Remember, way back when we were learning the second stage of this meditation practice, and I said that it wasn’t a good idea to use lovers and your children or parents as the friend, especially when you’re first learning the practice? There were very good reasons for that, but I’ve noticed that having ruled those people out in the second stage, we can often forget about them altogether in our metta bhavana practice. This is a great shame.
This is where the rubber of our meditation practice hits the road of our lives. These close, day-to-day relationships are the real working ground for our practice of metta. Our relationships with our parents, children, and spouses or lovers are usually the most important ones in our lives. Those we are closest to become, in a way, a part of us. We all realize this with our parents when we start to discover (often with a shock) how like them we are. I believe that the same can be true for our children and partners as well.
And have you noticed how people (okay, I’m talking about you and me here) tend to behave differently with those who are closest? Because we feel that our families are not completely separate from us, we tend to behave towards them in ways that we wouldn’t consider with other people such as colleagues or friends. Lovers will argue and insult each other in public in quite an extraordinary way, and parents will talk to their children in an equally bizarre manner.
Of course we realize that often, deep down, this behavior is a product of the closeness we feel. We let our guard down and drop our social inhibitions with those we are closest too. This has its positive side, and also its shadow side. It seems to me that the way that we relate to those we are closest to in some ways mirrors the way we relate to ourselves, that our relations with our families and partners is a window into how we behave towards ourselves.
For this reason I think it’s vital that we remember to call our family and partners to mind in the metta bhavana practice. The fifth stage of the meditation is the ideal place to do this (unless you have a conflict with someone, in which case you may wish to put them in the fourth stage). Perhaps you could wish your family and partner well immediately after all four people who’ve been in the practice and before you start to broaden your metta out into the wider world.