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Lions Roar : May 2016
I continue to visualize my imaginary friend, picturing it as abandoned, hungry, and very afraid. In its short span of life it has only known rejection, violence, and loneliness. I imagine its bones sticking out from its emaciated body, its fur soiled with grime and some blood, and its body rigid with terror. I consider that if I don’t care for this vulnerable little being then no one will, and it will die such a horrible, lonely, terrified death. I feel that kitten’s pain fully, in all its forms, and my heart opens up releasing a flood of compassion. I will care for that little kitten. I will protect it and feed it. I imagine myself looking deeply into its anxious eyes, trying to melt its apprehension with the metta flowing through my own eyes. I reach out to it slowly, reassuringly, never losing eye contact. Gently, I pick up that little kitten and bring it to my chest. I remove the kitten’s cold with the warmth from my own body, I take away its fear with the softness of my embrace, and I feel the kitten’s trust grow. I speak to the kitten on my chest: Little being, never feel alone again. Never feel so afraid. I will always look after you, be your protector and friend. I love you, little kitten. Wherever you go, whatever you do, my heart will always welcome you. I give you my limitless loving-kindness always. When I do this, I feel my kitten become warm, relax, and finally purr. This is but an outline of how I begin my meditation on metta. I usually take much more time. I use my imagination and inner speech to paint a picture in my mind, to create a sce- nario where the first flames of metta can arise. At the end of the mental exercise, my eyes still closed, I focus the attention on the region around my heart and feel the first warm glow of the emotion of kindfulness. Find Your Own Kindling My kitten is like the paper that you use to start the campfire. You may not like kittens, so choose something else, a puppy or a baby perhaps. Whatever you choose as your first object of metta, make it an imaginary being and not a real one. In your mind you can make a kitten or a puppy or a baby into anything you like. You have more freedom to generate metta when you make use of a fantasy creature rather than one from the real world. Having chosen your first object, use your powers of imagi- nation to create a story around that being that arouses your loving-kindness. With practice this innovative method becomes one of the most successful and enjoyable ways to practice kindfulness. Kindfulness-Block Some years ago a female student complained to me that this method did not work for her. She regarded small animals, especially mischievous kittens, as little pests, nor did she like crying-and-wailing nappy-soiling babies. She had a severe case of what I now call “kindfulness-block.” She went on to tell me that in her apartment in Sydney she had been growing some flow- ers in pots. So I suggested that she choose one of her plants as her first object of metta. She imagined a seedling so delicate and tender. It was so fragile that it needed all her care, love, and protection to survive. She directed all her motherly instincts to that vulnerable little pot- ted plant, nurturing and feeding her friend until it burst from its bud to repay her kindness with a beautiful, fragrant flower. She really took to that method. That was the first time metta meditation worked for her. During the retreat when this happened, she said it was the only session when she wasn’t waiting for me to ring the bell. STAGE TWO A Loved Person Close to You After the first flames of metta have been estab- lished in this way, let go of your imaginary creature and put in its place a real person, someone very close to you emotionally such as your partner, a well-loved relation, or even your very best friend. It must be someone for whom it is easy to generate and sustain loving-kindness. In the metaphor of the campfire, they will be the thin pieces of wood called kindling. Once again use your inner speech to paint a picture around them in your mind. They too need your friend- ship and love. They are also emotionally vulnerable, subject to the disappointments and frustrations of life. Using your inner commentary, say: Dearest friend, I sincerely wish you happiness. May your body be free from pain and your mind find contentment. I give you my love with no conditions. I’ll always be there for you. You will always have a place in my heart. I truly care for you. You can of course use similar words of your own design. Use whatever phrases arouse the warm glow of metta in your heart. Stay with this person. Imagine they are right before you until the metta grows bright and constant around them. Now briefly place your attention on your body near your heart and feel the physical sensation associated with metta. You will find it feels delightful. ©SHANNONASTON/STOCKSYUNITED LION’S ROAR | MAY 2016 66