As part of our 100 Days of Lovingkindess we’re focusing on metta (lovingkindness) practice for 25 days, before going on to explore compassion, joy and equanimity (although I prefer to call this “loving with insight”).
People often think that lovingkindness is something hard. I’m going to write more about that tomorrow, but for now I want to stress the naturalness of metta, and how it arises effortlessly from certain reflections.
To begin with cultivating lovingkindness for a friend, let’s just note that the friend is someone for whom we already have metta. The Pali word (or one of them) for friend is “mitta” and you can see the obvious resemblance between the two words metta and mitta. A friend is someone whose wellbeing matters to us. When they’re unhappy it bothers us; when they’re happy it pleases us.
Metta has this same simplicity to it. With all the talk of “universal lovingkindness” it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that metta is something we already have, and that we need to first reconnect with it (it often happens that we lose connection with it in the busyness of our lives), and then strengthen it by giving it our attention.
So right at the beginning of these 100 Days I wrote about some basic reflections I use that help us connect with our inherent lovigkindness.
- You want, generally speaking, to be happy. You don’t want, generally speaking, to suffer.
- Happiness is often much harder to find than you think it’s going to be, and suffering is something that you experience more often than you want to.
- Really pause for a moment and check out the truth of those statements in your heart.
- Now, having let these thoughts drop into your mind, and having sensed the truth of them in your experience, ask yourself whether there is some part of you that can respond with support and sympathy as you do this difficult thing of being human — as you go about this task of living, hoping for and seeking happiness and finding it elusive, hoping and trying to avoid suffering and finding that it arises all too often.
Now apply these reflections to your friend:
- Your friend wants to be happy. Your friend doesn’t want to suffer.
- For your friend, happiness is often hard to find, and suffering is something that they experience more often than they want to.
- Give yourself time, once again, to let the truth of these reflections sink in, because they are true for everyone. I don’t think anyone looks at their life and says, “You know, this is great, but I’d rather be a bit less happy.”
- And with the truth of these reflections in mind, see if there’s some part of you that it prepared to root for your friend, to wish them well as they do this difficult task of living a human life.
This isn’t complicated. But if we do this at the beginning of the second stage of the metta bhavana it brings our lovingkindness practice to life. Metta — a basic kindness that values others’ happiness — arises quite effortlessly from the reflections above.[See the previous 100 Days of Lovingkindness post : See the next 100 Days of Lovingkindness post]