TLDR: Learning to be okay with not feeling okay can help us recover better when an unexpected illness happens
It was during a meal that Celeste, in her 20s, began to feel some slight discomfort. Her throat was dry and her nose was runny after having Tom Yum soup.
At 4 am, Celeste confirmed that her discomfort was not from the Tom Yum but something worse.
Her test result showed she was positive for Covid-19. It was something that she never expected to contract as she had taken many precautions.
Fever and body ache struck her quickly. This shocked her as she assumed that after being fully vaccinated, and keeping a healthy lifestyle, it will pass like a breeze.
That was far from the truth as she entered Day 2 of home recovery.
Rotten food & rotten plans
Celeste felt that being a swim coach, playing tennis & yoga, coupled with healthy eating would provide a strong trampoline for recovery on Day 2. Covid had other plans installed for her. It was not going away.
“I lost my sense of smell. Everything tasted like rotten food”, she recalled.
Fear arose when she Googled and found that some people stopped eating even after recovery as their sense of smell never recovered fully. They had lost interest in eating as it was no longer enjoyable.
The fear then morphed into self-blame for falling sick.
“I didn’t realise it was unkind until the anger and fear clouded my mind. It made me afraid of Dukkha (Suffering)”, she recalled.
Her meditation practise helped make her aware of the unnecessary self-criticism and blame she was laying on herself. However, the fear and anger grew in her mind.
Soothing Fear with Dhamma
As the fear paralysed Celeste, she decided to use piano music to calm herself as she lay in bed. However, the mental proliferations filled with fear did not go away.
She then recalled a playlist of talks recommended by her Dhamma friends from her young working adult Dhamma group (DAYWA). Being new to Buddhism, she was unfamiliar with whether it would help but decided to give the playlist a try.
“Be okay that you are not feeling okay”, Ajahn Brahm, the monk on the playlist, advised. This struck her hard.
She was always trying too hard to be healthy. Covid was something beyond her control. Despite being fully vaccinated, she still fell deeply sick. Acknowledging that it is okay to fall sick was a great relief to her heart and mind.
“90% of my worries never came through. I spent so much time worrying about things that never happen”, recalled Celeste as she was recovering.
After the one hour Dhamma talk, Celeste felt at ease and fell into a deep sleep.
Returning to senses
Celeste, having heard numerous mind-soothing episodes of Dhamma talks, was ready to accept a life of no smell. She reflected that she had taken her 5 senses for granted and realised that they did not belong to ‘us’ strictly as we could not command them as we like.
“We don’t own these senses, senses are merely borrowed. Not Mine, not myself.” she reflected.
Celeste was internalising and seeing first-hand what Buddha talked about non-self. We do not control our body and mind as much we would love to. For if our body was fully ours, it wouldn’t lead to dissatisfaction and we would have full control.
This brought to mind Buddha’s teaching to monks in the following dialogue:
What do you think, monks? Is form (body) permanent or impermanent?”
“But if it’s impermanent, is it suffering or happiness?”
“But if it’s impermanent, suffering, and perishable, is it fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self’?”
As Celeste was coming to peace with her lack of smell senses, it came back to her. She was beginning on her upward path to recovery.
Associating with the kind
As she slowly recovered, she found that body aches and pain remained. However, she avoided the trap of feeling unhappy with her body.
“Wanting things to be perfect feed the monster within you. Pain reminds you that your body is not perfect…and that’s okay”, Celeste shared.
Beyond the Dhamma talks, her loved ones were pivotal in lifting her towards full recovery.
Her in-laws delivered her favourite vegetables that she loved to eat even when the Delta variant was a real threat to their health. Her yoga friends delivered herbal tea and cooked for her.
This difficult period also made her appreciate her husband more (who was also infected and had to be hospitalised). Life and death became very real for her when her husband heart rate dropped drastically which landed him in the hospital as she lay at home infected with Covid.
