Metta and Mindfulness

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By Bhante Mahinda

Mindfulness is an important technique in the cultivation of metta and can be applied in all day-to-day situations. We can describe ‘mindfulness’ as being present, with clear awareness of our body, feelings and state of mind. This technique is a powerful tool in coping with negative situations such as stress, conflict, or pain, as well as bringing clarity, calmness and appreciation to positive situations.

Mindfulness goes hand in hand with metta, because as we practise metta more and more, we will become naturally more aware of our own wellbeing and as well as the wellbeing of others. Likewise, as we practise mindfulness more, we will be more sensitive to our own and other’s happiness.

We can start to practise mindfulness with our own body. By observing our breathing, in and out, we will begin to notice when we are tired, or when we are angry etc., because the pattern of our breathing changes[1]. Then we know that we need to pause and bring our attention within and generate metta. By observing our posture, we will start to notice how incorrect posture also affects our wellbeing, and we will start to learn to treat our own body with metta – to sit, stand and move in a way that is conducive to our physical wellbeing.

In fact, when we begin to mindfully observe the body in this manner, we start to see how we often don’t even look after our own body with metta, and thus we will be better able to act with loving-kindness towards ourselves, and amend our lifestyle patterns such as how and what we eat, what activities we do, etc.

Next, we need to be mindful of our feelings. In our practice of metta we first have to be able to observe the feeling of calmness and quietness within. Then we have to feel it radiate out. We need to observe the quality of the feeling. Is it soft and gentle? Does it flow steadily and smoothly? Are there times when it feels as if there is something blocking? When practising mindfulness, we just observe and know what the feeling is like, without having aversion to any unpleasant feeling, or clinging on to any pleasant feeling.

It is also important to be mindful of our state of mind. Sometimes we try to apply metta when we get affected by negative emotions, such as anger, jealousy, confusion or depression, but we find it difficult because we are so caught up in that emotion. That is why the effective cultivation of metta requires mindfulness. Mindfulness helps you to focus on the present. Once you are mindful, clearly aware of the emotion itself, you have already stepped out of that state. This is how mindfulness provides the space to overcome negative emotions and instead cultivate positive ones.

To provide a concrete example: Suppose you get angry with someone. You are so angry you just cannot have thoughts of metta towards them – your thoughts of anger are the opposite of metta. What is going through your mind? You will be constantly thinking of that person and what they did to upset you. What they did is in the past, but you keep remembering it in your mind. But if you change your focus to the present moment, aware of just the emotion which you are experiencing, you have the chance to step out of that anger and apply metta. That is how mindfulness is such a powerful tool.

On a daily basis we are afflicted by three main negative states of mind: (1) craving or desire, (2) anger or aversion, and (3) delusion. Mindfulness in particular will help to reduce craving and desire. Metta will reduce our anger and aversion. And by practising both metta and mindfulness, we will develop the clarity and wisdom to overcome delusion.

[1] This can be practised formally using ‘anapanasati’ meditation – mindfulness on breathing in and out.

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