Often when we practice loving-kindness, mettā, it involves an active well-wishing to all beings, such as when we repeat the phrases, “May you be happy, may they be happy, may all beings be happy, healthy, safe, at ease,” and so forth. Certainly that’s an important part of loving-kindness meditation. But in a more essential, practical way, the quality of mettā is not only a well-wishing toward other beings; it also has to do with how we relate to our own mind states and the way we handle the different moods, feelings, and perceptions that arise within us. If we are repeating those mettā phrases and cultivating those sentiments toward external beings, yet internally relating to our own mind states in a semi-conscious or unconscious, reactive way, then all of those noble sentiments and qualities we direct outwards don’t have much fuel, they don’t have much of a foundation. To make the practices of mettā meditation really fruitful and genuinely relevant and effective, there needs to be both the external element and the internal element—relating with loving-kindness toward our own mind states, moods, bodies, thoughts, and feelings.
When there’s an irritation, an impatience arising, a sense of things having shortcomings, or when we feel ourselves to be imperfect or not beautiful in some way, then it’s easy for us to criticize and blame ourselves. We can quickly get upset with a mind that won’t stop thinking or has stray thoughts and unwanted memories, ideas, fears, feelings, desires, and dislikes. Ajahn Sumedho addresses all these tendencies by expressing the essential attitude of loving-kindness as, “not dwelling in aversion.” Rather than expecting to be affirmatively affectionate toward our bodies, thoughts, and feelings, it’s merely a sense of not finding fault with them, not dwelling in aversion. That much is doable.
To establish the attitude of loving-kindness—the genuine heart of mettā—is to establish within ourselves a heart of non-contention, a heart that is accepting and accommodating of all mind states. This doesn’t mean to say that we are approving of every thought we have, or that all our feelings of selfishness, violence, aggression, jealousy, and fear are beautiful, wonderful adornments for the world. We’re not trying to pretend or allow ourselves to get lost in delusion, confusing the skillful and unskillful. Instead we’re simply trying to recognize that everything belongs, whether it’s a noble and wholesome thought, or a selfish, fearful, jealous, or greedy thought. They all belong. They’re all attributes of nature. When we cultivate this quality of non-contention and acceptance toward all our inner qualities—feelings, thoughts, perceptions, memories, ideas, and fantasies—then the heart is not divided, and there’s unity, a unification of the heart.
Without this fundamental unity of mettā in our hearts— this fundamental welcoming inclination and recognition that our internal attributes, good or bad, are all aspects of the natural order—it’s impossible to have a genuine, substantial attitude of loving-kindness toward others, because the heart is divided.
So we can take some time to pursue and explore these themes and to reflect on them, seeing throughout the course of the day how often the mind wants to contend against our own bodies and their limitations, our feelings and thoughts, and the world around us. We can take it all so personally. While simply digging a hole in the ground we might think, That rock is determined to get in my way! But mettā is the heart of non-contention. We can learn how to work with the world so that regardless of how obstructive things may seem to be, how unwanted and unbidden, we can recognize that there’s no need to start a fight or contend against the world—it’s up to us.
When this recognition takes hold, we can see that there is always a path to working with the way things are, a path that leads us toward greater clarity and peacefulness, and all of this is based fully upon our cultivating an attitude of non-contention, of basic loving-kindness.
This reflection by Ajahn Amaro is from Beginning Our Day, Volume One.