metta

I have hesitated to post about this because I am by no means an expert, and so I apologize in advance for my stumbling-around on this topic.  I’m going to forge ahead, though, because it’s so very important.  Please, please, please feel free to correct me in comments if (when) I get something wrong.  I would love to understand this better, so if you have some insights please don’t hesitate to share them.

I have posted a lot about my depression (aren’t you sick of my whining already?) and my therapist (are you ready to stop hearing about him?), but I haven’t mentioned metta.

Metta is a Buddhist concept that’s generally translated into English as lovingkindness.  It goes beyond the conventional knee-jerk definition of love as something emotional and turns it into a conscious decision to extend empathy and caring first to oneself and then into the world.

Metta practice involves meditation and, like anything worth doing, takes a long time.  During metta meditation one focuses on four statements, which have been translated into English in various ways.  My preferred translation (I don’t have any expertise in Pali so this is just the one that feels right to me):

May you be free from danger.

May you be peaceful.

May you be healed.

May lovingkindness manifest throughout your life.

The four statements are directed in several ways:  First, to yourself.  Next, to a benefactor (someone who has been kind to you).  Third, to a neutral person (someone you don’t know very well and towards whom you don’t have a strong emotional attachment).  Fourth, to a difficult person (someone towards whom you feel anger, fear, or other strong negative emotion).  Then the direction expands to encompass large categories of people: to all women, to all men, to all children, and finally you direct your metta statements to all beings in the world.

I started working at this several months ago, and it was weeks before I could say “May I be peaceful, may I be healed” without crying.  Directing the meditation towards myself was surprisingly difficult, but over time it started to feel right and good.  It was easy to start directing it towards others; the hard part was saying kind things to myself.  I kept trying, though, and I can honestly say that the metta meditation was a huge part of what pulled me out of the worst of the depression.  I can’t discount my therapy sessions, and of course having a diagnosis has been a huge factor, but it has been the metta meditation that has sustained me.

So, to all of you:

May you be free from danger.

May you be peaceful.

May you be healed.

May lovingkindness manifest throughout your life.

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7 responses to “metta

  1. This is particularly interesting to me because this concept is something the person I saw about IF talked to me about. She said I might be interested in the Buddhist notion that suffering arises from conflict between what is and what you want to be. The idea of empathy as a route to easing your own pain also interested me because of what the neuroscience literature has to say about it–practicing empathy really does seem to make you more empathetic. If you like reading about this kind of thing, you might be interested in this guy’s work: http://psyphz.psych.wisc.edu/
    Anyway, it’s a beautiful practice.

    Directing love towards myself has also been very hard for me. It’s definitely a great way to make me burst into tears! And no, we’re not tired of hearing about your depression or your therapist! We want to hear whatever you want to write about.

  2. Oh my gosh that is so lovely, and when you read it, or say it, it relates to everything and everyone doesn’t it? I mean it isn’t specific but at the same time it is specific enough to have significant meaning.

    I’m going to try it. And like you, i’m sure i’ll cry when it comes to trying to love myself. It’s not that I particularly dislike myself, but I do find it strange to recieve attention that is directed soley at me. I can handle it when people talk to my husband and I together and say nice things about us as a couple, but when its directed at me personally I shrug it off and try to change the subject as quickly as possible. Its a self confidence thing isn’t it, its so easy to have confidence in others but infertility just makes you not trust your own body to do what it should.

    And I agree with Bunny, not bored of reading about your therapy at all. xx

  3. Implementing this tonight.

  4. Well Vipassana does work on the metta-bhava.

    Metta to you, my friend.

  5. Pingback: good-bye to therapy « ginger and lime

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