Becoming More Aware of our Emotions: sometimes, though, when we check on our emotions it may not be clear what’s happening. In these situations it may simply be that our emotions are not really engaged. They are like a car sitting in neutral gear. Or, maybe a better guide to our emotions is to look at the state of our thoughts, either as they are when we sit to meditate, or at how they have been before we sit down to meditate.
For example, when we are feeling positive emotions, we find that we tend to see the good things in people. But when we are irritable and in a negative emotional state, we tend to find fault with ourselves and with others. By being aware of our thoughts we can discover an emotional tone to them.
Metta Bhavana: If the Mindfulness of Breathing gives us greater awareness of our body, thoughts and emotions, by practising the Metta Bhavana meditation we can learn how to work with our emotional states and to increase our emotional positivity.
“Metta” means ‘loving-kindness’, or ‘unconditional love’, a love that is given without asking for anything in return. “Bhavana” means cultivation. So Metta Bhavana means the cultivation of unconditional love or loving-kindness.
But “metta” can also simply mean friendliness or wishing someone well. And for most of us it’s best to think of “metta” as wishing someone well. It’s no good thinking that we can give unconditional love to all living beings if we can’t wish for someone we know to be well!
The Practice of Metta Bhavana: The practice of the Metta Bhavana meditation is in five stages, though it’s best to start by only doing three of them. In each stage we cultivate metta or well-wishing as follows:
Stage 1 Towards ourselves
Stage 2 Towards a good friend
Stage 3 Towards a ‘neutral’ person (someone we neither particularly like nor dislike)
Stage 4 Towards a ‘difficult’ person (someone we have conflicts with, or towards whom we have feelings of ill-will)
Stage 5 Towards all living beings
To start with we will only do Stages 1, 2 and 5.
How To Cultivate Metta: There are several ways to cultivate well-wishing, but the traditional and simplest method is to use words and phrases. So, if we are trying to develop metta towards a good friend, then you could use the following phrases:
May you be well
May you be happy and content
May you be free from pain and suffering
May you make progress in your life
[The same phrases can be used in all the stages]
First of all, call the person to mind. Maybe silently say their name to help bring an image of them into your mind.
Then silently in your mind say each phrase in turn. Say each phrase with kindness and put meaning into it.
At the same time as putting in gentle and kind effort to each phrase, leave time after the phrase to observe and absorb what effect it has.
You are being both active and receptive with your mind; actively working with your emotions and receptively watching what effect your actions are having.
It’s like dropping a stone into the centre of a pond and watching as the ripples from the stone spread gently out to the edge of the pond.
You might want to try saying the phrase on an out-breath — then waiting and watching for its effect, whilst breathing in and out another two times — before moving on and saying the next phrase on an out-breath.
Finally, it’s important to realise that you don’t have to be in a good state of mind, and already experiencing positive emotions, in order to practise the metta bhavana. In the metta bhavana meditation you can work with whatever emotions you find are present in your mind. Be honest with how you are and the meditation will go better!