Sacred geometry

About Mettā Practice

This retreat was jointly taught by Rob Burbea and one or more other Insight Meditation teachers. Here is the full retreat on Dharma Seed
An overview and introduction to the practice of Loving Kindness, and some of the ways it works to bring healing and joy, true nourishment and inner resource, and ultimately transforms the very way we see life.
Date6th August 2010
Retreat/SeriesThe Lovingkindness (Mettā) Retreat


An overview and introduction to the practice of Loving Kindness, and some of the ways it works to bring healing and joy, true nourishment and inner resource, and ultimately transforms the very way we see life.

Well, a very, very warm welcome to everybody. Welcome to Gaia House, and welcome to this retreat. For those of you that don't know us, this is Chris, and I'm Rob. It feels very beautiful to me that so many people would want to come and devote whatever it is we have together, five or six days, to developing kindness. That's what we're doing, and that so many would be interested in that is, I think, remarkable and beautiful. And as people were arriving today, and just seeing people arrive, it really felt to me what a blessed endeavour we are engaged in, these days together, something very precious, very special.

I'm just curious. How many people feel they are really new to loving-kindness, mettā meditation, or pretty new? Get a sense. Quite a lot. Okay, good. Okay, so tonight, I would like to a little bit introduce the retreat, certainly, but also introduce this practice, certainly to put it in a context, how it fits into the path, etc. So, if we start big picture and get a little more specific, the Buddha and other teachers through the ages put out to us this promise: the promise of some remarkable possibility for ourselves, for humanity, for the human heart, in our existence, in our life. And they call it the possibility of awakening.

Looking at our life, we suffer; we have dis-ease, discontent, the whole range of that in our existence. The Buddha is saying it's actually possible to radically transform the whole sense of our existence by looking at this question of suffering, dis-ease, discontent, looking deeply, deeply at it, and understanding it. The Buddha found, and what he teaches is that the suffering that we have in life -- it comes from a fundamental delusion: that at a very, very deep level, we're actually, in a way, perceiving wrongly. We're seeing ourselves and seeing the world wrongly. To paraphrase the Buddha, everything that six billion people (and at that time it was much less) would agree on and talk about together -- not so, not so! And there's something there we need to understand.

The way we see it and the way we think, "This is so real, all this reality" -- that actually tends to imprison us. We get imprisoned in that seeming reality of things. And we act and react to the seeming reality of a self, a separate self, and a world of things. We think in response to that, and we make choices in response to that. And because it's all based on delusion, it tends to be that those actions, reactions, thoughts, and choices actually just spin more suffering and more delusion. This is what the Buddha would call saṃsāra. He said it's possible to wake up from that -- an awakening from that fundamental delusion. And in that waking up, to whatever degree, the more we wake up from that fundamental delusion, the more we live with a kind of radical freedom, radical love that opens out for us. That's the possibility. That's the promise that goes through millennia, through the ages. That's the promise. And we can hear that, and for ourselves, in our life, and as human beings, we can decide: how much do I want to move towards that? Maybe a little bit, maybe a lot, maybe completely -- that's up to us. But that's there. That promise is there. That beacon is there.

And the Buddha said this awakening is not a random grace. It's not like a luck thing. Rather, there's a path to it. There's a path; we can move towards it very deliberately. And that path, he said, to paraphrase, has two wings. We can talk about insight -- so we talk about insight and insight meditation -- talk about learning ways of seeing that penetrate that delusion, that actually unveil this unreality, unveil reality. So on one side, we have what we call insight; on another side, we have the cultivation of beautiful qualities of heart and mind. And so cultivating loving-kindness, cultivating compassion, joyfulness, equanimity. These are beautiful qualities that we can develop in the heart and in the mind. Generosity, patience, diligence, calm, concentration, wisdom -- all of these. We are building, nourishing, beautiful qualities in our stream, in the stream of our being. So that's the path. It involves both the insight and the cultivation.

