OnBeing post excerpt by Sharon Salzburg, “May You Know Fearlessness of an Open Heart”
Lovingkindness is the common translation of the word metta in Pali, the language of the original Buddhist texts. Metta literally means “friendship.” I usually describe it as a deep knowing of how connected all of our lives are. Metta doesn’t mean we like everybody, it doesn’t even mean we like anybody, but with metta we know deep inside that our lives are all connected to one another. The corollary understanding is that everybody counts; everybody matters. Not everyone will be our best friend, but everybody’s life has something to do with ours.
Mindfulness practice relies on developing an ability to include more and more experiences of sight and sound and sensation and feeling and thought in our field of balanced awareness — not holding on, not pushing away, but simply being with our experience. This lays the ground for having a cleaner, clearer sense of what’s happening within us and around us, without so much projection, distortion or assumption getting in the way.
Many meditators I know do both some kind of awareness practice and some kind of lovingkindness practice. Lovingkindness practice relies on developing a flexibility of awareness, being able to stretch how we are paying attention, and being willing to try something different. For example, if at the end of the day we tend to mostly fixate on the mistakes we’ve made and the things we didn’t do quite right, we stretch and look for the good within us, or wish ourselves well. If we have the habit of going into the grocery store and looking right through the clerk, as though they were a piece of furniture, we stretch and look at them (even in our mind’s eye, while we are meditating.)
In lovingkindness practice we step away from our normal ruts of attention and experiment with walking through different terrain through the silent repetition of phrases, like “May I be happy” or “May you be peaceful.”
We’re not trying to fabricate or manufacture a big emotion; we are taking some risks stepping away from how we usually view ourselves and others. We’re not moving from a true place of “I’ve made mistakes today” to a phony place of “I’m absolutely perfect.” We’re moving from an untrue place, “I’m worthless,” or an incomplete place, “Let me count up those mistakes again, and again and not think of anything else,” to a more inclusive, connected, openhearted place, “I made mistakes, and that’s not all that I am. I, like everyone want to be happy. Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone should be happy.”
I often offer metta to my invisible, someday hoped-for reader, trying to convey the strength, courage, and vitality of the quality:
“May you know the fearlessness of an open heart. May you never meet anyone you consider a stranger, and know that no matter what, you are not alone. May you have compassion for others’ suffering and joy in their delights. May you be free to give and receive love.”