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My Metta Mistake ~ Something to Ponder in these Polarised Times

Last updated on August 31, 2020

For nearly a decade, I’ve started every morning with some Metta (aka Loving Kindness) meditation.

WATCH HERE

I’ve taught it to countless clients, students, workshop participants and have shared lots of videos and included it several times in 365 Ways to Feel Better: Self-care Ideas for Embodied Wellbeing

Even in the book, I realised this week, I’d missed out an important step. Where I’ve focused so much on being trauma informed, I’d missed out the stage between sending it to someone (or a group) we love and someone (or a group) we find challenging.

Someone (or a group) we feel quite neutral about.

A simple Metta script

It should be:

  1. May I be happy and healthy, peaceful and at ease. May I be able to take care of myself joyfully. May I possess the courage, wisdom, patience and determination to manage life’s challenges
  2. May [a person or group you love] be happy and healthy, peaceful and at ease. May they be able to take care of themselves joyfully. May they possess the courage, wisdom, patience and determination to manage life’s challenges
  3. May [a person or group you feel NEUTRAL about] be happy and healthy, peaceful and at ease. May they be able to take care of themselves joyfully. May they possess the courage, wisdom, patience and determination to manage life’s challenges
  4. May [a person or group you find challenging or – if this is too much (sometimes, it’s hard enough sending Metta to ourselves), another person or group you love] be happy and healthy, peaceful and at ease. May they be able to take care of themselves joyfully. May they possess the courage, wisdom, patience and determination to manage life’s challenges
  5. Repeat for additional people and groups you’re including in your Metta – I include my clients, supervisees, colleagues, readers and members, past, present and future as well as naming the clients and supervisees I’ll be working with that day. I also include groups that are working towards making the world a better place for all, geographical groups like the people in my new hometown and people in places across the globe who might be in the news, people affected by specific issues. It can be as long a list as you want and can make time for
  6. May everyone on the planet be happy and healthy, peaceful and at ease. May they be able to take care of themselves joyfully. May they possess the courage, wisdom, patience and determination to manage life’s challenges
  7. [Coming back to yourself] May I be happy and healthy, peaceful and at ease. May I be able to take care of myself joyfully. May I possess the courage, wisdom, patience and determination to manage life’s challenges
  8. Sit for a minute or so, hands on the heart centre, noticing how you feel.

Why is the neutral step so important?

I’ve benefitted greatly from this meditation but encourage y’all to include the step I’d missed.

We live in a world in which different groups and individuals are endlessly pitted against each other, each vying for maximum outrage.

I find it easy to list many, many people I love and many I find challenging.

Neutral, though? I’m a pretty opinionated, often enthusiastic person. I’ve been struggling to find people I feel simply OK about. It’s been an advanced practice for me this week and one that I value.

If you’ve been missing it too (based on most of my instructions!), notice how this stage feels to you.

Equanimity is an important quality in the Buddhist tradition which Metta comes from. A sense of peace and balance that I know I long for and sometimes find.

The neutral person or group step offers a bridge between the love and more challenging step. We don’t need to veer between extremes.

It can be an emotional stepping stone.

Self compassion and shame

I shame spiralled a little (a again when I realised I’d made the mistake in the book) when I realised my error. Fortunately, I quickly caught myself and sent myself some Metta!

I’ll be blogging about my Sounds True online Trauma Skills Summit highlights in the next few weeks but for now, one of my favourite sessions has been Dr Chris Germer talking about shame and self compassion.

Self compassion as an antidote to shame.

Something about hearing Jon Kabat Zinn (who popularised mindfulness, making it the more secular practice we get so many benefits from today) in London back in 2013 and his emphasis on self compassion as well as curiosity around each thought, feeling and sensation transformed my meditation practice.

He explained the etymology of the original word for mindfulness included heartfulness.

Unfortunately, sometimes, as with anything that becomes popular, it can be a bit diluted and too many people haven’t had that emphasis when learning mindfulness practices. A recent study found that for some people, with depression, mindfulness made things worse They aren’t suggesting people don’t meditate or practice mindfulness but highlight the benefits of more guided meditations (with an instructor or good app).

I remember reading about Germer’s work with self compassion pioneer Kristen Neff when doing my yoga therapy training and listening to him last night helped me see that (even with my mistake) the Metta and other self care practices which have helped me become more compassionate to myself have aided my own healing and recovery over the years.

His point is that we can work on shame not by rooting around and potentially making it worse but simply amping up the self compassion helps.

Younger Me would have shame spiralled for much longer. This week, I allowed myself a (few) ‘Doh!'(s) and quickly, quite naturally (mindfulness works) got curious about it. I became so excited about the possibilities for a more neutral approach to some things I decided to share this hopefully beneficial blog post.

There are lots of different mindfulness practices and while all depend on compassion and curiosity, when we have very strong inner critics, it’s especially important to be kind to ourselves.

Metta is a magnificent mindfulness tool because we get to notice how we feel with each practice, with each person and group.

Each ‘Ahh’ heart expansive genuine wishes and each ‘grr’ through gritted teeth perhaps but still (when done with gentleness rather than forcing ourselves) building these emotional muscles around wishing others and ourselves well – remembering that not only do we all share the same planet but we’re all connected.

How does it feel for you?

When you experiment with this Metta video, notice the elements that feel easiest.

The bits you find challenging.

And any bits you naturally find quite neutral.

I’d normally end by saying I’d LOVE to hear how you’re getting on but in the interest of dialling it back and embracing neutrality (for a few moments), will say instead that you’re welcome to let me know how you’re getting on if you feel like it!

With love,

Eve Menezes Cunningham self care coach therapist supervisor

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