May All Beings Be Happy

Two Buddhist meditation rituals, lovingkindness and sharing merit, can be valuable tools for healing.

BY: Sharon Salzberg

 

Lovingkindness, or

metta

meditation, is a traditional Buddhist practice that helps us to move from a sense of dislocation and isolation into a more of a connection with ourselves and, ultimately, with all beings everywhere.



It's classically taught with three other practices; namely, compassion; sympathetic joy--feeling delighted in another's happiness rather than feeling jealous; and equanimity, or balance of mind. All four of these of qualities can be experienced within any one of them. Lovingkindness, for example, has strands of compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity within it.

One of the difficulties with lovingkindness is that the word is not very common, which is a shame. Often the word "metta" is translated as "love," which is confusing. Sometimes we say "love," when we mean attachment or an exchange of some sort, such as: "I will love you as long as you love me in return or as long as the following 15 conditions are met." Sometimes we mean a kind of sentimentality, which isn't willing to open up to pain, dislocation, or torment.

Metta doesn't refer to either one of those conditions. The literal translation of the word is "friendship." So metta means knowing how to be a friend to ourselves and a friend to all of life. Its foundation is connection.

Because lovingkindness meditation deals with a sense of dislocation, it is a highly appropriate practice for the situation we find ourselves in today. I had an acupuncture treatment three days after the September 11 event. When the acupuncturist put a needle in me, it hurt so much I practically leapt off the table. I asked her, "What point was that?" And she said, "That's the getting-back-into-your-body point." I was in shock, as were many people. Now it's a process of coming home to ourselves, coming home to a deeper sense of community.

It's also a process of coming back to being present, because all of those states of mind that we experience--fear, anxiety, dread, grief--take us out of the moment: We either ruminate about the past or project into the future.

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