Mettā actually falls into both camps. At first, it seems like it's just a cultivation. We're cultivating this kindness. But let's ask a second: what is this mettā? What is loving-kindness? What is this practice of loving-kindness? We have this word 'love' in English, 'love.' And it's so much used, isn't it? It trips off the tongue easily. It's in our culture. It's in the movies. It's everywhere. What mettā is is different than what oftentimes we mean or think of when we use the word 'love.' We say mettā is a wishing well. We wish ourselves well. We wish others well -- wellness in body, wellness in mind, wellness in spirit, wellness in being. In a way, it's just simply that: a deep friendliness, to wish well, wish all beings well, in fact. So this well-wishing, this mettā has two qualities, we could say, right away, very simply, that differentiate it from what we usually often mean when we talk about love, or we sometimes say we love people.

(1) The first one is boundlessness. So loving-kindness has a quality of boundlessness. Now usually, in our life, if we look at our life and look at our relationships, and look at the movement of care in our life, we will see, if we're honest, that our care, our well-wishing is actually bounded. And that's very, very human. It's actually bounded. We tend to care, hopefully, quite a lot about self, perhaps -- that's difficult for some; we'll get on to that. Caring for self and for those that are immediately around us: our immediate loved ones, perhaps our family, our friends, our lovers, etc. So loving-kindness has a quality of immeasurability to it. It's immeasurable in lots of different ways. And one of the ways is that it is infinite in its expanse. It's infinite in its reach. Whether we like it or not, as human beings, it's quite normal for the heart to be a little bit bound: bound in its range, bound in its care, circumscribed. And the mettā is an opening up of that to boundlessness. So that's a direction. It's a very lofty ideal to say, "Can the love, can the care, can the concern be kind of equal, boundlessly equal?" That I care as much for my friend, my child, as I do for someone I never have met or never will meet -- that's a very, very lofty ideal. It's a direction. It's a pointing in a certain direction.

(2) And again, if we think about this word 'love' -- which we may use a lot in our life, or less so, and say, "I love you," or "Do you love me?" or so and so -- the other quality, the other factor that mettā has, that differentiates it from what we usually term as 'love,' is unconditionality. In a sense, often, again, if we're honest, and if we look, we might say to a partner or whatever, "I love you." But oftentimes, if we're really honest, there's an "I love you if ..." Or "I love you when ..." Fill in the blank. There are conditions on our loving, and sometimes it's "I'll love you if you change." I can't quite love you the way you are, or I can't quite love me the way I am. It's conditional. This is actually, I would say, a normal part of our humanity, in a way. When we talk about romantic love, this is part of our life as lay people, for many of us. And it really has its place, and I certainly wouldn't want to exclude that from the totality of our life or what it means to be a practitioner, etc. That has its place. It's important. But it's slightly different. Usually it has attachment in it. And I actually think that's okay, but it's important to see the difference there. Usually, romantic love, if it's healthy, has some mettā in it. It should have some mettā, some unconditionality in it. But it also has this conditionality.

There's a line from a Bob Dylan song. It starts, "Do you love me, or are you just extending goodwill?" [laughter] What does the word 'love' mean, then, if it's in opposition to that? It means something else. What else is added to it? It's moved out of the realm of what we could say [is] pure mettā. And I'm not saying that's not okay. It's part of what we do as human beings. But to be aware of that.

Mettā, when we talk about mettā, loving-kindness, it's also -- sometimes people get the sense of, "Well, we're just pretending to sort of be really nice and like everyone. Kind of, let's just paint the whole world pink, and we'll act like Pollyanna and that kind of thing." It's not that. It's not even that we like everybody or approve of everybody, that that's what we're doing with mettā, or what we need to have mettā. Mettā, loving-kindness, has a strength to it. It's not a false and flimsy thing; it has a real strength to it. But unlike what we often or typically might feel as strength in life, the strength has a softness in it. In a way, it's actually infinitely strong and infinitely soft. It's a different kind of strength than the strength that we might be habituated to. And mettā, as I said, rather than being dependent on a sort of false painting of things, is actually deeply, deeply in harmony with the truth of things. We'll talk about this on retreat. It's actually more deeply in harmony with the real truth of things than our usual reactions and perceptions, and likes and dislikes, and all that.

