I find it very difficult to practice metta. I feel completely agitated when I sit to do metta even for a short period of time.is this normal? First I can't feel any metta being generated and I feel like I'm just repeating empty words to people I'm really not quite fond of to be honest.metta practice is unbearable i feel the urge to rub my face on sand paper when I do it.I use to think metta was an easy meditation to do as I hear people do it before their main meditation but how can this be,when it so difficult..I don't buy it. Also i found out metta means friendliness and i think this is the problem as I may not be born with this quality.My question is Is metta supposed to be hard? If yes then why is it hard?
A lot of people find metta practice hard. I find metta practice hard. Where I practice they have even run day retreats called 'I hate the metta bhvana' to try to address this.
If I can maybe address some of you points with what I've been told and maybe my own experience
I can't feel any metta being generated
It does feel like the task is to pump out as much metta as you can but I was told by a very experienced practiconer that this is an unhelpful way to think about it. Rather than trying frantically to be a metta generating machine he said the task is to be with whatever comes up when you bring people to mind. That might be metta, it might be irritation, it might be a big aching feeling of numbness. If it is then that is what it is and the task is to be open to that. Perhaps being sensitive to metta if it is there but being sensitive to it's absence if it isn't.
I feel like I'm just repeating empty words
The traditional formulations can feel very fake. If they do then maybe don't do them and just try to have an awareness to that person. Someone said of the formulations that they are like a submarine pinging a sonar out and seeing what if anything comes back. Personally I don't often do them but sometimes I will say them to myself after another (breath) meditation and that can give other mediation a more metta-ful quality.
metta means friendliness and i think this is the problem as I may not be born with this quality
Not knowing you but knowing human beings I'm going to say you do have this quality but it can be just numbed out of you by day to day living,. I think this is where faith (śraddhā) comes in. Have faith that you do have this quality and it is a universal human quality that everyone can connect with.
metta practice is unbearable
Be kind to yourself. The beginning of the practice is have metta to yourself. Give yourself a break during practice by coming back to the breath or take a break from the practice for a time. If at all possible, don't give up completely.
it so difficult.
It is difficult. You are doing a difficult thing. You and everyone that does this are heroes for even trying it. Own the difficult. It's difficult because it's difficult and celebrate yourself for engaging with it. You are amazing for doing it.
Last time I went on retreat we did some metta practice everyday and I found it very difficult in the same way you are describing. I didn't feel any genuine friendliness, I just felt irritated. One particular day I was feeling especially averse to it. The teacher gave a talk on metta and it made made me feel nothing but anger. After the session I begun doing some walking meditation and I started to cry. Waves of grief came over me and I sobbed for a good hour. Once the anger and grief had passed I felt the most exquisite peace and pure joy and a friendliness to all beings. What I learnt is that the metta is there but I couldn't connect with it because it was covered over by anger, pain and sadness etc. It was being blocked. I think it's easier for some people but for those of us who have maybe been hurt more or suffer from a lot of difficult afflictive emotions it's much harder but all the more reason to try. You don't start out trying to send metta to someone who you feel no fondness for at all. Start by sending it to someone you like, a friend or loved one.
I think there are different reasons why it can be difficult to practice Metta meditation. What could those reasons be?
First of all there is the 5 hindrances. I am sure you already know them so i will not go further into them here.
The second hindrance which is ill-will (hatred, anger, resentment towards oneself/others, hostility towards one self/others/the meditation object etc.) can be a hindrance for metta meditation.
As with most of the spiritual work we do one has to begin with oneself. One has to develop oneself, care about oneself, forgive oneself for the things one has done to others and what others have done to oneself.
If one cannot be there for oneself then how can one expect one to be there for other people? Yet alone send metta towards other beings.
Im not saying you are not there for yourself because i do not know anything about that. I am here coming with suggestions for you to further falsify/validate by yourself.
It could be that you have some unfinished business with yourself or that you have some hostility towards yourself. In metta meditation one begins with wishing metta for oneself. Oneself is first base, the foundation. So if one finds it difficult to sent metta to other people it can be helpful to take a look at the sender, the giver - oneself.
How can you do that then?
There are different methods. The purpose is to wish for example; "may i be happy, peaceful and free from mental and physical suffering". Thats one way to wish metta for oneself.
Another way is to try to look at the deeds you have done in your life and see if any of them is worth respecting. You can look at it as if the deeds where done by another person and then ask yourself; is that deed worth respecting? Is that deed helpful to other beings? If you can answer yes to any of these questions then you can use the metta from that deed to sent to yourself.
Next step in the metta meditation is to sent metta to loved ones for example parents or family in general. Then comes friends, then neutral persons, then persons who are your enemies/people who consider you their enemy/people who just dont like you etc., then comes all beings in this world.
You dont even have to follow that order i just wrote. You can sent metta to the aforementioned people in any order you want. Although most people find it the easiest to begin with sending metta to family or loved ones and then use that generated metta to sent to other people. So when you reach hostile persons and find it difficult to generate any metta for them then you can go back to sending metta to your family or loved ones and when metta is generated then go back to the hostile persons and sent it to them.
Its important that the metta is there or else it will be like you said; just empty words one is sending forth.
An important note:
a) dont be too hard on yourself. It serves no purpose. If there arises emotions or other of the 5 aggregates, use your vipassana to observe them, note them and let them go.
b) in my message when i use terms like "oneself, you, people etc." im only speaking on a conventional level. Im not dealing with ultimate reality here.
