Writing on hot breezy summer day, I watch the trees dancing outside my window. They seem so carefree, moving with the wind without any worries. Shimmering in the light, as if to draw my attention to their gorgeous beauty – ‘look at me!’, they say. And I watch enchanted.
Life starts to come alive, when we pay attention. Everything does. Our own inner feelings and sensations, as well as the happenings of the outer world. It is as though a dusty screen door were opened and suddenly, everything comes into focus. Our hearts start to open, with less fear of hurting.
This can be overwhelming at times, this porousness of the body and mind, unless we can stay strong and centered, just like the trees do with their roots. The roots make all the difference in dancing with the wind. How do we cultivate this strength and focus ?
This is where, the practice of metta or loving-kindness has made a profound difference in my own practice of mindfulness. Loving-kindness takes the edge off the awareness so that our attention is relaxed and soft. We are able to relax into being, instead of straining. Metta touches the deep strings of our heart that longs to be loved and cared for. And it extends this generosity to all those around us, to all beings seen and unseen, born and unborn. This sort of openness allows our innate joy to unfold.
In the practice of metta, we repeat phrases of well-wishes for ourselves, phrases like ‘may I be happy, may I have ease of well-being, may I be healthy’. Phrases that seem most natural to us. We extend these wishes to our dear friends, acquaintances, strangers, and extend it to people we don’t like as much and so on, till we extend this unconditional wishes to all beings. A favorite one is ‘may all beings have friendship and love in their lives’.
The first time I practiced metta at a spontaneous week-long retreat at IMS, there was a lot of straining and grasping. Straining to ‘do’ the practice and say the classic phrases, and grasping for some of this
unconditional love for myself. In one of my group interviews, the teacher Rebecca Bradshaw, asked me to relax and receive. But it wasn’t until the second retreat around that I fully understood what receiving meant, thanks to my teachers.
When our heart inclines towards metta phrases, it is the beauty of the heart that starts to unfold. And receiving that beauty makes all the difference. The I and you behind the phrases vanish and we begin to see how we all share this journey. How we are all connected. Metta allows the natural compassion of the heart to arise, because it is steeped in unconditional love.
One of my favorite teachers Michele Mcdonald, said in one of her dharma talks, how when we practice on the cushion, we punch in and we punch out. That is all we can do. She likened it to pouring water into a vase with a very narrow neck. A lot of the water falls on the side, but a few drops trickle their way through. And these drops make all the difference. These drops of metta trickle their way into our lives.
We all have moments when there isn’t metta present. We are angry, judging, hurt, defensive. It always amazes when I sit, and repeat the phrases, even if I don’t actually feel a lot of loving-kindness. And then something happens. Some magic alchemy. And I come back to myself. Just the act of inclining my attention towards that intention of care makes all the difference.
Why do we sit? Why do we practice? Why do we undertake a spiritual journey? Because we care. We care deeply. for our own suffering and that of others. This intention of caring underlies our practice. And the punching in, punching out strengthens this intention of care.
So, do your bit. Be gentle and relaxed in your attention. Stay present in your body. and receive some of that grace you bring into this universe by simply being.
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