“As you let go of negative states of mind, you create the space in your mind for the cultivation of positive thoughts. Skillful Thinking means that we replace angry hostile thoughts with thoughts of loving-friendliness. Loving-friendliness, or metta, is a natural capacity. It is a warm wash of fellow-feeling, a sense of interconnectedness with all beings. Because we wish for peace, happiness and joy for ourselves, we know that all beings must wish for these qualities. Loving-friendliness radiates to the whole world the wish that all beings enjoy a comfortable life with harmony, mutual appreciation, and appropriate abundance.
Though we all have the seed of loving-friendliness within us, we must make the effort to cultivate it. When we are rigid, uptight, tense, anxious, full of worries or fears, our natural capacity for loving-friendliness cannot flourish. To nurture the seed of loving-friendliness, we must learn to relax. In a peaceful state of mind, such as we get from mindfulness meditation, we can forget our past differences with others and forgive their faults, weaknesses and offenses. Then loving-friendliness naturally grows within us.” -Bhante Henepola Gunarantana
Today, we will move our practice of Metta to the category of a Neutral being. This category is the beginning of expanding our practice from our circle of connection to the broader field of all beings. Here, with the Neutral person, we begin to practice for those we don’t have a personal relationship with, knowing that they, too, deserve happiness as all beings do.
In this stage, we cultivate loving-kindness for a Neutral being; this is someone we have no strong feelings towards. This person is not a friend, nor are we in conflict with them. We simply feel neutral towards them. Most likely, the majority of people we encounter in life fall into this category. As we walk along the streets or go shopping, we encounter so many people that there is a tendency to put our emotions in neutral and in a sense ignore those who are around us. It is not always possible to have a real emotional relationship or connection with everyone we meet, particularly when we live in high population areas. In this part of the practice, we learn to focus our attention on those beings that we tend to have no specific feelings for and may not even notice.
Living a large portion of my life in New York City, I learned to tune out a lot of what was going on around me. In many ways, it was a necessary life skill to function on a daily basis and not feel overwhelmed by so much energy and activity. It was also a great place to cultivate a practice of Metta as it afforded me the opportunity to connect inwardly and offer loving-kindness when I could not connect outwardly. Practicing Metta offers a powerful way to create connection with what is going around us in a more energetic way, within the container of our own experience.
Working with the category of a Neutral person opens a doorway to relating more to the world and the people who are around us on a daily basis. It helps to bring us into greater awareness in those spaces where we may tend to check out or become less conscious. This is one of the great gifts of this part of the practice. On one level we are practicing offering loving-kindness for the neutral person; on another, we are accessing a place where we often move into “neutrality” and instead are becoming more conscious and awake.
Daily Practice: Do your foundational practices. Once again, we begin by cultivating loving-kindness and compassion for our own self as the foundation for offering it to others. Get comfortable and settle into your breath. Spend a few moments centering on your heart. Imagine yourself sitting in a circle surrounded by loving beings. They may be ones you actually know or those who you imagine are loving. Allow yourself to feel enveloped in this love. Begin to send Metta to yourself by using the phrases you have been working with:
- May I be safe.
- May I be happy.
- May I be peaceful.
- May I be free from suffering.
When you feel immersed in the energy of loving-kindness and compassion, invite the image of a Neutral being into your mind. Pick someone you just happened to notice as you went about your day today or yesterday, perhaps the cashier at the supermarket, someone you passed on the street, or the person sitting across from you on the subway. The neutral person is not someone you like or dislike; you have no specific feelings for this person. Once you have called this person to mind, begin by saying inwardly, “Just as I wish to be happy and free from suffering, may you be happy and free from suffering.” Then, begin repeating the phrases for this Neutral person:
- May you be safe.
- May you be happy.
- May you be peaceful.
- May you be free from suffering.
Notice what arises as you practice. If your mind wanders or thoughts arise, just bring your awareness back to the Neutral person and continue repeating the phrases. As always, if difficult emotions dominate your attention, re-center yourself in loving-kindness and repeat the phrases for yourself until you feel clearer and calmer. Then, return your practice to the Neutral person.
Practice as long as you feel to or have committed to for today. When you feel complete, return to your heart center. Spend a few moments reflecting on your practice. Notice how it felt to connect with a Neutral person. For some, this category is more difficult. This category is one that can easily be taken out into daily life. I hope you will explore working with it in your sitting practice and as you go about your day.
Take a few moments to dedicate the merit of your practice asking that it benefit your self, others and all beings without exception.
Journal Notes: How did it feel to practice Metta for a Neutral person? Was it different from your self, a benefactor or a Beloved? How is your practice going? Are you able to continue making some time everyday to sit or practicing in some way? If not, what is stopping you? What is your commitment to yourself right now in terms of making time to bring more loving-kindness into your life? Take some time to reflect on your experience so far.
Reflection: In the opening quote by Bhante Henelopa Gunaratana, his defines Metta as loving-friendliness. Earlier on we discussed the discomfort some of us feel in working with the word love or loving-kindness. If you are still having difficulty connecting with loving-kindness, you might like to shift your focus to cultivating loving-friendliness for yourself and others as a way to open and connect more with the practice. Feel free to reflect on this and explore what works for you.
May you experience peacefulness and ease as you go about your day.