I feel your pain, can recognize alot of what you wrote. I am forturnate to have found some guidance early because metta meditation is now very valuable for me
The Four Immeasurable Minds
First i like to say that it will be easier to have metta (love) if we have karuna (compassion), mudita (joy) and upeksha (equanimity and non-discrimination) so if you can improve one of these three that will help you with metta as well since these four all support each other (together they are called "the four immeasurable minds")
Starting with a non-difficult person
Another thing is to not start with difficult people but instead start with yourself or with someone you like. One setup can be like this for example:
- Someone we like
- Someone we dislike
- Someone who we are neutral towards
- Someone we love
- Someone we normally cannot stand thinking about
I usually stay with one person until feeling metta and this may mean that time actually runs out and i only get to 3. (Quitting on 3 or on 4 there is at least a balance, that's how i'm thinking)
Using this setup we are able to use the positive emotions that we get from 2 for 3 and from 5 for 6
Calming the mind first
My experience (and also from what i've read) it can be useful to first spend some time calming the mind and then switching to metta meditation. For example we may want to count ten breaths, starting over if we loose track
- Teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Compassion by Christina Feldman
I actually benefited from Metta a lot. I wasn't always sitting down to practice it. The way I did it was, whenever I got irritated about someone, I would flush away the irritation by forcing thoughts of Metta about the person.
Lets say person 'X' angered you. The mind will always try to keep justifying your anger, giving various reasons.
ex: "but X is wrong!", "X is jealous of me!", "X doesn't deserve kindness!", "X is arrogant!", "X is ugly!", "X is ugly and arrogant!", "X is stupid!", "X is ill-mannered!", "X embarrassed me!", "X insulted me!", "X is stingy!", "X is worthless!", "X deserves punishment!", "X is persistent", "I'm supposed to get angry!", "Who wouldn't get angry?", "People will think I'm a coward" etc.
Whatever the reason the mind comes up with, don't agree to it! The attitude should always be "So what? Whatever you(the mind) tell me, anger is not what I want! What I want is Metta. So may X be happy, may X be well, may X be devoid of anger, suffering, grief, may X's riches grow etc.". It's actually a mixture of Metta, Karuna and Muditha.
After practicing this for a while, the mind comes up with less reasons to justify anger and X starts to disappear. Now when you get irritated, you are not focussing on a person. You are focussing on anger itself. Because the qualities of the person become unimportant at this stage. And the moment you notice anger, you push it away with Metta. It becomes easier and the mind starts getting less and less angry as you practice it. As a result you will feel the comfort of not getting irritated. It'll boost your confidence and fill you up with joy. You will feel like a soldier wearing a strong armer which cannot be pierced by any weapon.
At this stage, you can also convert this into Vipassana and do Dhammanupassana. Just observe any irritation including the subtle ones without reacting or trying to suppress them like you did earlier. Observe them arising and passing away without your consent.
Each of us has a image of oneself and others. When there is a disparity on how you see the attributes you attach with the person and the perceived relative differences you react either positively or negatively.
What you have to do is when doing Metta note mental reaction and the sensations it brings. Do not react to the sensations. As you do this the reaction becomes lighter and lighter and actual Metta will sink in.
Ideally you should calm the fabrication before doing Metta to be effective. No harm doing this to start with also but end with Metta and the latter will be more effective.
Metta is something for monks so they have good social relationships with the few people they meet in their uncomplicated social relationships.
For lay people living in the complicated world, in my opinion, it is best to primarily develop equanimity.
Once equanimity is well developed, it can be spiced up with some convenient metta.
My guess would be that you are making it harder than it might otherwise be. I don't mean to imply you are "doing it wrong". Persisting and seeking feedback as you are doing here is already such an important milestone.
May I ask how you are guiding yourself? Are you are working with a teacher (so many times we don't have that luxury)? Are you learning from dharma talks, or if reading, what material are you studying?
It'a such a personal journey. It's hard to say why it seems so difficult to you, yet seems life changingly blissful and beautiful to me (with some rough spots of course!). How can this night and day difference between us in experience be explained? Especially if I confide to you that by nature I'm not a spiritual person, fairly cynical, and not a people person to the point I would prefer not to receive an invitation to a great party? The point is, although we can't know for sure why you are struggling, it seems intuitive that if I could find a path, you have it in yourself to find one as well.
Some points that may or may not be relevant to you:
- I believe having a motivating life situation, combined with a teacher (or learning material) you connect well with is critical. I had no teacher available, and started by reading the Salzburg book. It instantly resonated, made perfect sense to me, and was highly motivating. Some authors are equally well reviewed, yet I finish their book and think, meh. How confident are you that you've found your best ways to learn and train that fit your brain in particular?
- Have you modified the recitations to be something other than the verbatim, defaults that everyone tends to talks about when explaining things? I spent a fair amount of time trying different variations and refining them, trying to make each iteration closer to something that I could feel strongly inside myself, and that reflected the direction I knew I most needed to move toward.
- The idea of having any connection with an enemy, hated person, or worse, someone innately evil, kind of scared me as far as worrying I'd never even be able to come close to achieving it. Consequently I dwelled on the easy levels for a long time, for months, just trying to improve as much as I could on the basics. Is it possible this (dumb luck) strategy somehow allowed a lot of positive reinforcement before getting to the hard stuff? I'm not sure. How long did you study and practice before you tried the some of the difficult stuff?
I know it's not easy to give more time to something that doesn't seem to be working. And maybe you shouldn't. Who's to say taking some time off and trying again later won't allow a refreshed perspective and more productive practice?
Whatever the case, I sincerely hope you'll be able to find an approach that's a good match, because I'm somehow sure you're capable of it.