METTA: A Reminder to Be Kind

About 14 years ago now, when I first moved back to Virginia from New York City, one of the first things I needed to do was to go out and buy a car – something I hadn’t needed in the city.

And to my great surprise and delight, I was able to choose the ancient Pali word “Metta” as my license plate.

I was thrilled, actually, because I knew that attaching that word directly to my car would essentially serve as a daily reminder for me, to practice what it preaches.

The most basic definition of this incredibly complex and important word, metta – a verb – involves the practice of offering our loving-kindness (or goodwill) out to others, to all the situations we find ourselves in, and especially, to ourselves.  

And again, it’s a practice – because as we all know, this isn’t at all easy.

In fact, particularly for those of us who grew up in the West, studies have shown that we seem to do the exact opposite – which is to give ourselves an unnecessarily hard time.

Sadly, unfortunately, we tend to do this especially during those times when our own kindness and compassion is what’s most needed.

For me, I often like to recall a great example of this kind of Western mindset, which showed up very vividly during one of the first international Buddhist teacher meetings about 30 years ago, where the Dalai Lama was the main speaker.

During a q&a session with this great Tibetan spiritual leader, a group of western teachers asked him how they might help their students work with feelings of un-kindness towards themselves, which manifested in various forms of unworthiness, self-criticism, shame, and self-hatred.

But apparently, the Dalai Lama was totally confused about this; he just couldn’t comprehend words like self-hatred. He was so baffled, in fact, he spent a full 10 minutes conferring with his translator, trying to understand.

Eventually, he asked this large group of teachers if any of them had experienced these same feelings themselves, personally, and was shocked when each one of them nodded.

“But that’s a mistake,” he told them. “Every being is precious!”

That story never fails to remind me: I am not alone in suffering sometimes from my own lack of self-kindness; it’s just the water that we’re swimming in, if you will.

It also reminds me that, again, metta is a practice, not a perfection.

And because of this, it can be really beneficial for us to have some sort of daily or ongoing reminder, one that can help us to actually offer it out – not only to others, but especially to ourselves.

🙏🏽 (If you’re interested, on Sept. 16, I’ll be offering a daylong meditation retreat on the practice of metta in The Plains, VA. I hope you might join me!) 💕