In the U.S. we are just a few days away from a presidential election that couldn’t have higher stakes, both for this country and the planet.
Most of you have probably already voted, but if not, PLEASE don’t forget!!
So now we wait. In a way, many of us have been waiting for this day to come for almost four years. But waiting as an activity is off-balance. Please take this time to take care of yourself, get out in nature, turn off the news, change the subject when talking with friends and family. Nurture yourself.
The value of metta
One of the most valuable antidotes to feeling tense and isolated is Buddhist metta practice. Before we can effectively share this infinite quality of loving-kindness with others, we have to learn how to receive it. It is difficult for many people to simply relax and be receptive, to not be the ‘doer’, to not be active, to open to all that is arising without feeling compelled to direct the action or assist.
Touch training in receptivity
In class, I lead a guided meditation that has come to include a hand massage. One hand massages the other and the attention is placed on the sensations of the receiving hand. After both hands have received a massage, they are placed on the chest and the attention is focused on sensations in the heart area, where our most challenging emotions tend to be felt. The warmth and pressure of the hands is nurturing.
As we cultivate the ability to be receptive, we can more easily open to infinite lovingkindness. We can offer ourselves blessings like “May I be well. May I be at ease.” without feeling we don’t deserve it, or that we’re being selfish, or that this is a waste of time.
Metta is expansive
Once we’ve opened to it, we can feel metta growing within us. Then, because it is infinite, we can’t help but share it. We are overflowing with it, radiating it. We don’t bypass the act of receiving. If we do, then what we share is not infinite lovingkindness. It’s the paltry product of our need to feel good about ourselves, to be liked, to be seen as generous, honorable, etc. Giving from that source is not true generosity but self-sacrifice, and it causes us to experience depletion, exhaustion, and illness. It can also cause feelings of guilt or annoyance in others.
Women have often been trained from an early age to put everyone but ourselves first. Men can also have challenges around needing to be the doer, not the receiver. For example, when I trim my husband’s hair, he stays alert and moves his head where he thinks I will need it to be, instead of just relaxing and allowing me to make any needed adjustments to his position. I know you are thinking he’s just afraid I’ll scalp him, but in 51 years I haven’t yet!
In class this week, we were delighted to hear that a sangha sister’s husband often offers to give her a massage but surprised to hear she refuses. Wha? Why? Does she not enjoy a massage? She does, but she doesn’t feel able to give him one in return and she thinks it should be reciprocal. I asked her if there were other things she does for him, and of course, she acknowledged that she does all kinds of things for him. Reciprocity doesn’t have to be tit for tat. We encouraged her to allow herself to practice receiving a massage.
Relax and receive
And speaking of massages, if you have one do you allow yourself to be present in sensation? Or do you feel you have to chat with the masseuse? Next time try being quiet, and if the masseuse isn’t, request a meditative time to simply enjoy her lovely offering. This is valuable training for the development of awareness as well.
Why metta matters
Being able to access metta and share it is the most powerful practice for healing our hearts and our relationships. It is also something to do when we feel powerless to help someone. It is aligning our being with love instead of fear, and allows us to be resilient. During meditation, if the mind gets all caught up in thinking about a difficult situation, the practice of sending metta to ourselves, the people involved, and the situation, releases us from the downward spiral of hopelessness.
As we practice metta as part of our meditation and any time throughout the day, we stop feeling trapped in fear. We ease into a sense of the inherent interconnection of all beings. We are able to see through the labels we have thrust on others, as well as on ourselves. We can notice when we villainize others, failing to see how they are stumbling in their own miasma of fear.
People who hold power over us are particularly difficult to send metta to. It’s important to remember, it’s because they have power. It is not the person but their position. Think of a leader you felt venomous feelings for in the past. Perhaps now you see them differently. Maybe you still disagree with them. Maybe you are still bothered by things they did. But the person has no power over you now, and so it is easier to let go of the tendency to make them a villain. With practice, we can begin to see the vulnerability and fear of those holding power now. This is not to stop holding them responsible, but to stop holding ourselves hostage to our hatred. A traditional part of the practice is called ‘sending metta to a difficult person’, and even though the very idea of it might activate resistance, the practice itself loosens the tightness within ourselves. We can relax a bit. We can be present in this moment just as it is. That’s some powerful metta!