It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about metta. Many of you are familiar with it, but for those who aren’t: metta is a particular type of meditation practice that focuses on cultivating and exuding loving-kindness. Which might sound like trying to muscle a halo onto your own head, striving to become all saintly and luminous and stuff, but actually has much more to do with focusing attention on others: wishing them well.
I like the above video not primarily for its message of metta-as-problem-solver (although I have definitely experienced moments where my metta practiced seemed to lubricate and ease a tense situation), but mostly for the way Ven. Balacitta’s articulation encapsulates the practice: wishing that others be free of enmity, be calm and happy, and be able to take care of themselves well.
Crucially, it seems clear to me that his wish for others to be “calm” is not a front for wishing for them to agree with him, or to become passive. The practice is not about wanting conflict to magically disappear. And even though the focus is on kindness, friendliness, and well-being, in my own experience it is impossible to separate these from the realities of suffering and animosity. Although metta is different from the Tibetan tonglen practice (a “training in altruism” in which one “visualizes taking onto oneself the suffering of others on the in-breath, and on the out-breath giving happiness and success to all sentient beings,” and thus focuses equally on suffering and well-being), metta also inherently contains both positive and negative aspects.
Lately I’ve been returning to metta a lot more. Tremendously helpful. Conflict has arisen between me and my dad, which has been very painful for me (I won’t go into detail), and metta helps me to re-ground in wishing well-being for him, and for myself. Again, this doesn’t mean glossing over harm and dissonance, but fostering my own outward vectors of deep friendliness.
You might be thinking: metta sounds okay for a conflict where power is fairly equal. But what about when cops are manhandling my girlfriend at a student action? And when I protest (verbally, from a distance), two huge officers violently tackle me to the ground, then wrongfully arrest me with trumped-up charges and a $35,000 bail?
It’s a tough question. Metta is by no means a mandatory practice for all situations. And focusing solely on loving-kindness, without also seriously analyzing and militantly opposing the oppressive forces at work, is not an approach I can get down with.
On the other hand, what happens when metta and militancy combine?
Yes, let’s leave it there for now. What happens when metta and militancy combine? Can we imagine that? Do we see examples of it in our own political work? Do we see areas, in ourselves, where one or the other might benefit from conscious cultivation?
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Thanks in advance for donating to free Jesse, the above-linked genderqueer student protester who was arrested while fighting for trans and queer rights on campus (at Laney College, where Ryan also goes, and has been part of this organizing). As of now, they are still being held on multiple false charges. Anything you can give is much appreciated.