful stance in getting better. We don’t chase, fight or struggle, we just gently aim. Its a subtle thing.

This is where Metta meditation can help.

In Zen Buddhism ‘Bija’ literally means ‘seed.’ When seeds of suffering are overwatered, they tend to suffocate the garden of consciousness. If we try to annihilate unpleasant emotions either by repressing them, or be fighting against them, we end up suffering more. Negative mind-states have to be experienced in order for them to be processed. As such, we can only get better, by letting seeds bloom wilt and die.

Kamma must be the most overused catchword of the 21st century. But return to the Buddhist meaning there is a simple law of cause and effect. If we are attentive we can see kamma, in our day to day life. After too many times waking up in hospital beds, I finally learnt the cause of my suffering, also has its effect. That by avoiding loving-kindness, I was ending up in a destructive cycle of unrelenting crisis. It may seem trite, but by practising of Metta I I’m cultivating more compassionate and peaceful states of mind. By inclining towards recovery, I’ve noticed progress and pitfalls, but I’d rather be here than were I was any day.

The abbot of Amaravati Monastry has a useful way to develop Metta, the key skill is in using your imagination:

In the old days I thought if I practised loving-kindness to myself, I was dishonouring my own pain, negating all that I’ve been through. Over time, I’ve realised that I can honour the truth of whats happened, but I don’t have to suffer so much. Practising Metta may seem ridiculous, but it’s a serious business. The brain’s natural inclination to neuroplasticity, means real change is possible. For me, the clearest evidence, is that after many years of inhaling poison, I thought I was to damaged to ever come good — but rather unexpectedly I learnt to breathe fresh air.

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Freelance journalist writing on mental health and disability. Words have the power to shine a light on realities otherwise missed.

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