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Cultivating a Metta Mind

Loving-kindness meditation (metta) challenges us to send love and compassion to the difficult people in our lives—including ourselves.

By Sylvia Boorstein

I met with Chagdud Rimpoche only once. I arranged to see him because I'd begun to feel—as part of my meditation practice—very strong and unusual energies in my body, and my friends told me that Tibetan teachers were especially knowledgeable about esoteric energies. I told him, slowly and carefully, because we spoke through an interpreter, the details of my experience. I expected him to give me instructions in a new meditation technique. Instead, he said, "How much compassion practice do you do every day?" I didn't know how to answer. Then he said, "Go out in the street every day and see the suffering." I thought, "How will I know who is suffering? Does he mean everybody? Probably he does. But then what? And what about my energies?" The interview was over, so I didn't ask. His instruction though, "Go out in the street every day and see the suffering," was valuable. At the very least, paying attention to other people is probably a modulator of concentration energies. At the very most, it builds compassion.

Jo's teaching was a comment she offered in a class at Spirit Rock. I had been teaching about loving-kindness and said, "It's easy to wish well to people you love. It's hard to do this with people you don't like. And we usually overlook 'neutral' people, people that we have no opinions about. Anyway, there are few neutral people. I think we make instant decisions, usually based on little data, about whether or not we like people. It's hard not to be partial."

Jo, who has been a flight attendant for United Airlines for more than 40 years, said, "No, it isn't. When I look out at the passengers in an airplane and say, 'Fasten your seatbelts,' I mean it equally for everyone. They are all in the same airplane, and we all need to make this trip together. They all look the same to me."

I think about Chagdud Rimpoche when I remember, standing in line at the supermarket checkout stand, to wonder about the person in front of me: "What is the biggest difficulty in her life right now?" When I remember, I wish, "May you be happy. May your pain—whatever it is—be lessened." And I think about Jo as I look around and realize that all of us in line—at the supermarket, bank, post office, ticket window—are moving through this line and that line, day after day, and year after year, this difficulty after that, making this trip of life together. And everyone still looks different to me, but I know that we all have to fasten our seatbelts, just the same, for the trip.

A Song of Love
The everyday loving-kindness practice—good wishes for everyone you pass—can happen on its own as you carry on with the rest of your life. When I decided on the metta phrases I would use, I set them to a melody that has a special, private meaning for me and practiced them over and over as a chant. I encourage students to do the same. I tell them, "If you do, you'll find that your chant will become like a song about which you will say, 'I can't get that tune out of my mind.' It will be stuck there, playing in every spare moment, and it will make you happy."

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Reader Comments

mia

for elaine - feel yourself rising above the pain and anger. all the emotion is distraction. repeat the words towards the person who has hurt you. may your heart be healed.

elaine

How do you do this for apartner who has been unfaithful?

regina

Your article did not even mention feeling loving kindness for those that have harmed you or your loved ones...

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