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Dharma Care

Pastoral Care and Counseling from Buddhist Perspectives

     The value of the metta practice goes far beyond inclining our hearts and minds to be loving and kind towards others. Psychiatrist and childhood development researcher Melanie Reizes Klein (1882-1960) believed that for a child to be healthy, she must believe that her ability to love is stronger than her tendency to hate, and that the belief in this loving capacity is crucial to healing from the depressive tendency that arises from splitting people into entirely good or entirely bad. What is the effect of splitting besides depressive tendencies?

     Splitting can result, according to Klein, in paranoid anxiety -- that most other people live their lives with the intent to cause harm and should therefore be avoided. Klein believed that through faith in the ability to love, the threat of persecution from others diminishes, the need for vigilant splitting is reduced, and therefore the child experiences herself as more durable (possessing a hearty constitution). Klein's theory (based on research on children) raises the question whether a metta practice can help adults reduce the paranoid anxiety they experience?

     In a traditional metta practice, practitioners, in meditation, bring to mind thoughts of sending lovingkindness to themselves, someone they love, someone they don't know well, someone they have difficulty with, and all sentient beings. This practice is not rushed through like blessing food before a meal, but can last minutes or hours, or days and weeks if in a metta meditation retreat. Western psychologists past and present would probably agree that in any group of people one will find people who struggle with some level of paranoid anxiety, maybe even in the meditation hall. How might Insight teachers and leaders instruct dear ones through this practice to help diminish splitting and cultivate durability? Consider this metta practice:

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I live with ease

May I be free from the fear of others known and unknown

May the ones I love be happy

May they be healthy

May they live with ease

May I see them in their wholeness (never just good, never just bad)

May the ones I'm getting to know be happy

May they be healthy

May they live with ease

May I refrain from categorizing them as good when they meet my expectation, or bad when they disappoint me

May the ones I do not like be happy

May they be healthy

May they live with ease

May I no longer fear them

May I refrain from categorizing them as good when they meet my expectation, or bad when they disappoint me

May I see them in their wholeness (never just good, never just bad)

May all beings be happy

May all beings be healthy

May all beings live with ease

May all beings be met with loving kindness

May all beings be free from categorization

May all beings be seen as whole

May every being I encounter experience the loving kindness I cultivate

May I see them in their wholeness

This metta practice, as part of a regular spiritual practice, may help people become more loving and kind and also heal from depressive tendencies due to splitting. Imagine the possibilities of a sangha practicing the cultivation of seeing people in their wholeness, able to be in community with people who exhibit their paranoid anxieties. who project onto the sangha or teachers, that which they reject in themselves. A loving sangha may, over time, help heal the not-good-enough parenting of its fellow practitioners by supporting them as they learn how to self-soothe through the practice. Would we practice with more determination if we knew the potential power of metta? My practice tells me we would.