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.
TLDR: Yoga will not save you from aging. As your body ages, don’t take it personally. Reflect & live.
Yoga & back pain
A few years back I was at a dinner with a friend who is six years my senior. She complained about back pain. She said her bones and back was hurting everywhere. My immediate thought was that she wasn’t doing enough stretching or yoga. My belief at the time was that yoga will save me from such ills when I grow old. Fast forward four years today, I texted her to tell her I know how she feels now. I am at an age where I can’t identify with being young, and I also can’t identify with being old (yet). I realised I am stuck between youth and ageing – commonly known as middle-age.
I have never grown old before. I don’t know what it will encompass except the hardening of joints and muscles, weakening bones with various names given to these conditions.
I now realised that I have no control over my body. Being young, we are duped into thinking we have control over our body when we could do more physical work and exercises with it. Now, a lower back pain from sitting too long could affect the knee and pull the upper muscles of your body downward. I guess this is what gravity does. I remember the times in my youth when I had joked about how our skin and muscles will succumb to gravity, without thinking about the gravity of the matter literally.
Being young, we are duped into thinking we have control over our body
The aging disconnect between mind and body
The physical deterioration of the body made me reflect a lot lately. Do I have a phobia of aging?
In terms of health, it pours instead of rain when we grow old. I see my father with his body getting stiffer by the day. He is now in his 80s. I have not heard him complain like my friend or myself about having body pains and aches. He has not accepted being old or being ill and has to suffer from it on an ego level. Many people around my age told me ageing is a number and a mindset. I don’t know if they are denying ageing. I see many elderlies in my estate. I think to myself they probably don’t relate to being old in their minds, except the body telling them so.
The path we all move towards
So, I’m now in the middle of youth and ageing and a bit reluctant to go further to find out what else is in store. It doesn’t seem to affect my friends much though they too feel ageing’s effects. They are older than I am. They are still pretty much drawn into the things offered by the world – such as food, travelling, learning to invest, being quite involved in their daily work.
For me, I am also learning new things to catch up with a world which has changed quickly from when I was growing up – from liberalism to growing nationalism, from analogue to digital. I am not as interested or absorbed by the work I have to do, but just doing what I need to do daily to fulfil my duties. Deep in my mind amidst activities, I constantly think about how I can strengthen my mind on this path we all move towards, which is the end of life.
I’ve read many books on the end of life to past life regressions. From these books, I understand there is nothing to fear about death but fear itself. Many encounters of death related by those who experienced it briefly, said it is a relaxing feeling. I guess it isn’t so much that death bothers me, but the body’s reluctance to listen to my instructions and the discomfort it causes as I age.
Have you seen your one way street?
The truth is, life is a one-way street. We may fall in love with our body and life, but it eventually becomes an unrequited love.
We can’t marry it and sign a contract for it to last forever. For the encounter with death to be relaxing I figured I have to learn to relax with whatever comes my way and in all that I do. I also had to ensure I do nothing to cause regret or guilt that weighs down the mind.
do nothing to cause regret or guilt that weighs down the mind.
There is no assurance in our heart as we have no certainty on what happens after death. I think this is what causes fear. But the mind is a powerful tool. A confused mind tainted with wants and guilt versus a trained mind free from guilt or expectations make a difference in one’s life as well as in death.
I dare not say I have a totally relaxed mind that is free from fear. But I decided that no matter what I do in my daily life, I resolve not to take it seriously or personally. Although I feel I am overly focused in work sometimes more than I would like to. How I work now compared to when I was young is that I no longer think far or have any dreams or expectations in its results. My only focus is to learn to relax and not hold onto anything by having expectations of life or anyone. Interestingly, I am happier now compared to when I was younger despite an ageing body.
Deep in my heart, I understand there is something that is permanent within all of us, that stays stable despite our ups and downs in life. I only hope that whatever time I have, I will be wise enough to spend time knowing this part that is elusive from thoughts and only accessible by mindfulness.
View ageing (white hair, wrinkles) as a process to understand rather than challenge
Use ageing as a reminder to seize the ever diminishing resource we have – Time