Why do we have this stage?

flowerWe might have lots of friends. We might have a few people we don’t get on with. But most of the people in the world are “neutral” people — that is we don’t have any strongly positive or negative emotions towards them.

Sometimes that neutrality is simply because we don’t yet know someone. At other times (especially in the West) it’s more of a cultural habit. We simply have a habit of not engaging emotionally with people unless we need to. This stage of the meditation practice helps to fix that.

Most of us in the West live in large towns or cities. In the days when most of us lived in villages, we’d know almost everyone we ever met. We’d probably have liked some of them and disliked others. If we saw someone we didn’t know we might either be very interested in them and pleased to see them, or maybe a bit suspicious — depending on the time and circumstances.

Nowadays though, we see hundreds or perhaps thousands of people in the streets, in cars, in restaurants, and buses and in stores. We can’t say “hi” to every one of them. So we switch our emotions into neutral as a kind of defense mechanism.

That’s probably a healthy response to an extreme situation, but have you noticed how we get stuck in neutral?

What happens when we’re in an elevator or sitting next to someone on a plane? Many times we try to pretend they don’t exist. Even when someone is serving us in a store (actually helping us!) we can behave towards them as if they were a sort of human vending machine.

What’s happened is that we’ve become stuck in a neutral state. We can become trapped inside ourselves, and sometimes even afraid to be human. And that neutrality can easily turn into negativity. We can get frustrated and angry when a line in a store seems to be moving too slowly. We can end up being rude to the shop-assistant even although they’re already hassled.

That’s unpleasant for both of us.

In the third stage of the Metta Bhavana, we’re learning to break out of neutral. We’re reclaiming our full humanity by acknowledging the full humanity of others.

Through the practice of this meditation we’re daring to feel. We’re reconnecting with another being as a feeling being. We’re being respectful.

We’re showing solidarity with other suffering beings.

2 Comments. Leave new

December 24, 2012 3:03 pm

I’ve been studying meditation for a while and have been practising unconsciously for years (uncontrolled) and working on practising more consciously. I’m very confused as I read through articles and read the words of those who are already enlightened and those on the path as well struggling. I will explain myself first.

I have been abused throughout my life and at birth I was abandoned by my mother. I am also disabled (by society’s terms) in that I have a left hand with only two fingers. The abuse I’ve suffered was verbal. There is no witness except me. My attempts at help had failed (counsellors) so I decided I needed to do it on my own. That’s when I turned to meditation.

I am already a highly sensitive person. I feel the extremes of all emotions. To calm this I’m learning and practising meditation. In my readings I have come across these very basic points. I am not my mind, I am not my body. I am only to be a witness. The witness is what I struggle with. Through the abuse I have times with severe detachment. I can function better this way. I can smile when I want to, I can laugh when I want to. Or I can feel nothing. Is this the witnessing state? If it is then is this I am supposed to harness so that I can be fully in control yet free flowing? I hope I’ve made enough sense. Thank You.


Hi, DifferentAndSame.

Apologies for the late reply, but it’s been a busy period for me.

I’m very sorry to hear about the abuse you suffered. Verbal abuse can be deeply scarring.

It’s very hard to know from what you say whether your “severe detachment” is a helpful or unhelpful thing. These are things better observed in face-to-face encounters with a therapist.

Some people do manage to slip into an alienated, depersonalized state where they feel very little, and may even feel that everything is unreal. But there’s also a healthy form of non-attachment where we feel our experience but we don’t identify with it so strongly, and where we feel more free and alive than usual. i don’t know which of those two states more closely matches your own experience.

All the best,


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