“These moments made me count my blessings and not take them (loved ones) for granted”, Celeste recalled.
Life lessons from covid
This episode made Celeste rethink the way she was living her life. She decided to cut down on some overindulgence she was partaking in, such as midnight movies and sleeping late. Maintaining health was a crucial component of her life that she wanted to strengthen.
She then aspired to dedicate more time and consistency to her meditation practice which tide her over this tough period. She found herself meditating less when times were going good for her and hence, aspires to build a consistent habit of meditating regardless of the times.
“Be patient and be unafraid” she advised those who may face such an unexpected infection.
“For your friends infected with Covid, ask them how you can help them. Delivering food and checking in on them really lifts their spirits”, she encouraged.
In our darkest and lowest times, recollecting the Dhamma is one way to rest our minds at peace. This allows our body and mind to be okay at being not okay, paving the way for deeper healing.
Create a playlist of your favourite Dhamma talks that you can listen to in times of trouble
Every hardship we face is an opportunity for us to turn towards the truths of life or remain in our perceived truths of life
People, especially in today’s age, assume that love has something to do with romance. The idea of romantic love should be investigated because when we don’t know it properly, it can create so much suffering inside of us. So often, when you fall in love, what you are really loving is the way the person makes you feel.
The first type of love: Possessive love
Many of us, even though we think we love our partner, really, love ourselves more. If you really think you love your partner more than your own life, what would you do if your partner runs away with the postman?
If you really love her, you should be so happy that she’s found happiness and love. You should feel so grateful that she is happy. Isn’t that what love is all about? You want her to be happy, and now she’s happy.
But you wouldn’t be happy would you? Why is that? That’s because your love is like an attachment. It’s a love, which has ownership. This is the first type of love, and the Buddhist context. The love, which comes from the word “mine” — “I will love you, as long as you are mine.”
It’s love that creates a lot of problems. Problems because, in this life, the Buddha pointed out that we own precious little. In fact, we don’t own much at all. If anything, we only rented it for a period of time. We only have our loved ones with us for a very very short time. Sooner or later, there has to be a separation.
The second type of love: Love without attachment
But of course, there is a much more wise and deeper type of love, which is the second type of love – “The door of my heart will always be open to you no matter what you do.”
There’s a sense that you can feel happy when somebody else, someone you care for, is happy.
This is love that frees the other person because it wants the other person to be happy. It does not have any concern about oneself. It is truly a selfless love, which has no strings attached.
That type of love gives you peace. It’s a love, which embraces reality. The unconditional, selfless love. It allows you to be at peace with other people in the world. It stops arguments, it stops separation. It stops the biggest war in the whole world – the war inside of you. It is a love, which can let go. This type of love is selfless. It accepts. In its acceptance, it is embracing, it is letting go. Love, which leads to freedom rather than love which leads to possessiveness.
The way to love a person is a way to look after a bird. A bird needs a cage but you should always leave the door of the cage open. Just make sure that the bird stays in that cage because the cage is really beautiful, and the food is really delicious. There, the bird can get lots of love and care. They’d want to always come back to that cage. They may fly off a few days but they’d always come back again because there’s the best food in town, and people are so nice and kind.
If you put your loved ones in a closed cage, first time that door is open, they’d run away and never come back. So, the love which has freedom is the only love that can really give you what you truly want. If you control and possess, people will always escape. They’d run away and never come back again.
The third type of love
In the English language, the word love has two meanings. The second meaning of love is zero/empty/nothing. This is what the second type of love inclines towards – where you have a kind of love that doesn’t possess, which lets go. All these things, which you think you truly need to be happy, all these possessions, which are so important to you, you can free them. You will realise that you don’t need anything. It’s inclining towards the emptiness in this world.
This is the third type of love – the empty love. When I say “empty love”, sometimes people think that that’s very scary, very cold. But that emptiness type of love is far from being cold. It is the emptiness like the sky, which can accept everything, which embraces everything, which surrounds everything. That emptiness type of love is what connects everybody and everything. That’s what love is. It is embracing, accepting, with a deep contentment with what is.
TLDR: Is Metta Meditation really beneficial? Jin Young shares his own personal practice and his relationship with loving kindness meditation. A 30-min guided meditation is included. You’re invited to test it out for yourself.
When you don’t know what to do, try out metta or loving kindness meditation.
Encountering Metta MeditationMy first encounter with metta was listening to Imee Ooi’s “Chant of Metta ”. Imee’s voice was angel-like, saccharine and soothing. I especially enjoyed her chanting of the Metta Sutta in Pali language, albeit not knowing much about the actual meaning behind those words back then.
My mom would sometimes play the CD around bedtime, and I guess it must have had some sort of sleep-inducing effect, much like lullabies for babies.
Lighting My Fire Of Metta
When I was fifteen, I sat through my first metta meditation under the guidance of Ajahn Brahm. Ajahn explained that the cultivation of metta is analogous to starting a fire. You can’t start a fire by lighting up a huge log.
Rather, you need kindling, easily combustible materials for starting a fire such as papers or small little twigs. Once the fire is started, one then adds on larger and larger twigs before moving on to solid pieces of wood.
When the fire is well maintained, you can further grow it until the passion of loving kindness is strong enough to embrace the whole universe and even your worst enemies.
But first, we need to start with kindling. Ajahn told us to visualize someone whom we can readily feel and send loving kindness to. For me, it was my late grandmother who had taken care of me when I was young. She showered me with unconditional love.
“The door of my heart is open to you”
“I will take care of you”
“May you be safe, well and happy”.
With these words, I felt my chest and heart glowing with love and warmth. We then proceed to send similar thoughts and wishes to our other family members, friends, acquaintances, animals, and all sentient beings.
It was an empowering experience to meditate on metta with Ajahn Brahm. The flame of “metta” was passed on from Ajahn to us, and from us to our loved ones and on and on.
Keeping the Metta Flame Glowing
Since then, I’ve tried my best to keep this flame alive wherever I go. In Selangor, I joined the Buddhist Gem Fellowship and attended a weekly guided metta meditation by Datuk Seri Dr. Victor Wee, another lay-teacher and compassionate mentor.
Dr. Wee’s cues were slightly different from Ajahn Brahm’s, but the spirit of loving kindness was the same.
I brought the practice of metta meditation with me to Japan and China, where I studied abroad for four years. Whenever I missed my family, encountered negative events, or felt like I was stuck in an uncertain and helpless situation, I turned to metta meditation for help.
I like to believe that by sending my thoughts of loving-kindness to my family and friends, they are protected by my wishes, and become well and happy.
By sending metta to a professor or a superior, he or she would give me an A+ or a pay raise (I’m only half-kidding). By sending it to someone with whom I’ve had a negative encounter, relationships will slowly turn for the better, enmity and ill will shall be transformed into love and light.
No, Metta doesn’t Solve Everything
Of course, there’s no guarantee that metta will always convert “negativity” into “positivity”, nor is it a panacea for everything in life.
However, I believe that it can help transform the state of one’s mind – To face life’s suffering and problems with a heart of loving-kindness and gentleness.
Over time, as I became a yoga teacher and started leading mindfulness retreat expeditions to the Himalayas, I’ve developed and come up with my practice and cues for leading metta meditation.
These cues are of course consolidated from the various teachers mentioned above. During this pandemic lockdown, I decided to record a 30-min long guided metta meditation. I share it with anyone keen to explore and integrate this practice into their lives.
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” This quote is often attributed to Laotzu.
Can we make metta “loving-kindness” the character and destiny of our life?
If you find it hard to send loving thoughts in your mind, find a safe space and utter them out in words.
Make it a habit to randomly wish someone to be well and happy each day, whether it’s mentally towards someone you love or to random strangers on the streets.
Meditate at least once a week to reset yourself energetically and spiritually.