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Lions Roar : July 2017
WHEN I WAS introduced to the practice of metta—most often translated as loving- kindness practice—I defi- nitely knew it wasn’t for me. It was too mushy and sentimen- tal for my pragmatic mind. It was reminiscent of the wishful praying that I thought was reserved for the type of faith I had left behind. I didn’t really believe that I—or maybe any liv- ing being—could possibly find the happiness, safety, ease, and freedom being offered through metta prac- tice. Maybe we didn’t even deserve it! When I put my hand on my heart, as we are often asked to do during this practice, I felt numb and disconnected. I thought of loving-kindness as an unnec- essary additive to the more important four foundations of mindfulness. I ignored the practice for many years. Then, a wise and insight- ful teacher saw me struggling and assigned metta as my daily practice for three months. It wasn’t because my teacher thought I was not a kind and lov- ing person—I am—but I needed a way to love all beings, and to offer that love to myself too. I discovered that while loving-kindness is taught in many ways by different teach- ers, ultimately it is an equalizer and an antidote to hatred and aversion. It is a state that can be developed through JOANNA HARPER is the co-guiding teacher at Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society. practices that help us cultivate the uncon- ditional, expansive qualities of the heart. Metta is the great balancer to insight and mindfulness practices. When I discovered other translations of the word metta, like care, friendli- ness, goodwill, and benevolence, the practice began to feel more accessible and less lofty. Metta felt like something I could touch and cultivate daily. The great balancer began to do its work. My doubt began to melt. In trying times such as these, it seems difficult to imagine that we could soften our hearts and find love amid all of the suffering we hear about daily. Yet, the prescription of the Buddha is that even in the darkest of places and times, our heart–mind has the capacity to be free from the burdens of hatred. Here is a four-step instruction for metta. These steps are for practicing loving-kindness for yourself. You can also practice metta for others in different categories, such as people close to you, friends, people you are neutral toward, people you find difficult, and ultimately all living beings. Initially, set aside 15–20 minutes to do the four steps. As you develop your prac- tice, you can add more time as you wish. Setting a timer is helpful. ILLUSTRATIONSBYTOMIUM HOW TO PRACTICE Loving-Kindness JOANNA HARPER teaches us the famed Buddhist practice of metta—offering love to ourselves and others. LION’S ROAR | JULY 2017 27 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE