Mettā - Loving friendliness
Mettā - Loving friendliness.
In Buddhism there is a term called ‘mettā’ which is most accurately translated to mean ‘loving friendliness’. To practice Mettā is to sit in meditation and send loving friendliness to all the people in your life, starting first with yourself, then your friends & family, and then to your enemies.
This practice is said to minimise negative emotions toward yourself and others, and it sounds like a great idea - in theory. To practice it seems somewhat unrealistic. It is one thing to stop hating your enemies, but quite another to actually wish them the best in life.
When I read about this in Bhante Gunaratana’s book Mindfulness in Plain English I skipped over the chapter. The truth is I don’t like thinking about certain people who have wronged me in my past. It’s a negative experience, and I avoid it. But the practise has highlighted exactly how often I think and feel these emotions and just how much resentment I really carry. I resent the people who disrespected me and got away with it. I resent the people whom I considered friends but didn’t send me a single message when I went through my depression. I resent the people who have treated me like an object.
The truth is I couldn’t care less if some of these people lived or died. It’s not that I have ever wished death upon someone, it’s just that these people are already dead to me. It sounds harsh, but it's true. So to send them love and goodwill rises something in me I’ve tried to burry. But it’s made me realise there are parts of my psyche I’ve deemed untouchable. There are thoughts I’m not allowed to look at or memories I’m not allowed to touch without them bringing up negativity in my mind. How am I to say I am free? Worst still, how have I given so much power to these people that just the thought of them makes me feel something negative?
When I practise mettā I imagine sending a beam of light at these people. And it makes me feel closure. It makes me feel like it's done. Because I’m choosing to move on, and to be better. It makes me realise just how often I experience these bad feelings. When I send this beam of light at people it makes me feel like I’m pushing out on the world instead of having them push down on me. It will probably take me a long time to do this practise and mean it, but at the end of the day I’m doing it for me, not for them. And while Gunaratana admits it can be hard to send love, safety, health, good fortune and happiness to our enemies, he leaves us with this:
If they really had all these things, would they really have done what they did to you?