I've often referred to the practice of "Metta"—loving-kindness practice—as an "inter-spiritual practice," even though it appears to be Buddhist in origin. There are variations of it in other cultures, specifically within the Celtic Christian tradition and Judaism.
I've also often wondered if we can share this practice with others (or by formal teaching) without mentioning where the practice came from. Does it still honor and serve the practice well if it's roots are not recognized?
Mindfulness teacher and educator, Saki Santorelli, has shed new light on this for me. In his book, Health Thy Self: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine, he deftly introduces the practice with absolutely no reference to Buddhism. Nor does he name it as "loving-kindness" practice. For him, Metta is simply a human practice—a way to befriend ourselves, sourced in mindfulness practice.
"Dwelling in the awareness of the breath, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go, experiment with the the possibility of embracing yourself as you would embrace another person dear to you and needing to be held. If you like, try silently repeating a phrase on your own behalf. You might offer yourself one or more of the following:
That's it. That's all he wrote.
At first, I struggled with this. I asked myself, 'Shouldn't he say more, provide details, including the origin of the practice? Shouldn't he call it something specific?'
And then, with mindful attention (and non-judgmental awareness), I saw how I was becoming trapped in my own way of seeing, and, yes, transmitting/teaching the practice, and how I might resist doing it a different way.
Was my way a better way? No. Was my way the most effective way? Of course not.
In that moment, I befriended myself and my own tendency to think that things should be done a certain way, one that was more comfortable to me. We all struggle with the unfamiliar, don't we? Usually we don't like what's uncharacteristic or different at all. This is one of our human frailties.
Thankfully, I recognized this and, in that moment, was able to let go of my resistance. I allowed myself to receive Dr. Santorelli's method as a listener, purely as a participant, and as I did so, I felt relief. Pure relief.
In the next moment, I felt compassion for myself because I was able to see (yet again), how I can so easily get caught up in a "should" and the tension that comes with that. In this case, how something I deem important should be taught.
How I love this practice! How I love that mindfulness does bring respite from the struggle when I allow it to flood my awareness.
How I love that a simple, self-compassionate phrase like, "May I be gentle with myself when I trip over a should," can keep self-judgment at bay and growth at the door.
Today, may we all be gentle with ourselves—no matter what arises, no matter what we discover about ourselves.
To learn more about Metta Meditation and how to do it, visit this page.
Guided Meditations provided. Enjoy!
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