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Lions Roar : November 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2008 56 According to the Buddha, every creature holds itself most dear of all; every being wants to live and thrive. Our recognition of this is the basis of our compassion for ourselves and others: “who loves himself may never harm another.” Through the practice of loving and understanding you will feel your heart grow to include more people and beings. A good friend accepts you just as you are. You can tell when someone wants to change you; it doesn’t feel good. The same is true when we critique ourselves. To be able to love your part- ner and others in the world, you need to first practice being that good friend to yourself and accepting yourself completely. This requires looking deeply at ourselves without flinching and ac- cepting the whole of what we discover. If we say, “I’ll love you when you lose ten pounds,” or “You must do this or that before I can love you,” then we aren’t being a true friend. Once we realize we’re the closest and most precious person on Earth to ourselves, we’ll stop treating ourselves as an enemy. The conditions for happiness are present and available to us right now, without us having to improve ourselves. As we grow in acceptance of ourselves, we become a safer, kinder, gentler place to inhabit for ourselves and for others. Several years ago, we had the good fortune of joining Thich Nhat Hanh, and monks, nuns, and other laypeople on a tour of China. An elderly monk with a wide grin and gentle gait was our tour guide at a monastery in the south. We stepped into a large meditation room. The only object in the room was a large oval mirror placed in the center of the room. The monk turned to us with an engaging grin, pointed to the mirror and said, “Advanced practice.” METTA PRACTICE How do you talk to yourself? Whose voice is it? Is the voice criti- cal or loving? Are you in touch with a sacred voice that you hear within? This constant inner conversation is the basis of the love relationship that we have with ourselves. Metta is a practice of uncovering the brilliance of light and love that rests in each of us. This radiance is often covered up with ignorance, fear, anger, and the wounds from life experience, but it is there. Metta comes from the Sanskrit word mitra, which means friend. We begin by befriending ourselves, learning to talk kindly and sweetly to ourselves, learning to offer ourselves a blessing instead of a curse or a complaint. Actively being a loving friend to your own self is the foundation of the practice. The practice is simple. We gently repeat phrases that are mean- ingful in terms of what we wish for ourselves and, eventually, for others. We begin by offering metta to ourselves. There are four phrases used in classic Buddhist teachings: May I be free from danger. May I have mental happiness. May I have physical happiness. May I have ease of well-being. May I be free from danger. With this prayer, we are touching the wish that all beings have for protection, safety, and a place of refuge. We have the aspiration that all beings may be free from accidents, external strife, and external violence. Our heart’s de- sire is that everyone can have a place of safe haven. Other phrases for this meditation might include, “May I be safe and free from injury,” “May I have safety,” or “May I have a safe place.” May I have mental happiness. Even in the best of circumstances, we can make ourselves suffer with our own mind. Mental happi- ness is a mind that is free from anger, affliction, fear, and anxiety. Mental happiness arises through looking at ourselves with the eyes of understanding and love. Then we practice by recognizing and touching the seeds of joy and happiness in ourselves. We also learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delu- sion in ourselves. Other phrases people sometimes use are, “May I be happy,” “May I be peaceful,” or “May I be liberated.” May I have physical happiness. With this we are wishing our- selves a healthy and happy body. We touch the deep aspiration that all beings experience a life without physical pain. We’re in touch with our desire that no one experience ill health and physical suf- fering. Other phrases might be, “May I be healthy,” “May I em- body vibrant health,” or “May I be healed.” May I have ease of well-being. With this phrase, we are address- ing our everyday life. We are touching the wish that our lives be filled with the energies of grace and harmony rather than struggle and conflict. We aspire to live in a way that we experience solidity, freshness, and freedom. We pray for well-being, peace, lightness, and to be spared from strife. Other phrases could be, “May I dwell in peace,” “May I experience ease,” or “May I live in harmony.” LOVING-KINDNESS When we practice being a good friend to ourselves, we are prac- ticing the art of loving-kindness. Loving-kindness can be de- scribed as our ability to bring joy to ourselves and others. The basis of loving-kindness is understanding and acceptance. We practice it first with ourselves, looking deeply at our own self and accepting what we find. With practice, love will arise more and more often. We will feel a natural desire to go in the direction of what is good, true, and beautiful. You may feel rusty about how to treat yourself with loving- kindness. To begin, it may be helpful for you to recall a time when you were moved by the loving-kindness of another person. When we reflect on goodness, we think of small acts of kindness, like saying good morning, offering a cup of tea, giving a welcom- ing smile, a warm hug, or scratching Larry’s dog’s ears. Here is Peggy’s memory of goodness: Adapted from Love’s Garden: A Guide to Mindful Relationships, by Peggy Rowe Ward and Larry Ward. © 2008 by Peggy Rowe Ward and Larry Ward. With per- mission from Parallax Press, www.parallax.org. NOV 48-57.indd 56 NOV 48-57.indd 56 9/1/08 12:21:47 PM 9/1/08 12:21:47 PM