Lovingkindness meditation: Breaking the boundaries (Day 24)

bird breaking out of its shell

Yesterday I wrote about how, in the fifth stage of the development of lovingkindness practice where we’re cultivating metta for all beings, it’s enough simply to sense the space around you and to allow that space to be filled with kindness. Your mind is filled with kindness. Your mind is aware of the space around you. And so the space you’re aware of is filled with kindness. Therefore, any creature that is in that space will be received kindly. And the same is true for any being you call to mind. You’re receiving them into kindness as they appear in your mind.

I find this helpful when it comes to the transition from focusing on one person at a time — yourself, the friend, the neutral person, the person you find difficult — to wishing many beings well.

As we move into the final stage of the lovingkindness practice we’re asked to cultivate lovingkindness equally for all four people, not favoring self over other, other over self, friend over ourselves, the neutral person, or the difficult person. And this is a step that many people find a bit awkward, because you may find that the mind is hopping from person to person.

But traditionally this step is called “breaking the bounds.” Breaking the bounds of what? In my view what we’re doing is breaking the bounds of the one-to-one relationship. Having focused on one person at a time, we’re now embracing in our kindly awareness all four people. And this is where my perspective of noticing space, and letting that space be filled with kindness, is useful, because this approach doesn’t require us to focus on one person at a time. In fact it requires us not to do this.

In making this transition what I do is move from cultivating metta for the person I find difficult to simply sensing the space of my awareness, which includes the space around me and also the “virtual space” of the mind in which images and other thoughts appear. And I sense this space with kindness.

Then I simply invite the friend, neutral person, and difficult person to be in this space, and because my awareness is imbued with kindness they are perceived kindly. I too am in the sphere of my awareness, and so I too am perceived kindly.

So I don’t have to “beam” metta to any of the four people, or to make any spacial effort to ensure that I’m wishing them all well to an equal extent. My lovingkindness is “omni-directional.” It is simply a property of my consciousness, and whoever is in this space of consciousness is held kindly. The boundaries have been broken. Kindness flows everywhere that my attention is.

And from here it’s easy to become aware, in a kindly way, of the wider space around me, and to receive all beings in that space, and beings that appear in my mind, with love — with a recognition that they are feeling beings who desire happiness and who find happiness elusive. And recognizing this I feel no desire to obstruct their happiness and wish to help them find happiness if I can.

100 Days of Lovingkindness

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