Metta meditation (lovingkindness/friendliness)

Sitting here in the beautiful Yangon evening and reflecting further on the time spent in the monastery.

Metta meditation loosely translates as lovingkindness meditation from the Pali, but there is no totally satisfactory translation as is often the case with these Pali terms. Another possible translation could be “friendliness meditation” and there is also a connotation with sunlight in the Pali meaning also.

I spent most of the first five days and also some time towards the end of the retreat doing this meditation in preference to the mindfulness practices.

It is considered a good balance with mindfulness practice and is similarly rooted in Buddhist scripture.

The idea is to cultivate a strong feeling of well wishing towards both ourselves and others. It is remarkably simple in concept. We simply repeat simple phrases in the mind such as – may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be peaceful; or thinking of another person – may you be happy, healthy, peaceful etc. Being more general – may all be healthy, happy, peaceful etc.

We do our best to focus on the meaning of the words allowing concentration to develop naturally and, over time, this feeling of well wishing gets stronger although with ups and downs as mood, energy and concentration fluctuate.

It is considered a good balance with mindfullness practice; contributing to  calmness, concentration and a general friendliness towards ourselves and others which is so neccessary both in the practice and in life.

There is nothing extraordinary about this mindstate. Indeed it is the natural, ordinary impulse of the mind when fear, anxiety or confusion are absent from the mind.

This practice is especially helpful for dealing with anxiety as this well-wishing mind displaces worry and anxiety in the mind.

I use it with my daughter when putting her to bed at night when she tends to be a little anxious and always marvel at the power and simplicity of the practice. We simply take turns picking out people and wishing them peace, happiness, health, sometimes being a bit playful with the wishes – ” may grandpa pat be especially happy on saturday” for example! We finish by wishing well to all beings everywhere.

It was lovely to do it in the retreat center with the cacophony of life breaking incessantly into the mind visually and especially aurally. Birds, cows, pigs, lizards, car horns, the endles drone of traffic; all ultimately the sounds of life doing its thing. It also desolves the sense of self by orienting us outwards, making us more aware of the smallness of the personal “I” in the greater scheme of things.

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures  and a recording of some chanting, all from the monastery. As ever, feel free to comment and share

 

 

Long hot afternoons and the disappearing self – report from a Buddhist monastery

I had the privilege of spending 18 days in a monastery on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar. ( Chanmyaymyaing retreat center, mingaladon township.)

It was wonderful to be part of the rhythm of life there. Every day was in the same rhythm. Up at 4, breakfast at 530, work from 630 to 730, lunch at 1030, juice drink at 5, chanting at 6 and return to room at 9. Apart from that we were encouraged to fill the day with meditation; standing, walking and sitting. No books, phones or entertainment. No conversation apart from meditation guidance. Even the meals were a time of mindful practice. We eat slowly and carefully, as a ritual.

Lunch was always a big ritual. Visitors and locals would often visit and stand prayerfully as monks, nuns and lay practitioners walked slowly into the dining area. Eating was in silence; mindful and calm.

The foreign meditators followed a slightly different schedule with a little less chanting then the Burmese. We also had our own meditation hall and were guided by Sister Viranani, an American nun who guided with skill and care. Indeed, although we were encouraged to meditate as much as possible, we all followed our own rhythm; walking and sitting according to our own rhythm. I took rests after lunch and juice and needed to sleep a little at those times in the early part of the retreat.

Chanting would drift up from the Burmese hall at 6 am and 3 pm. Every day had the same rhythm with the same glorious sunshine, hot afternoons and cool evenings. Over time, a different concept of time becomes apparent. Every day is more of a re-day then a new day. It brought to mind how in Irish we say athbhlian ( re-year) as oppose to blian nua ( new year). Our conception of time moving relentlessly forward with interesting things to look forward to is challenged. We just do the day again ! Rhythm and routine holding the practice together.

