Posts filed under Metta

How to Experience Less Miserable Pain

Lately, I've been pretty good at making messes.  Big, ugly messes that involve hurting other people and embarrassing myself profoundly.

Ugh.

The more I study up on the brahma-viharas, the more it makes sense to me why I was able to create - so lavishly! - the messes that I did.

It's because of my intentions.

Not that my intentions in the recent past months were terrible. I wasn't waking up in the morning saying to myself, "Gee whiz, what can I do to hurt others today?" But I was living with a mind that teemed with envy and lust and I was concerned very much with "getting what I need to be happy / good enough."  In other words, I was living in self-centeredness (or self-cherishing, as my Tibetan pals like to call it) without even fully realizing it.

This is something rather basic that it's taken a long time for me to fully understand: even if I'm not seeking actively to hurt others, I can still hurt others very effectively when my primary motive is to further my own pleasure and security.  I tend to laser-in on that goal of "my own pleasure and security" with a magnetic focus that blinds me both to many facets of reality and to the feelings of those my actions might affect.

"So the first lesson of karma is that if you really want to be happy you can't trust that deep down you know the right thing to do, because that would foster complacency. Unskillful intentions would take over and you wouldn't even know it. Instead, you have to be heedful to recognize unskillful intentions for what they are and to act only on skillful ones. The way to ensure you'll stay heedful is to take your desire for happiness and spread it around." - Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Head & Heart Together: Bringing Wisdom to the Brahma-viharas

Hmmmm.  That just about sums up my experience.  It gives me great hope that Bhikkhu emphasizes that we can make ourselves more skillful at producing real happiness (as opposed to just pleasure that turns all-too-rapidly into pain) by "taking our desire for happiness and spreading it around."  Because I can do that!

That's what metta meditation is.

It's a fairly basic axiom of spiritual development that if we want to live a good life we should try to be less self-centered.  I don't think that I really understood the full import of that, though, until I read these words of the Venerable Lobsang Gyatso in Bodhicitta: Cultivating the Mind of Enlightenment

Our self-centeredness is an attachment directed toward the self which we have been generating spontaneously from time without beginning.  It is this which is the real enemy, this which is the actual embodiment of evil.  We are mesmerized by it, as a child is by a brightly colored object. And while it seems to promise so much for us, it is actually wholly destructive.  It thrusts us into the suffering of the three lower realms, and we can see that if in this present existence its power becomes overbearing it can lead us into unending conflicts and will eventually cost us this life.

Conversely the other-cherishing attitude is an extraordinarily positive intention which arises from correct logical reasoning.  It is only our own failure to practice which stands in our way.  If we did cultivate it, that would signify the onset of everything worthwhile.  The relationship between the two attitudes is similar to the relationship between the attractive light in which the respective minds of attachment and affectionate love view others.  Though they share the characteristic of seeing others in an appealing form, from every other viewpoint - attention, function, and effect - they are totally opposed to one another.

Well hot-damn.  That really drove home to me what my problem has been - and what caused me so much pain in my last romantic drama - that I was inhabiting lustful attachment instead of affectionate love.  That my attachment was part of delusional self-cherishing – and not even really "love" at all, because real love is non-grasping and other-cherishing.

For very many years I resisted the elementary notion that valuing others above myself is the way to go.  "Oh, that's just being a doormat, that's just the way to be used, that's clap-trap designed to hypnotize people into sacrificing themselves for nationalistic, patriarchal or religious purposes," I thought to myself, "I won't go in for that - I'll help others but I'll keep my own well-being the priority so as not to over-extend myself. I'll make sure I get my own security and pleasure and status first and think about others in my spare time, after I get all my ducks lined up."

Well, as I'm now understanding, the most efficient way of fostering my own real well-being (i.e., deep peace of mind, sense of meaningfulness, authentic joy) is to do just this thing that my ego recoils from so very much: be willing to value and concern myself with the well-being of others more than with my own.

Through doing metta bhavana everyday, I'm even beginning to intuit the reason why life and karma do indeed work this way: because the world is a projection of mind, other beings aren't really separate from me - they're actually the greater part of me.  My ego-character is just a little sliver of the hologram - "others" are the rest of it. When I'm wishing that all beings be happy, I'm actually wishing happiness for my whole self instead of for just a little delusional sliver of myself.

In other words - when I wish good things for you, dear reader, I'm actually wishing good things for me - because you are me and I am you and we are all together. Koo-koo-ka-choo.

httpv://youtu.be/RG73Pk1yUj8

What are your thoughts on self-cherishing vs. other-cherishing?

 

image: [Keith Williamson]

How to love your ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend (really)

One of my more recent ex-boyfriends is a wonderful, adorable person in every dimension.  Let's call him Gianni.

Gianni and I had a good thing going - but no physical chemistry betwixt us, so we parted ways.

Gianni now has a new girlfriend.

I thought I was okay with that, until I had a dream the other night in which I really wasn't.  I kept hurling insults towards this woman I barely know, trying to convince Gianni to leave her and come back to me.  When I woke up, I felt lousy.

