Friday, January 18, 2008

Lovingkindness (Sharon Salzberg)

I do not do well with general news headlines. Stories of bombings, wars, possible wars, weapons, and crime do not agree with me, make me feel bad about the general state of the world, and leave me with an overall sense of helplessness about it. A while back, however, I found a strategy that helped me deal with those kinds of situations a little bit better. It was an article in Yoga Journal about the practice of metta, or lovingkindness. Basically, the article explained that when there is not much you can do about a situation (global ones, such as those mentioned above, or local ones, like a car accident you see on the way to work), you can still send your intentions to those affected by meditating on a phrase such as May you be at peace. As simple as it is, or as crazy as it may sound, this is very effective.

The book Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg fully explains the practice of metta, including the different levels of meditation (lovingkindness for yourself, for close friends, even for your enemies). Salzberg's tone is straightforward and she provides real-life applications that make the material easier to understand.

Metta isn't about putting a rosy twist on everything you see. It's about bringing a fuller sense of intention to your life, which lets you experience joy more fully and provides a better understanding of others and their own situations. Salzberg is clear that every life has wonderful moments and painful moments. She explains, however,

How we think, how we look at our lives, is all-important, and the degree of love we manifest determines the degree of spaciousness and freedom we can bring to life's events.

Imaging taking a very small glass of water and putting into it a teaspoon of salt. Because of the small size of the container, the teaspoon of salt is going to have a big impact upon the water. However, if you approach a much larger body of water, such as lake, and put into it that same teaspoonful of salt, it will not have the same intensity of impact, because of the vastness and openness of the vessel receiving it. Even when the salt remains the same, the spaciousness of the vessel receiving it changes everything.

Salzberg includes meditation exercises at the end of each chapter, which makes a good book to purchase for anyone interested in exploring metta.


Lee Anne said...

My anxiety support group back at UT did something like this. We practised meditation in order to respond instead of react to stressors. "lovingkindess" was a word used often during meditation; I just didn't know its whole story. Anyway, it really worked, and I need to start doing it again! I'll look for this book. Thanks!

Maewen Archer said...

I've read something like this before, too. I felt pretty good while I was in the lovingkindness frame of mind. I should go back there -- I'll check this out.