The other quality which holds everything together here is devotion. Here, of course, meditation is an aspect of religious practice. It isn’t primarily something you do to get a bit happier or more balanced. It’s goal and orientation is spiritual. To move beyond our attachments.

It’s not so easy ! The mind wants entertainment. In the midst of a long afternoon the following little poem came to me.

“Entranced by longing

The hot afternoon, immortal sits.”

And peace comes with the disappearing self. Sounds happen, thoughts happen, the breath happens. Mind and object. We relax deeply in such moments. No ownership of experience.

The evenings were beautiful although my mind was often quite tired at this stage. Watching the monks walk in the cool evenings was especially inspiring. Such peace and dedication in every step. If you will forgive me another little poem…

“Evening. A monks prayerful step.

The world we’re given is enough”

All of this of course will be hard for people to square with the news reports of attrocities in the north of the country. I suppose ultimately any religion can poison the spirit when it becomes dogmatic and/or tribal. Dharma (teaching, nature, truth) not dogma is the way.

The monastery sits right in the heart of life. It is in the middle of a farming village. Life there appeared simple. These people have nothing but their community and their monastery. It is their pride and joy. And the oppertunity to practice is offered freely to anyone although, of course, it is customary to offer donation.

It was a beautiful center with lovely comfortable rooms, very nice mediation areas and lovely trees and plants.  But it was next to a busy road ! Any illusion of outer tranquilty quickly dispelled by honking horns; not to mention the constant sounds of cows, pigs, chickens, cockerals and occasional construction work.  The villagers also love playing Burmese pop music through speakers on fairly frequent occasions. So aurally it was far from ideal ! But the Buddha never promised us a rose garden.

Some pictures…

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This was our meditation halls. Those are mosquito nets hanging.

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Shrine in meditation hall ( above)

Accomodation (above)

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Travels in Cambodia . Day 1

So I started this blog with the intension of writting about all things Irish but it feels good to write here about my foreign trips too.

I therefore present what I can only call an outsiders guide to Cambodia.

My intension really is to share. Its that simple. I will try and avoid cliche and keep it personal and honest.

I was alternately nervous and excited about the trip. Ive dreamed of coming to south east asia ever since I started practicing Buddhist meditation 17 years ago. You must be wondering why I waited so long. It seems every second person has been here but for me somehow it never happened. As I settled into fatherhood and career it never felt like the right time. I must credit Tom Ferris the writer, podcaster and blogger for shaking up my mind about what is possible in the midst of lifes demands and responsibilities. Like many of my generation my work is largely day to day and job to job as both a teacher and tour guide but rather then cursing this state of affairs I am going to view it as an oppertunity.

So here I am.

It is simply wonderful to be here. Stuff is happening everwhere. The rocky footpaths are jammed with food stalls, barbers, mechanics, carvers. Anything and everything jostling together. Tuk tuk drivers constantly looking for work. Its a grind, Im not blind. But everyone is so good natured, if clearly snowed in with the demands of a hard life.

Making.Ends.Meet.

And then there are the monks and the beautiful monasteries. Like lights they move around in their saffron robes. My heart is happy when I see them. The monasteries and temples are by far the most beautiful buildings and stick out as sincere human refuges amidst the cacophanous 21st century mess we are catching ourselves up in.  Children are playing around them. I sat in a temple amidst a few teenage monks while the kids kicked a ball outside. Birds were singing within the temple. I could hear cocks crowing somewhere in the grounds. The city din receded to a gentle hum. My mind was gentle and peaceful. I could have been in the middle ages.

It helped that my phone was in the repair shop all day getting unblocked. Practicalities intruded on my mind then after leaving the temple. I was anxious about not having my phone. Would it be fixed? Was I being overcharged.? The muddiness of life that we love.

By the evening my phone was finally fixed. I heard the monks chanting on my home. Heart lifted and mind reacquinted with my mental internet candy.

So onwards and upwards…tomorrow is another day. And a day at my leisure….may it change me and seap into my bones…

Lots of love, Alan