Abiding in loving-kindness or metta has this slow flowering quality of opening our hearts. It doesn’t ask for us to be perfect, but simply that we are willing to aspire and practice to be unconditionally loved and loving.
As many of you know, I am drawn deeply by the ecstasy, joy, truth, contradiction and union in Rumi’s poetry. I love reading Coleman Barks’ introduction in his many books of Rumi poetry, about the story of how Rumi and Shams met and how their friendship began, outside of time. When Shams disappeared, Rumi journeyed and looked for him everywhere, until one moment, one day, he realized that Shams was within him. And out of that union came so many of his songs and poems celebrated throughout the world. As Rumi says, “when living itself becomes the Friend, lovers disappear.”
When I attended my first metta retreat with Michele Mcdonald back in 2008, it was my first taste of this unconditional love and friendship. In metta, we concentrate on phrases/wishes of well-being for our benefactor; not with the aim of controlling their happiness or well-being, but to gently ease into and abide into our own heart’s capacity to love and wish others well, independent of their accomplishments or qualities. We start with the benefactor, because this is our ‘easy’ person, the person for whom wishing well comes easily to us. As we practice, our hearts expand in friendship and good will and then it becomes easier to extend those wishes to ourselves, neutral and more difficult people, in that order. Ultimately, our aspiration is to wish all beings on earth this same unconditional good will and friendship, as we would wish for our dearest ones.
Being a parent offers a beautiful doorway to practice this metta journey. When I sit in meditation and begin with metta for my daughter, Anjali, it is easy to wish her well. Her sweet face fills my consciousness and brings me immense joy. Not because of her accomplishments or certain qualities she possesses, but simply because of who she is. A radiant being of light and joy, for whom my wishes of friendship, health, safety and love flow easily and naturally. When I abide in the love I feel for her, and slowly turn it like a mirror towards myself, this magical alchemy occurs. I too am worthy of the same love that I extend to my child. Sometimes I find myself wondering who is the mother and who is the child.
“Moon and clouds are the same. Mountain and valley are different. All are blessed; all are blessed. Is this one? Is this two?” – Wu-Men.
This abiding in unconditional love and friendship is the state from which we can then act in the world. Can we extend that same unconditional love to difficult people in our lives? This is certainly more challenging but as we keep coming back to the practice, our heart slowly opens and learns to relate in a new way to others. Extending this good will does not mean we condone others’ unskillful actions. But it allows us to respond from a place of wisdom and grace, simply because we acknowledge that we are all human, imperfect and worthy of love, friendship and respect.
I cannot say that I can love all human beings the way I love my daughter. If I did, I would be an enlightened being. Instead, I am very much imperfect, impatient with myself, insecure at times, trying too hard, demanding at times. But in loving her, I am discovering a far greater capacity for love and healing than I ever thought possible. Always remembering patience and diligence. And that, as Daniel Mead puts it beautifully in his poem, “A flower cannot be opened with a hammer.”
May all beings abide in this friendship and metta,
With love, S.
ps: Please note that all Rumi references in this post are translations by Coleman Barks. If you would like a recommendation of his poetry, my favorite is his book ‘The Glance’.