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In today’s Notes on the Metta Bhavana on the Being Divine Online home retreat, Ratnavandana speaks of Metta as being both a natural state that is present when we relax and open and also as a way of approaching our experience. She also references our conscious intention towards kindness as a skilful (Kusala) action and likens that intention to the sun - we can just be aware it’s there, having its influence.
Although this introduction was brief, it was so rich with material for exploration: balancing relaxation and turning towards our experience with the conscious intention to move towards kindness. Knowing that the intention is there, like the sun, drawing us towards it.
When referencing the attitude of turning towards our experience, Ratnavandana mentioned taking an interest. I really love playing with the idea of taking an interest. It’s one of principles I was introduced to as a Karuna Fundraiser and I have enjoyed playing with it ever since. Karuna are a charity raising funds for the Dalit community in India and the door knocking appeals are undertaken as a form of Buddhist practice, in which awareness of self and householder are essential. Taking an interest is not about “me” and what I can get from connection. It is wonderful to drop what I need and just get really curious about someone else - seeing their complexities, nuances, their individuality and becoming curious about that. I find that the person doesn’t have to be present physically either (which is useful at this time, when I am not around lots of different people!) I can do it in my imagination too. I find it useful to do this especially when I feel aversion (which at the moment might be towards someone in the news, on social media, etc). I use that trigger of the sensations of aversion to remember to take an interest… So what might be going on in this person’s world? It doesn’t matter if it’s accurate or not - the act of taking an interest opens me up more to the fact that this is another human being, in their own right, just trying to live and trying as best as they can to be happy, like the rest of us.
Of course, this approach can also be applied to the nuances of my own experience - so rather than judging certain parts of myself or liking/accepting some part and trying to get rid of others, I can try to just be open and interested in all of my experience and this is what Ratnavandana is encouraging us to do, as an act of Metta - approach all experience with curiosity, openness, interest.
So what about having a conscious intention towards kindness? I love the image of this intention being like the sun. I find that the more this intention is brought into my awareness, the more brightly it can burn. The way I go about this is through an awareness of all acts of kindness, even the smallest things that I might not relate to Metta: Making myself and my partner a cup of tea, letting a fly out of the window, a feeling of openness when I see something beautiful like blossom… even the mundane things, bringing the dustbin in on time, so it isn’t left out on the street getting in the way for others. Keeping myself clean and fed.
When I can give these small acts my attention - turn towards them and notice them - in doing so, the intention towards kindness can brighten and strengthen. I remember reading an article written by Dayajoti, where she speaks about the nature of awareness. She says:
… a skilful state is of the nature of awareness; so that if you apply more awareness, it increases. So we can always trust awareness to take us deeper into skilful mental states; it is naturally progressive.
Dayajoti, Entering and Deepening in Dhyana, 2017
So in this way, by noticing these small acts of kindness we do, we can allow the intention to shine even more brightly, to become brighter, to burn. For myself, I sometimes notice my kindly intention is very strong - it naturally wants to radiate, open, flow… At other times, the intention of kindness might seem almost non-existent… not bright or warm or expansive… more like it’s obscured by dark grey clouds and my heart can’t be felt at all. In these cloudy times, the small, normal acts help. Putting on my favourite, soft jumper… wiping the kitchen surface of crumbs… recognising these as acts of kindness and valuing them.
I’ve heard so many beautiful stories of kindness in the lockdown - people making Personal Protective Equipment for NHS workers, delivering food to those in need, asking others if they need anything and reaching out - kindness as a simple and natural responsiveness to others, which can seem to be drawn out more in times of crisis. Hearing about these acts strengthens my own intention and puts me in touch with it… I really want to be kind!
So that’s the intention, like the sun (whether it’s bright or obscured by clouds). Can I hold that alongside relaxing and turning towards whatever my experience is. An alchemy can happen when our intention meets experience - just remembering that is the attitude of kindness I can try to bring to everything. I get excited by the thought of an alchemy - almost a secret magic that kindness has to transform whatever it comes into contact with!
The more I trust my own intention and become aware of my natural responsiveness so it can grow, the more I experience Metta as beautiful - this strengthens my intention to be kinder and the cycle goes on!