Metta Bhavana, the art of cultivating love and kindness.

There is a real peace around sunrise, just before everyone awakens.

The suns rays penetrate into the meditation room, my body submits to their warmth. We’re about to start the next meditation.

The mountain’s song the wind and the trees

Metta Bhavana, the meditation of cultivating love and kindness, a practice of training oneself to love. Why is this practice so central to Buddhism? What have they discovered in this practice that is so potent to our being?

Meditation is a journey into oneself. Whilst the technique can be taught its experience is discovery itself, a personal one at that.

Focusing on the breath, we are introduced into the first part of this five stage meditation. To meet yourself and feel loving-kindness toward yourself. My heart opens and I immediately connect, a sense of warmth and expansion fills my body. I could just bask here forever, it feels so very nurturing. As my body relaxes more, I notice my mind takes me to a place where I have been unkind to myself and I feel pain.

As I hold this thought I try to stay connected, allowing that feeling of love and nurture to remain, I am able to get closer to this part of myself that I’ve long ignored. It doesn’t feel so frightening, I can hold myself here and breathe. Tears start and I allow them to flow. A sense of relief follows, and the pain disappears. I repeat the affirmation “May I be well and free from suffering”.

Gently directed into the second stage “Now think of a friend who you like, who you are close to, bring them into focus”. This is the easiest part of this mediation. I think of all the good things this person gives me, friendship, happiness, laughter, understanding so many many wonderful things. Even the difficult times we’ve been able to get through together. My heart opens more. I repeat the affirmation “May they be well and free from suffering”.

The third stage is to think of someone neutral someone who I neither like nor dislike. My mind explores a little and I think of a distant work colleague. I feel comfortable, there has been no drama nor any challenges with this person. I extend them love and affirm “May they be well and free from suffering”.

The fourth stage and the most difficult in metta-bhavana meeting someone we are in conflict with. Someone comes to mind and I instantly feel turbulence in my thoughts and emotions. My energy contracts as my thoughts are bombarded with clusters of charged emotions, I watch this process take place, I know I need to remain present. I feel wronged, I feel angry, injustice, how could they – I observe the reactions, the programming that exists within me, I can see it and I want it to change. I breathe and hold myself steady and begin to think something good about this person, it’s hard, yet something in me tries. I’m not able to change the story but I notice a dulling of the charged emotions. My mind drifts, I sense the light playing on my face, I take a deep breath and relax. I repeat the affirmation “May they be well and free from suffering”.

The fifth and final stage is to bring all these individuals together and wish them well and free from suffering.

I enjoy the slow walk towards the breakfast room, resting my mind and getting back in touch with nature. I love seeing herbs growing wild. I notice the fennel its clusters of umbrella-like yellow flowers, some of which have seeded. I take a seed and bite into it an explosion of flavours fill my mouth. In India it is often used after meals to help digestion, easing all that gas and acid, particularly after a big meal. But I’m using it as a pre-digestive getting my stomach ready to receive its first meal of the day.

Joy will be starting her five day fast tomorrow and has not touched any alcohol since being here, she is over her ‘rough stage’ and is beginning to feel good. I don’t feel like fasting as the vegan food is so delicious even without the sugar, wheat, dairy and caffeine.

I like how each day we open up a little more to each other, showing more of ourselves. It’s nice. I like the way we relate and how all the stories unfold so naturally.

And soon that will change as we will be heading into five days of total silence removing more distractions and intensifying the practice of looking even further within. And there are still many more revelations to come.

By Rumana Zahn