Friday, November 09, 2007

A Calm Mind and a Peaceful Heart

I have been thinking a lot about my post from the other day and what it means to be "more loving". I've been thinking about how to have a calm mind and a peaceful heart, how to be compassionate to myself and to others, and how to express what this means to me in words. Today I stumbled across a Wikipedia article about Loving-kindness that I thought I'd share with you because I think it summarizes some of how I think a person might go about becoming more loving -- and what a person might hope to attain by becoming more loving. The idea, I think, is that by meditating on feeling loving kindness towards yourself and then towards others in your life -- those who you have positive and negative feelings for -- and then gradually spreading that loving feeling towards all of the planet and then the universe, you will become more calm, peaceful, and loving. (Was that redundant?) Makes sense to me!

Here's a short excerpt from the article:

"The object of mettā meditation is to cultivate loving kindness (love without attachment, non-exclusive love) towards all sentient beings... It is a good way to calm down a distraught mind because it is an antidote to anger. Someone who has cultivated mettā will not be easily angered and can quickly subdue anger that arises. They will be more caring, more loving, and more likely to love unconditionally.

Buddhists believe that those who cultivate mettā will be at ease because they see no need to harbour ill will or hostility. Buddhist teachers may even recommend meditation on mettā as an antidote to insomnia and nightmares. It is generally felt that those around a mettā-ful person will feel more comfortable and happy too. Radiating mettā is thought to contribute to a world of love, peace and happiness...

Indeed, Mettā is a tool that permits one's generosity and kindness to be applied to all beings and, as a consequence, one finds true happiness in another person's happiness, no matter who the individual is."

The article goes on to say,

"The six stages of mettā bhāvanā meditation which are most commonly found involves cultivating loving-kindness towards:

1 - Yourself
2 - A good friend
3 - A 'neutral' person
4 - A difficult person
5 - All four
6 - and then gradually the entire universe"

I actually find undirected, free-form meditation very difficult and find that I am usually enormously unsuccessful at it. But, meditating or praying with specific thoughts in mind (or specific prayers) is something I find quite calming and wonderful. I wonder if there are other ways of doing this -- meditations or prayers similar to this with a similar intent, from this tradition or others. And, I wonder, how does one cultivate loving kindness?

6 comments:

Jake said...

I, too, find meditation difficult, but in dance and song I can touch that meditative state. In a way, actually, singing can involve all six of the "stages" you mention, as music making is done with the most intimate of friends straight through to the most difficult people you may know, and music itself is a tap into the universe. Speaking as a non-Christian, one thing I've always really liked about the Episcopal service (and others) is the sharing the peace. Especially in a choir with (some) people I may not like much, it's an opportunity to look them in the eye, and offer a moment of friendship that can be very moving for me. Out of moments like that, or the occasional kind gesture on the T, I can feel a flutter of that loving-kindness.

Pamela said...

I, too, love the passing of the peace. It's a wonderful thing. Interesting idea to think of the spreading of loving-kindness through music making. Cool.

andre said...

There is a *wonderful* book on metta by Sharon Salzberg called Loving Kindness. If you want to know more about how to practice metta, you may consider reading it. I read it aloud to myself and my then girlfriend during these past summer months, and it brought us both good. I may consider doing the same with my dear one now.

My teachers in Zen model and speak a lot about non-attachment, observing the judging mind with a loving heart. Not trying to root out negative thoughts or indulge in them. . just observing them. They assure me that eventually, every thought. .every thought. . subsides.

Salzberg is a teacher you might get a lot from. She's had quite a walk thus far. I am so so joyous with the thought of your exploration of metta!
wishing you good!

andre said...

p.s. Sorry if the above message is a little strident. Metta-this particular strand of thought on the buddha's teaching-helped me make friends with my self this summer. . But it surely is not the sole means by which one may do so. It was after reading the work though that I started saying "Ok, my friend" before big tasks that scared me. Still though, I can wash dishes with a sponge or a dishcloth, but what it's about is washing the dishes. Now place your loving heart in the sink and repeat the phrase.

Steph said...

I am with you on the difficulty of unstructured meditation. I'd like to learn more about metta. One similar practice I learned at a workshop from a really funny, smart yoga teacher named Beryl Bender Birch is tonglen meditation. It's a Tibetan practice in which you breathe in suffering--of yourself, someone else, then the world--and then breathe out love and healing. I find it helpful when I'm feeling particularly stressed or saddened by bad stuff I can't control. Beryl has a nice, no-frills CD called "Meditations for Everyday Mindfulness" with a tonglen practice on it. I'm sure lots of Buddhist writers have written about it too.

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