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A Weekend of Lovingkindness September 16, 2012

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
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Less than an hour ago I ended a weekend lovingkindness Vispassana retreat. This was my first metta retreat, although I have been practicing metta on and off for quite some time. Back in March after a particularly difficult time in my own practice, I started practicing both metta and concentration in my daily practice. My metta practice took a break during the stressful transition across the country, but I have been back at it.

The opportunity to take part in a metta retreat couldn’t have come at a better time for me. These past few months, I am becoming more and more aware of being in touch with my heart, or my feeling centre as the teacher described it this weekend, or a deeper, more sensitive part of me that is usually covered up in my day-to-day busy-ness.

More and more often lately, my heart has been feeling quite vulnerable and tender, which is a new experience for me. I think I’ve always been more aware of my thoughts and my mind than my feelings, which probably hasn’t been helped by years of psychology training. So lately it has become a challenge, an open question that invites exploration, of how to take care of this vulnerable heart centre that is becoming more and more awake with more presence, more mindfulness, more awareness of myself.

Listening to my fellow retreat members describe their experience with the teacher’s instructions, it eventually became clear that some people are more in touch with their heart than others. Some people can just drop right in and find out what is happening. I’m not sure that it is quite so clear and easy for me at this point in time. Instead, it seems like it is only after a long period of sitting, or when a particular feeling is being stirred up, that I am able to be aware of my heart.

What I particularly liked about the teacher’s instruction this weekend was that the instruction of dropping into one’s heart, to become aware of it, doesn’t have to have a particular word or feeling name attached to it. Instead, it can be described as simply as open or closed. Am I feeling open, relaxed, receptive, spacious, loving, kind, generous? Or am I feeling closed off, tight, blocking, retreating, small, anxious, fearful?

For me, open or closed is a simple question that is easier to access. In a previous post I described how this comparison had become so useful in an application of sorting through physical junk and possessions. The awareness of open or closed feelings has become more and more accessible to me, and I am learning to put more trust in it.

As someone who seems to lean stronger in the direction of mental awareness, trusting feelings is a new one for me. I’m not used to trusting feelings. I’m used to using my linear, rational brain to sort things out, figure it out, get this analyzed and find the answer. Instead, trusting feelings is much more subtle and harder to tap into.

Another instruction I appreciated from the weekend was emphasizing the pleasure, the pleasant experiences of formal sitting practice. I think I have enough diligence and self-discipline that I can afford to be a little indulgent in my practice. In fact, taking pleasure might be exactly what is missing. Too often I think I am practicing out of a sense of “I should be doing this,” or even, “I have to.” Instead, the teacher said that you can do it because it feels good, its enjoyable, how can you not want to do it?

The other thing the teacher mentioned along this theme was to spend time being aware of the pleasantness of sitting practice in order to be familiar with it. In fact, we should make it our “home”, the place where we want to return to, where we belong, where we feel comfortable and safe. The more we know and recognize what it is like to feel relaxed, calm, spacious, and warm, the more easily we can recognize when we’re not that way—when we’re tense, tight, and worrying.

Finally, I wanted to add a very important note of how wonderful it was to come into the hall on the first night and see so many wonderful friends and dharma buddies that I have known and sat with for so long. Everyone was so friendly and so happy to see me, I felt so welcome and so happy to be back in my “home city.” I felt a lot of belonging, a lot of warmth, and a lot of love from all of my sangha members. I’m sending my metta to you all! You are all in me very deeply, everyone I’ve sat with has touched me in a very profound way.

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