Edward Blake Edwards

Was listening to a talk by Rob Burbea about metta practice, in which he dispels some common misunderstandings about metta. One of which is where metta is seen as a kind of “meditation lite” or even a remedial practice that one engages in when one cannot get a grip on the rigorousness of vipassana and insight. And he continues to describe how this kind of overlooking or even devaluing of metta was a part of meditation history in the west that caused an imbalance. Or, in the words of my sangha teacher, to only engage in vipassana, is to spend all this time cleaning and polishing the lens of your glasses, only to never put them on. Yet still, metta is sometimes thought by some of as a “baby” practice or at least one that is easier than vipassana.

Metta has never really been an easy practice for me. There is something very challenging to me about feeling out the boundaries of your own heart and moving through them, that is in some ways, more difficult than melting away the narrative of speaking mind that you know isn’t “real” anyway. Despite this, I did think of metta as easier. It’s not that I thought it was unimportant. One doesn’t practice meditation simply to be clear headed afterall; what use is clear perception if it cannot allow us to cultivate compassion, patience, joy, kindness and connectedness? But on the surface, from the perspective of immediacy, vipassana certainly seemed to require more effort. It was so obvious to me how it was a lot of hard work to constantly silence my mind.

Ultimately, it was prajna meditation that made me understand the depth of metta. I still remember my teacher describing prajna, in which we oscillated between vipassana and metta, with the abstract understanding that eventually we could do both at the same time. I just laughed inside (actually, I may have laughed aloud) because I found the idea utterly ludicrous. So ludicrous, that my approach to the practice was to accept that I would never experience whatever my teacher was going on about, but that was fine and one endeavours to continue a practice for the sake of trying alone. Because I couldn’t even grasp, on an intellectual level, how simultaneous metta-vipassana would work. He might as well have told me that we were working toward seated levitation.

Joy StClaire

Today, I really cannot conceive of vipassana without metta; it simply doesn’t make sense to me to have one without the other. Because you need to dissolve down the rigidity of your preconceptions first in order to facilitate the expansive movement of metta that is boundless. And that outward movement, that beautiful opening, that connectedness comes to facilitate the movement of dissolving. In this way, the two movements do become simultaneous, so that they come to amplify each other together; even if you are focusing on one, the other is kind of humming away in the background. And perhaps it was always like that, except I was unable to recognize it.

The interdependence of vipassana and metta showed me how the idea of metta being an easier, “baby” practice does not make any sense. If there is anything babyish about metta, it’s perhaps the ability to receive the way an infant receives love from its mother: without preconditions, expectations or attachments.

Anyways, Rob Burbea has offered a lot of talks about metta as well as related guided meditations and I highly recommend giving them a listen. Until the next post, <3