I’ve recently been dipping into Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: A Meditator’s Handbook by Ajahn Brahm. As is typical of him, the treatment is mostly very down-to-earth and practical. (Another title: Who Ordered this Truckload of Dung?) Mostly, because parts of it are quite religious and technical.
His advice regarding lovingkindness (or metta) meditation, which can be quite challenging for many Westerners, falls squarely in the practical category. I’ve mostly encountered this practice taught by focusing on three subjects:
- A person you care for.
- A person you are neutral towards.
- A person you have difficulty with.
Many meditators have such difficulty with focusing on a person they dislike or feel conflicted about that it derails the whole process. Brahm has a different, very practical, approach:
“In metta meditation you focus your attention on the feeling of loving kindness, developing that delightful emotion until it fills the whole mind. The way this is achieved can be compared to the way you light a campfire. You start with paper or anything else that is easy to light. Then you add kindling, small twigs, or strips of wood. When the kindling is on fire you add thicker pieces of wood, and after some time the thick logs. Once the fire is roaring and very hot, you can even put on wet or sappy logs and they are soon alight.
Metta can accurately be compared with a warm and radiant fire burning in your heart. You cannot expect to light the fire of loving-kindness by starting with a difficult object, no more than you can expect to light a campfire by striking a match under a thick log. So do not begin metta meditation by spreading metta to yourself or to an enemy. Instead begin by spreading loving-kindness to something that is easy to ignite with loving-kindness.”
Note that he regards one’s self as a difficult subject for loving-kindness meditation. This is particularly true for Westerners.
Ajahn Brahm’s website includes, among other things, a list of his books and his bio.