I’ve been practicing Metta in the mornings on the cushion this week. My decision was based on the increased interest in Metta after reading more about it last week for class.
Specifically, one aspect of the benefits of Metta (of which there are many) really appealed to me. Practitioners of Metta are said to enter easily into states of concentration, ie. the Jhanas.
For this past week, I’ve been doing some Metta for myself, and bringing Lucy to mind to get the metta feeling flowing, then going through friends, neutral people, and difficult people, then spreading out geographically or directionally. This, I’ve come to see, keeps many aspects of the mind quite busy. Consider Shinzen’s breakdown of mental activity into ‘talk’ and ‘image’, then add the aspect of Vedena, or feeling tone, and you have 2 of the four foundations of mindfulness activated with thoughts of loving kindness. Non-harming, goodwill, wishes for well-being and liberation are being mentally spoken (talk), projected in widening circles or specific directions (image) and creating a feeling tone of joy and well being (feeling).
All the while, the mind is getting more concentrated, more collected, and more joyful. Piti (one of the jhana factors usually translated as ‘energy’) also arose for me this morning during Metta practice.
It is quite easy to see that all of the jhanna factors are being developed. What I’m starting to see is that the four foundations of mindfulness are also at play here.. but it’s not mindfulness as we typically think of it — in it’s equanimous receptive mode — but rather these aspects of our being are being generated or filled with skillful qualities — qualities that are in alignment with right intention, right effort, right action, and right concentration.
Metta is serving to prepare the ground for concentration by strengthening all of it’s aspects by providing wholesome content while simultaneously softening the mind’s grasping and aversion. The next step would be to drop the phrases and move into samadhi practice to see if all of this preparation does in fact lead to an easier entry into the jhanas. I think I’ll stick with Metta for a while longer. I do want to keep in mind and remember this two-fold combination, though. After all, it has it’s roots directly in the Metta Sutta.