So, very briefly, that's the quality of mettā: this well-wishing, this deep friendliness that has a quality of boundlessness and unconditionality. That's what we're going to be engaged in cultivating. That's what we're moving towards. That's the aspiration. That's the direction.

How we do that, to me, is actually not so important. The techniques involved and all that -- I am very interested, but I don't actually care that much about the techniques, in terms of "You have to do it this way or that way." We will, starting tomorrow morning, be unfolding very, very specific instructions with a lot of detail and a lot of possibilities and options and a lot of support in that realm, the specificities of technique. And some of you may know, who have already done the practices -- there are ways that we can use phrases that we repeat gently to ourselves. There's also the real place for using the body and the energy of the body and the felt sense of the body. We will go into all this. There are ways that we can use visualization and light. Some of you, I know, have a strong devotional aspect to your practice, and there are also ways that that can be used as the sort of fundamental orientation or support in mettā. For some people, there's a deity practice. Other ways too -- all of it's good, as far as we're concerned. All of it's good, and we really don't care, but we really want to find ways to make it work, and really working with the specifics. We'll go into this in quite some detail.

Sometimes you -- well, I've heard people say, "Mettā is not like real practice. It's not the real deal. Mindfulness is the real practice. Mettā is a kind of baby practice." [laughter] "It's like a remedial thing. You know, if you can't quite get the real thing together, maybe go do some mettā for a while. And then, when you're ready, come and join the big boys." [laughter] And to me, that actually expresses a lack of understanding. There's a lack of understanding there. When the Insight Meditation tradition, the first wave in the seventies and eighties, moved from Asia to the West and the first teachers came in the mid-seventies, mettā was really not at all a very big part of the programme. It was very much mindfulness and insight meditation -- mindfulness, mindfulness. Yet after a while, almost everyone agreed that, "Hey, something in a lot of cases is not quite working, not quite unfolding in the most helpful way or perhaps the way it should." And though it wasn't popular at first, they came to realize that, contrary to what they had believed, it was actually necessary for many, many people.

And we look -- and I'm sure many of you are already aware of this -- we look at how we are; we look at how we are in meditation. Part of what meditation is is looking at how I am, looking at what goes on inside me. I look on the cushion, in the meditation hall, and I look in my life. And oftentimes, again, if we're honest, if I'm looking carefully, what I see is, again, a stream of habit of, unfortunately, harshness, sometimes even anger, a habit of anger. Judging -- judging others, judging self. Non-connectedness, a disconnection, a certain closedness, at times, in different kinds of ways.

Some of this is very, very obvious, and some of it is more subtle, more hidden, but there to be seen. And all of those and more qualities that we might witness, you can see it wreaking havoc in the life. You can see the torment, in some cases, and in other cases, just the sort of habituated, low-level suffering that it causes -- certainly in ourselves and our whole sense of well-being, and also in our relationships. And certainly we can see it in the world. And so people began to notice those threads in practice, in mindfulness practice -- actually, they need more direct addressing. They actually need more direct healing, more direct dissolving. And as it began to be introduced (this is a bit of the history), people began to see: this is tremendously powerful. There's so much power in this practice. Generally, cultivation practices (that list I gave before, and others) are immensely powerful for transformation and growth, immensely powerful, not to be overlooked. And so, to go back to what I said before, these two wings -- cultivation and insight -- I need them both. We need them both.

When we look at our life and our existence, when we look at our being, and we look, and we get ... What's here? What is this being? What is this existing? There are many ways we can kind of frame that or conceive it in different religious traditions or other traditions -- scientific, biological, psychological traditions -- see it in different ways. In the Dharma, in the Buddhadharma, the teachings of the Buddha, there are actually two ways of looking, and they are, I think, complementary in the sense that they help each other.

(1) One is what's sometimes called our Buddha-nature -- to see our Buddha-nature, our fundamental (what can we say?) purity, our fundamental goodness, our fundamental perfection, if you like. That's one way, and that's a very strong and very important aspect of the tradition.

