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A Body-Based Metta Practice
Submitted by Meg Agnew on February 16, 2012 - 2:56pm
If you’re a regular student of Phillip’s, you probably appreciate his consistent emphasis on the role of the body in spiritual practice. I certainly do. I’m not sure I would have found my way to embracing compassionate mindfulness if I didn’t first have a physical practice. For me, yoga (and the breath awareness it cultivates) was a portal into meditation and the Buddha’s teachings. And it continues to be one of the greatest blessings in my life.
Last September, at the community dharma leaders’ training at the Garrison Institute in NY, one of our guest teachers, John Peacock, from the U.K., described a body-based metta practice that I would like to share with you. I had never heard of this way of offering metta and the instant he began to describe it, I noticed that my whole being felt completely alive and alert. Instead of the more traditional way of offering metta, by repeating a phrase again and again, as a heart-felt concentration practice, this metta practice involves “listening-in” to the body’s experience. So, trying it, you might invite the quality of ease, as Phillip often encourages us to do when he guides a meditation. Silently to yourself, you could say the phrase “may I have ease” and then pause and take time to listen in to your body’s response to that suggestion. It’s as though your body is answering the unspoken question, “What might ease feel like in my body right now?” This practice taps into our body’s innate wisdom and intelligence. It encourages us to come fully into a place of not-knowing while developing sensitivity to our body’s truth in this moment. It inspires us to be explorers of the vast inner landscape.
As I’ve experimented with listening in, using metta phases, like, “may I be peaceful” or “may I be happy”, my body has revealed to me the subtly different flavors of these various ways of feeling and being. And then, from a deeper, fuller experience of knowing ease, or peace, or happiness, I offer my sincere wish for all beings to have this. It’s such a sweet practice!
As you might imagine, the richness and subtlety of this practice varies from day to day, just as any practice does. I try to let go of any expectations for how it will be when using this method of offering metta, just as I do when sitting in meditation; the effectiveness of this, too, varies from day to day.
So, if this body-based metta practice sounds intriguing, I encourage you to try it yourself. Or, if you’ve already been experimenting with this practice or a similar one, please consider sharing your experience with all of us. Maybe you’d like to share insights you’ve gained from practicing metta in the traditional way. One last thought: I am not suggesting that this body-based metta practice is a “better” method than the traditional practice of metta. Right now, it’s a practice that is more inspiring for me. It’s just an offering — an approach to cultivating a heart that can touch into it’s true nature and feel lovingly connecting to all of life.