Receptivity and activity

dropping flowers in a still forest pool


When you contact your emotions, think of them as being like a still pool of water in a forest. Like a pool of water, your emotions are alive and vibrant; ready to quiver at the slightest touch.

Being aware of the vibrations in the pool of your emotions is receptivity. You’re being receptive to whatever influences your emotions.

The thoughts that you are consciously generating — the words, phrases, memories, and guided fantasies that you are using in the Metta Bhavana practice — are your activity. You’re using those methods to have an effect on your emotions.

Activity is like the hand that drops flowers, one by one, into the pool. Receptivity is like watching the ripples on the water as they spread out and fade.

You can use this image in your practice. It’s an analogy that will help you to deepen your appreciation of what the practice is achieving.

When I use the phrase “May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering,” I like to drop each part of the phrase in separately, as if it were an individual flower. I drop in “May I be well,” and then pause for a complete breath to watch for the ripples in my emotions. Then I say “May I be happy,” and pause again to feel any effect from the phrase. Then I do the same with “May I be free from suffering.”

Be patient. It may take time to attune yourself to the effects of the practice. But as you strengthen and deepen your awareness you’ll be able to feel the effects on your emotions every time you say the phrase “May I be well.”

4 Comments. Leave new

Hi Bodhipaksa,
I’ve been working my way through your book and I am up to stage 2 of the Meta Bhavana. I have been using the image of dropping flowers (with the traditional words) into a forest pool, which is my heart, and watching/feeling the ripples of each emotion until they come to stillness.

When I come to the second stage I am finding it more difficult. I am trying to use the same image but I am confused whether I am dropping flowers into my own heart to develop metta for the good friend, or am I dropping the flowers into their heart?


Hi, Jo.

Well, what you’re actually doing is dropping the metta phrases into your own heart-mind (the BUddhist word “citta” covers both), and the flower image is just to help you get a feel for how you might do that. So when it comes to the second stage you’re still dropping the phrases into your own heart-mind, but at the same time you’re thinking of a friend, so that any “ripples” are affecting your relationship with them. If you want to incorporate that into the imagery, you could always imagine your friend sitting by the side of the pond, and the ripples washing over toward them. But if trying to conjure up imagery becomes a distraction, you can just think of your friend while dropping in phrases like “May you be well…”


Hi Bodhipaksa
I have struggled for much of my life with loneliness and feeling unloved. I am going through this again at present. Will practicing the Metta Help me with this?

May 6, 2016 9:55 am

Hi, Liz.

I’m sorry that you’re suffering in this way. The metta bhavana might well help you with your feelings of loneliness. Going further, and putting kindness into practice by showing care to others (without expecting anything in return) will help you to feel more connected. As one of my teachers said, “When you feel unhappy, do something for another person.” Most forms of intense unhappiness are inherently self-absorbed; we get so caught up in our own suffering that we don’t make an effort to connect with others. And when our suffering comes from loneliness, we end up exacerbating our isolation by withdrawing.

You said that you “feel unloved.” “Unloved,” however, is not a feeling, but a thought or story. It’s vital to distinguish between actual feelings and stories that we use to explain those feelings — because our stories can either reinforce or reduce our feelings. You might feel lonely or sad or hurt, but you tell yourself that you are unloved, that no one cares, etc., and this makes you miserable. Becoming aware that we’re telling these stories, and that they’re unhelpful because they make us feel worse, is a valuable practice. It’s something we have a choice over.

In particular, self-metta and self-compassion — showing ourselves the same kindness, support, and encouragement that we show to others that we care about — would be helpful. Think about that thought, “No one loves me.” Would you tell a friend who was lonely that no one loved her? How would that make her feel? Would it help her? I’m guessing the answers are no, terrible, and of course not.

So why do this to yourself? When you’re lonely, why not treat yourself as you would a dear friend who was experiencing the same thing? What might you say to such a friend? Perhaps you’d say things like, “I’m so sorry you’re feeling that way. It sounds really painful. I just want you to know that I’m here for you, and that I care about you.” How might that make you feel? Better?

Treating ourselves with kindness and compassion reduces our suffering. And in the case of loneliness, this helps free us up to connect more with others, and to care more about them. And that can replace our sense of loneliness with a sense of connectedness.


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