And thus I became aware of a big, pulsating, juicy store of ill-will that I've got going on.

So today during my metta practice I really worked hard to send loving-kindness to the New Girlfriend. Let's call her Marie.

In doing so, I became aware that not only do I have obstacles to universal metta in my heart like pride and territoriality - I also have an idea of myself as "someone who couldn't possibly actually love Marie or rejoice in her accomplishments." The very idea seemed ridiculous! Like, I would totally be lowering myself by trying to love someone so clearly undeserving of admiration as my ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend.

Marie, in my mind's eye, was some foreign intruder who bore all the terrible qualities I passionately ascribed to her in my dream.  Qualities like meanness and arrogance.  Which, I can't help but now notice, are actually the projected qualities of my own closed-down and possessive heart.

After thirty solid persistent minutes of sending a bombardment of metta Marie's way ("May you be happy, free from suffering..." and visualizing her having a grand old time), I began to soften.  Something odd crept into my awareness.  I began to feel meltingly warm towards Marie – glad for her talents and success – happy for her relationship with Gianni – almost as if she was my own daughter or sister and Gianni was just - you know, her boyfriend. Not "my" former boyfriend.

Suddenly, I was someone who could love Marie.

Weird.  I hardly recognized myself in that surging moment of metta – and I also noticed that I felt happy and calm. Free of the burden of being hateful.

I don't think my metta for Marie has fully stabilized yet – I'll have to keep up the practice of sending it to her – but it was honestly disconcerting and wonderful to break through that barrier of my own pride and envy, if only for a brief while.

Disconcerting in that good way. I notice that I like myself more as someone who can love Marie.  I'm becoming aware that due to the subtle spit-in-the-wind-and-it-blows-back-in-your-face phenomenon, having ill-will towards someone else actually makes me like and enjoy myself less.  How does that work? I think it has something to do with the fact that it's tough to like bitter, envious, grouchy people who are filled with ill-will.

So what about you? Is there anyone in your life that you dislike and feel that if you did like her, you would somehow be less yourself? I would love if you told me all about it in the comments below.

 

image: [Irina Patrascu]

Posted on January 3, 2013 and filed under Metta.

How to use metta to both disarm your internal meanness and also to get drunk

The funny thing about metta practice is that in attempting to radiate boundless goodwill, I discover just how much ill-will I've got in my heart.

It's a lot.

I can have barriers of ill-will built up against even my dearest friends - and not know it unless I deliberately try sending them metta!

These aren't giant resentments – I tend to be aware of those – but they are places where my heart has unwittingly contracted and shrunk because  my ego took offense to something my friend casually said.

Metta vs. Your Internal Meanness

Similarly, in giving metta to myself, I begin to gain insight into just how much of my usual internal monologue (filled with worries, self-criticisms, doubts – all the tastiest delicacies of self-involved neurosis) is actually motivated by ill-will towards yours truly.

Here's how this works: I'm sitting still, earnestly wishing "May I be happy" - not "May I get filthy rich so I can be happy" or "May I be transcendently perfect so I can be happy" - but just, you know - happy. With no conditions attached.  Just wishing this for myself starts to make me feel happy - and then I hear the thoughts that are like, "Oh, but Carolyn, you did this and this awful thing, you really don't deserve to feel happy..." or "You're almost 29 and practically penniless. How can you have any self-respect? Really, you're pathetic....."  and it becomes very obvious: those thoughts do not wish me to be happy.  They wish me to feel bad.  They lack metta. They're the voice of what my friend Andy has always called "Mean Carolyn," my inner relentless critic.

Mean Carolyn sucks.

Luckily, in the work of cultivation, I can quiet her down.  I just need to send my good wishes to myself louder than those harsh thoughts. "Doesn't matter what I did or what I lack! - may I be happy, goddamnit!"  And then – oddly enough – my smile broadens and my cheeks glow. The feeling of happiness continues and gets stronger.

The Hard Liquor of Benevolence

That's the other weird thing about metta practice - you discover just how much joy there is in the act of making positive wishes. It wouldn't seem that those little namby-pambly phrases of niceness ("May you be happy, May you be well, May you be free from suffering....") and the act of visualizing yourself and others in states of happiness would pack such a giddy punch - but after awhile it certainly does.

I've found that it's entirely possible to get drunk on good wishes.  And I mean tipsy, loopy, kissing-strangers-can't-stop-singing-show-tunes drunk. It's rad. And the neat thing is, there's no hang-over. Also, it's free.

I think this propensity for giddy drunkenness to arise is one of the reasons why teachers like Ken McLeod in his in-depth teaching on the four immeasurables recommend balancing loving-kindness meditation with compassion cultivation.  Because unless you're actively sensitizing yourself to the suffering of others, you might get so happy with your loving-kindness that you drunkenly overlook that suffering and become boorish.

Fascinating, yes?

So what's your experience with metta like so far?

 

image: [mnen]