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Metta is Not Nice

Metta is a wonderful practice and a wonderful mind-state. The act of blessing or making an aspiration for someone is powerful. But I'd like to make a point that I haven't yet written about: metta is not a practice about making things nice.

Metta as a practice is radical: it is radical in its openness; it is radical in its clarity; and it is radical in its scope.

When we practice metta as a formal practice daily, we bring to the practice our state of mind however it appears in that moment that we sit down and then moment after moment afterwards. Whether or not we feel open in any given moment, it is a practice of opening up. We practice dropping our agenda and conventional thoughts towards the object of metta (whomever we have chosen to be the recipient). Whether we feel cranky or stifled, we direct as much kindness and openness to whomever as we can muster. And we direct as much kindness as we can without getting caught up in thoughts about the relationship. Hard, right?

Dipa Ma- the great Theravadan meditation master of the late 20th century was known to say on several occasions that metta practice and vipassana were not different. The latter refines attention and directs it at certain phenomena until the meditator arrives at an experience of objects in the mind and body coalescing to create a sense of self that acts in the world.  This feeling of self is created from moment to moment as an attempt to get comfortable with sensory experiences. 

In metta practice, the order is a bit reversed. We practice dropping the comfort-seeking agenda as we direct metta towards someone, and as we feel resistence to doing so, our agendas become crystal clear. This is not a grueling practice when done mindfully. Metta itself creates a feeling of mental space in which things can arise clearly. And in that clarity, all the ways we resist what is happening in the moment become very clear.

This is a very different state of affairs than how someone might imagine filling the mind with love. And while blissful states can arise from this practice, my experience of this practice is that it creates a sort of reflexive equanimity. May you be well, and you, and you, and you. No exceptions. And when I feel something other than equanimity arising, it's like putting a big neon sign on whatever is causing resistance.  "Oh, him?  I definitely DO NOT feel like wishing him well." It can be uncomfortable, but that's really a major fruit of practice- to be able to give attention to our stuck points. Clarity is a boon.

I had a scary realization a while back: I have nothing to lose by others being happy. For years I thought I knew that to be true and believed it. I didn't think I was a phony. I mean, I had over the course of many years of practice gotten into the habit of wishing others well, wishing for freedom from whatever binds them. I'm not suggesting that my previous years of practice and its effects were only skin deep, so much as I realized that they were conditional. Finicky, even! Metta brought home for me again and again how I imagine myself to be unhappy if a certain other becomes happy. It's a little coo-coo, but metta's radical scope (metta for all!) exposed some faulty core beliefs.

My Tibetan teacher has said something in the same vein when he has talked about how peaceful deities and their practices are much more necessary these days than wrathful ones. Wrathful deities can bring energy, and powerful compassion, and quick decisive action. But according to him, people can get caught up in ego trips relating to intensity and peak experiences, and sensory stimulation (so much blood! so many flames!). He says that peaceful deities by contrast accomplish the same goals through a different type of intensity: the intensity of unwavering love and compassion for all beings, and not as a self-defining ego trip but simply as an essential quality of their own being. The unwavering aspect can be quite daunting...  as can be the bit about no exceptions. Really thwarts the attempts at wriggling away.

We practice metta simply as an expression of who we are in each moment of practice. The great poet Basho says, "Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and grass grows by itself." In a less poetic way, I could say, " Sitting quietly, loving, delusion comes and goes."

In this way, all the yanas are united. A Theravadan practice takes on the Zen spirit of -no path, no goal- and arrives at what might be conceived of in tantric terms as a sort of purity (Tib. "Kadag)-our fundamental ability to be completely relaxed with how things are.

So my advice is to please practice metta with as much kindness and clarity as you can. 

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Embracing the major fruits of

Embracing the major fruits of not being stuck during our practice
seems to be what composes process away from compulsion
& fight/flight resistance
transitioning the transistors of our emotion.

This entry was mind expanding.
Thanks so much for writing.

Thanks, Ash

Thanks, Ash

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