Our recent review of four obstacles to sending metta came from a series of insights. An insight is a naturally occurring result of open curiosity, inquiry and noticing patterns and conditions both in our minds and in the world around us. The kind of meditation we do here is called Insight Meditation. An insight is possible from the very first moment we begin to be present with our experience. It’s not surprising that when we begin to look we begin to see. When we begin to notice whatever arises in our current experience, we notice assumptions and beliefs. When we question them: ‘Is that true? How do I know that’s true?’ then we set into motion an exploration with real potential for illumination. What is this illumination or insight? Greater understanding of our own current experience, our habitual patterns of thought and emotion, the filters through which we see the world, the source causes and conditions that contributed to the tight knots of fear that we all hold in a variety of ways, unacknowledged.
That exploration is aided when we infuse it with loving-kindness, metta. Loving kindness is not a state of constant praise to stroke the ego. It is a sense of oneness and connection that opens our hearts and our eyes to what is arising. It helps us to see more clearly how fear activates and aggravates patterns of beliefs, words and actions that keep us from being present with our experience.
Metta allows us to be spacious in our exploration. We can come upon some thought passing through our awareness that makes us very uncomfortable. Without the compassion of a metta view, we may tighten up into a strong reaction, usually a judgment or a justification, causing further suffering. With metta, we have a greater capacity to free ourselves from the ongoing pattern of reactivity that causes suffering. If we notice our thoughts, emotions, and the world around us without metta, we can come to a cold mechanical view that lacks sufficient heart to sustain us. We are much more ready to turn away and find relief in mindless distraction. So metta makes mindfulness more effective. In a way we might say it lubricates mindfulness to keep it functioning.
Likewise mindfulness infuses metta with clarity and understanding. Without mindfulness, we can easily misunderstand of the nature of metta. For example, as we discussed a couple of weeks ago, we might think of metta as something limited that must be doled out carefully and only to the deserving. That view of metta increases suffering. Mindfulness gives us the insight to see through that distorted view.
A friend who has been following the blog of dharma talks mentioned that she noticed how rude she is to herself. This insight came from skillful noticing, from mindfulness that she has been practicing for a while now, and from the metta she had incorporated into how she interacts in the world. So the words she was in the habit of using to speak to herself at the least provocation now stood in stark contrast to the sense of loving kindness she had been developing. When she heard herself internally muttering, ‘Idiot!’ because she had forgotten to take the meat for dinner out to defrost, she suddenly heard it with more clarity. She recognized that she would never speak to a friend in that way. Aha!
Now she is one of the most competent, accomplished, creative and generous people I know, but we are all capable of this kind of self-talk. We may call ourselves ‘dummy’ or ‘stupid’ without even thinking about it. So I ask you now to think about it. Notice how you talk to yourself. Once you have begun a meditation practice and find you are noticing your thought patterns, you can begin to hear the words you are using to talk to yourself, especially when you do something you didn’t intend to do. Just notice.
Once we recognize the rude way we speak to ourselves we have a choice. We can judge the rudeness and add it to our long list of personal failings, OR we can allow ourselves a spacious field of metta-infused exploration. We can notice where we feel the ‘idiot’ prod, the ‘stupid’ shot or the ‘dumb’ stab in our body. We may be numb to the words, think they carry no weight, but as we allow ourselves to become more awake and aware, we find that these words have been doing their number on us all along, draining us of energy, making us intolerant and angry, etc.
Perhaps you feel these are harmless jibes. But even if said with a kind of affection, they are just justifying words that may have been used on us when we were children, trying to prove to ourselves that it is possible to be rude and still love someone. If that is the case, that’s a worthy investigation.
Perhaps you are hard on yourself because you hold yourself to a higher standard, because you feel you are special or better than others, or are trying to fulfill some parental hope that you will be. That’s a worthy exploration too. ‘How stupid of me. I should know better.’ Should you know better than others in the same situation? Are you so much smarter, wiser, more enlightened, talented? If that resonates, then that’s another interesting vein to explore. It’s not that we don’t aspire to be the best we can be, but we undermine our ability to truly be the open loving insightful person we have the capacity to be if we somehow believe that everything we do must be perfect. If perfection is your goal, start asking yourself a few questions about what that means.
Next week we will be doing a more indepth exercise to see how we bring mindfulness and lovingkindness together, and additional instruction on sending metta to ourselves that I learned from Jack Kornfield at a recent day long class. But for this week, please notice how you talk to yourself, and explore whatever arises with both mindfulness and metta.
This balanced approach is called loving awareness.