(2) And a complementary is that, when we look inside, there is in all of us, until we are completely awakened, what we might call a stream of the three kilesas -- that's a Pali word, which is the language of the old discourses. Kilesas mean something like 'defilement' or 'impurity' or 'affliction' -- that might be a good word, 'affliction.' The three kilesas are (a) delusion (as I talked about before), (b) greed, and (c) aversion. And you could say it's almost like there's an almost continuous fountain of these seeds, and it's just throwing up these seeds -- greed, hatred, delusion ... [laughter] Greed, hatred, delusion, greed, hatred, delusion, greed -- all the time, throwing it up, throwing it, just like a fountain, these little seeds, all the time. And the question is, if that fountain is always there, those fountains of those seeds, what are we doing with that fountain?

If I'm unconscious, the danger is that those seeds are finding their ways into the earth and being actually tended, watered, and growing from a seed into huge oak trees of suffering, discontent. A lot of that's unconscious. So the question is, as I move in my life, and as I look inside, and I do see both -- hopefully, I see, I have an intuition of my innate beauty, my innate purity and perfection and, in my honesty, in careful looking, I see the three kilesas, and I see this constant stream of that. And the question is, as I move in life, as I meet different conditions -- praise, blame, all the rest of it, success, failure, pain, pleasure, difficulty, loss, all of that -- what seeds am I watering? Am I watering the helpful seeds? Or am I watering the seeds that cause more difficulty?

What excites me enormously in teaching mettā, and in teaching a retreat like this, is the fact that mettā, loving-kindness, is kind of like a skill. It's like something that we can learn and develop. Rather than a person thinking, "I just ... It's like you either have it or you don't, and I just don't have it. I'm just a grumpy, miserable so-and-so" -- that, to me, is really exciting, that we can, over the days here, talk about how this can be developed. There's that potentiality, a very real possibility for all of us. The Buddha used that word a lot: skill, skill. Just like I learnt to tie my shoelaces when I was young, all the rest of it -- skill. We can do this.

[23:15] So mettā is not just a feeling. It's not just something, as I said, that we have or we don't. It's something we can really develop and learn how to develop. If we think about that a bit more, sometimes like having a relationship, having a friendship, a family relationship, a spouse, a lover, romantic relationship, whatever -- again, so easily we can think, "I'm just somehow cursed in that area." Actually, relationship, too, is a skill. It's a skill. We learn how to do that. This, to me, is very beautiful, very empowering, the fact that we can learn this. We can develop this. And as I said, on this retreat, what I want, what we want, is to find ways for each of you, each of us, [of] making this development of this skill work for you.

This cultivation wing that I was talking about and these different qualities, these beautiful qualities -- compassion and loving-kindness, and generosity, and equanimity, and all that -- these cultivation practices have something in common. What they have in common is that as we develop them, they bring happiness. Innately, fundamentally, as part of what they do and how they work is that they bring happiness to the being. So we need these qualities. We need loving-kindness for our happiness, our well-being. We really need this for our well-being. If we think, again, and inquire into our life and how we are, and just ask ourselves, you know, gently, with love: "How much really deep nourishment is there in my life? How much accessibility do I have in my life to a really deep sense of nourishment, sense of resource? How deep is that for me?"

From a certain perspective, in a way, from the perspective of a Dharma practitioner, you could say that the normality of humanity, the norm of humanity is actually a state of undernourishment. There is a kind of chronic and pervasive undernourishment in our culture. We are undernourished in this respect, in the sense of really feeling our well-being deeply. We have lots and lots of other stuff, lots of stuff that we can -- and certainly, you know, living in the West, etc., lots of stuff is available to us. But some other aspect might not be as fully available, or anywhere near as fully available as it might be. And sure, just as -- whatever the figure is -- as they say, 1 in 6 people, human beings on the earth are actually undernourished, malnourished physically. Some people say 1 in 4, even. Somewhere between 1 and 2 billion human beings are actually not adequately nourished on a physical level. Just as that is the case, and people can kind of get by, we can also kind of get by with this -- whatever we might call it -- spiritual undernourishment.

