Sunday, December 18, 2016

Benevolence Meditation Instructions

I haven't been able to find the artist's name and info for this painting.
If you know it, please comment below; I would like to buy a print.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we spoke about different kinds of anger.  Those of you who know me know that I can have a bit of a temper.  Those of you who have known me for a long time know that I used to burn with a deep fury I could rarely shake.  This is one of the practices that helps me deal with that.  It's a variation on a Buddhist practice called "metta meditation".  Metta is a Buddhist concept usually translated as "compassion", but it can also mean "benevolence" "friendliness" or "loving-kindness", but I think "Grace" is also a really good translation.  It's very similar to the Hebrew word "chesed".

The Pali Canon (Buddhist scripture) says this about the benefits of Metta Meditation: "One sleeps easily, wakes easily, dreams no evil dreams. One is dear to human beings, dear to non-human beings. The devas[gods] protect one. Neither fire, poison, nor weapons can touch one. One's mind gains concentration quickly. One's complexion is bright. One dies unconfused and – if penetrating no higher – is headed for [will be reborn in] the Brahma worlds [the Good Place]."  I can't personally vouch for all of that, but I do think it's a very beneficial practice, especially for those of us who struggle with wrath.

The meditation below give step by step instructions for the meditation I do, which is not a traditional Buddhist practice, but is strongly informed by it.  In particular, I have reordered a few of the steps.  Some preliminary advice:  if you can't feel it, just imagine that you can.  This is a difficult practice, and one that takes a lot of practice to master.  HOWEVER, the "trick" to it is all in the intention.  If you can hold on to the idea that you WANT to be able to radiate benevolence to all creatures, you're already "doing it right".  From there, it's just practice to be ABLE to radiate more and more love.

  • Begin with a few minutes of calm quiet meditation.  If you don't have an existing meditation practice, this might help.
  • Express, out loud, that it is you intention to engage in this practice for the betterment of all sentient beings.  Here is a (shortened) traditional formula, or you can speak your own words: 
    • "May all beings be happy and secure, may they be happy-minded!
      Whatever living beings there are - feeble or strong, long, stout or medium,
      short, small or large, seen or unseen (ghosts, gods and hell-beings),
      those dwelling far or near, those who are born or those who await rebirth
      may all beings, without exception, be happy-minded!
      Let my thoughts of boundless lovingkindness pervade the whole world:
      above, below and all around, without obstruction, without any hatred, without any enmity.
  • Think of a person you love unconditionally.  It's better to choose a living person, but a dead person is also ok.  If you have children, they're probably the ideal focus, but other family members, mentors, elders, or friends are all also good choices.  Our feelings for romantic partners are often complicated and conflicted; they're not always the best choice for this part of the exercise.  Focus on your feeling for them, and your desire for them to be happy, healthy, and blessed. Allow this emotion to arise as a physical feeling of radiant warmth in your heart.  When the feeling is strong and consistent, try to extend it until it suffuses your entire body.
  • Extend the feelings of unconditional love, acceptance, and benevolence you felt for your Beloved to yourself.  This is harder than it sounds!  If you feel the warm feeling you established in step one start to falter or cool, allow it to retract back to your heart, and return to thinking about your Beloved until it grows strong again, and then work on extending it.  When you can feel your entire body glowing with warmth and love, abide in the feeling for a few moments, and then move on to the next step.
  • Think of someone you're more or less neutral toward.  A colleague, perhaps, or a neighbor.  Someone you like well enough, and you wish well for, but you wouldn't usually describe your feelings for them as "love".  Try to extend the warm feeling you have built up, the feeling of love and benevolence, to them.  For me, I find it easiest to feel this by imagining they are in front of me, and imagining I am placing my hands on their head and the warm blessing love is flowing from my hands into them.  Again, if you have trouble, return to step one and rebuild the feeling, and then proceed.  When you feel the loving warmth pouring out of your hands (or you heart, or how else it feels to you), move on to the next step.
  • Think of a person in your life whom you really dislike, but don't actually want to murder.  Bless them in the same way as you did in the previous step.  Whenever you need to, return to your heart and rebuild your store of radiant, unconditional love.
  • Now, think of someone you genuinely despise.  Someone you fantasize about killing.  (cough, Donald Trump, cough)  Slowly, extend your field of warmth and love to that person.  It might help to remind yourself that love can help to heal the person of whatever the fuck makes him that way. As needed, return to your heart to restock.
  • This step is the hardest, but it's the key to the practice:  Return to your heart, fill your body, and let yourself glow slightly with radiant love.  Now, imagine that your heart is connected to the radiant, all-loving, all-compassionate Heart of the World.  You might access that feeling by thinking about an intercessory spirit like the Blessed Mother.  For me, I imagine a glowing, pulsing, geothermal love at the center of the Earth, the Womb of Being.  But, you don't need to think of it as a spirit at all, just look for the Love that animates Being.  Allow it's love to flow through you unobstructed, fueling the glow in your heart.
  • Now, extend your glow from every part of your body.  In all six directions, to every living creature, to everything and place.  Hold this feeling, of being a radiant, glowing channel of Love, for as long as you can.  When you are ready to come back to being yourself, say something like this out loud, and then allow the feeling to contact.  "May all living beings everywhere, on all planes of existence, known and unknown, be happy, be peaceful, be free from suffering." 
  • Sit for a while, coming back to yourself.  Drink a glass of water.  (you might not realize you are thirsty, but you are)
  • Repeat as needed.