Excerpt from Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center post “Cultivating Boundless Love” by Senior Teacher Mitchell Ratner
The words metta (Pali) and maitri (Sanskrit) point to an all-encompassing and liberating form of love celebrated by the Buddha. Nyanaponika Thera explains in The Four Sublime States that metta is:
Love, without desire to possess, knowing well that in the ultimate sense there is no possession and no possessor: this is the highest love.
Love, without speaking and thinking of “I,” knowing well that this so-called “I” is a mere delusion.
Love, without selecting and excluding, knowing well that to do so means to create love’s own contrasts: dislike, aversion and hatred.
Love, embracing all beings: small and great, far and near, be it on earth, in the water or in the air.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation of the Metta Sutta ends:
“Free from wrong views, greed and sensual desires, living in beauty and realizing Perfect Understanding, those who practice Boundless Love will certainly transcend Birth and Death.”
In our program this Thursday we will will talk about metta, practice a way of cultivating metta described below, and explore metta meditation’s relevance for our contentious times. This topic arose because I was so drained by watching the Senate Judicial Committee hearings last Thursday, and so restored last Friday by practicing Metta Mediation at Lafayette Square, across from the White House. Afterwards, I noted in my journal how it affected me:
The Metta meditation we use at the Still Water Lafayette Square sittings begins with four simple statements:
May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be well in body and mind.
May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May I be truly happy and free.
At 12:30 pm I invited the bell three times and said the first statement softly to myself. I listened to the words and paid attention to my underlying intention. Then I did the same with each of the other statements. Saying them slowly. Listening deeply. When I was done I repeated the set three or four more times, it took about five minutes.
Then I moved on to the people close to me, replacing the “I” in each statement with “my loved ones.” With each statement I brought to mind a particular person, or group of people: my immediate family, my children’s families, my sibling and cousins, my good friends, and so on. Again, I went through the four statements three or four more times.
The next set focuses replaced “I” with “people who are neutral for me.” As I went through the set of four statements, with each statement I focused on a particular person or small group who happened to be in my line of sight between me and the White House.
Young man on an electric scooter, may you be filled with loving kindness.
Elderly couple, may you be well in body and mind.
Family with two young children, may you be safe from inner and outer dangers.
Middle-aged woman texting as you walk, may you be truly happy and free.
As I said these silent prayers for people I did not know, I felt my spirit lifting. After the usual three or four rounds, I went through a couple of extra rounds, simply because it was enjoyable.
Then I moved the meditation to “people who are difficult for me.” At first I went through a set thinking generically about people who work in the White House, “may they be filled with lovingkindness.” Then I started adding the names of people who work in the White House: the president, the vice-president, the press secretary, cabinet secretaries, and so on. The assumption I make that allows me to send love to people who I believe may be causing suffering for others is that people act in mean or insensitive ways because they suffer. If they were “truly happy and free,” it would be easier for them to listen to others, and they would not knowingly hurt others.
After a minute or two going through my list of people associated with the White House, my metta meditation spontaneously switched to the senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, both Republicans and Democrats:
Ted Cruz, may you be well in body and mind.
Kamala Harris, may you be safe from inner and outer dangers.
After watching many hours of belligerent hearings, I was aware that I had absorbed some of the underlying energy. Offering metta meditation to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee soothed me, relaxing some of the tightness around my heart. I hoped that my metta meditation would soothe them, also, even if only an infinitesimal bit.
The final set of statements replaced the “I” with “all beings.” As I went through rounds of the four statements images appeared in my mind’s eye: including the grass in front of me, the small insects who live in the grass, places of great human suffering like Syria, and assaults on the ecosystems, such as the Pacific trash vortex.
After the sitting, walking to Metro Center, I was more aware than before of my feet touching the ground and of the wonders around me. I felt renewed, as if my spiritual body had received a restorative treatment.