And so, this question of nourishment, to me, is a really fundamental Dharma question. I get nourishment, we get nourishment through food, certainly, through the senses, through the friends that we have, through intellect. And all of that is available, and all of it is important. It's really important. And it's important to have a healthy relationship with all that. But in a way, without the inner nourishment, that stuff gets overburdened. We put too much pressure and demand on that stuff, filling a hole that it can't actually fill, by its nature. What would it be to really feed the resources within?

When those inner resources are deep, those wells run deep in the being, and they flow deeply in the being, fully in the being, eventually that flow of nourishment begins to colour the world for us. It colours the world for us. It colours our senses and actually transforms our world for us. And this is not just meditation that this comes from. So mettā is actually a way of being in the world. It's not just something we do on the cushion. And that way of being in the world brings nourishment and, again, transforms -- transforms the world and, in a way, turns the world into something that brings us nourishment and blessing. Rather than the world being a field of struggle and competition, transforms our sense of the world.

[28:48] Again, sometimes this is hard, perhaps, to hear, or to acknowledge in oneself. But to me, it's a really, really important part of what Dharma practice is. And if you sort of get the collection of the Buddha's original discourses, he talks a lot more about the cultivation practices, interestingly, just if you add up the words, than he does about the other stuff. It's interesting. He really, really emphasizes this aspect of nourishing, really learning to nourish ourselves. Because what happens when we don't really have as full a sense of nourishment as we might? Out of that not quite fully deep sense of nourishment, we act in the world, in a way, trying to get for me. The world becomes a field of getting for me. Do you know what I mean if I say that? It might be conscious. It might be unconscious. We can't help it. I'm not nourished, so just as a hungry person, the world is a field of getting for me. And in that getting for me -- that's not very *mettā-*ful, is it? It's me. In a way, that whole movement reinforces the whole mind state. It's a movement, as I said, that's not itself really nourishing. If the nourishment is deep, the opposite can begin to happen. And we can open ourselves more and more to the sustenance of kindness and being sustained. What's the phrase? "The milk of kindness."

So there's that. And that really, really important aspect of nourishment -- that's what we're here [for]. In the most kind and loving way for ourselves, we're nourishing our being deeply, deeply with these waters of inner resource. And that's what we're practising. That's what we're developing. There's a real beauty in that. So as I say, and you might be aware of the lack, but here we are with the sense of possibility and the beauty of that possibility. This is what we're doing. This is what we're going to be engaged in.

So there's that. There's that nourishment. And then there's also the way -- and I touched on it already -- but mettā functions, loving-kindness functions, to transform our way of seeing, to transform something in the very way we feel and perceive the world and our existence. And this -- going back to the beginning -- is what the Buddha means by awakening. To paraphrase what I've already said, we suffer because we don't see clearly and deeply. We misunderstand reality, in a way. That's Dharma in a nutshell: we suffer because we don't understand reality.

There's a beautiful quote from Albert Einstein that sums up this, and particularly one aspect of this evolving understanding that we're feeding with the mettā practice. He says:

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us 'Universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest -- a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and [all of] nature in its beauty.[1]

A very beautiful statement. So there is -- and we will talk about this as the retreat goes on -- there is a very powerful way that mettā practice actually transforms the seeing. It unfolds an understanding of emptiness -- I'll explain what this means as the days go by -- insight into emptiness and reality.

So how does that work? How does this work? Again, we'll be talking much more about a lot of the stuff I'm talking about. I haven't really checked this out, but apparently (maybe some of you know better than I do), there has been some scientific research on the efficacy of prayer and mettā kind of meditations for the well-being of others -- in other words, someone praying for someone else and that person healing, or whatever. Apparently, there's some evidence of that. I haven't really followed it up. But actually that's not the principal thing that we're doing here. That's not the principal kind of reason for our practice.

What we're really doing in mettā practice is we're, in a way, doing it for our own heart. It's for my own heart. And sure, that other stuff might happen. We're doing it for our own heart. And in the process of engaging in mettā practice, over time, the heart transforms. There is that possibility. There absolutely is that possibility: the heart transforms. And the heart being transformed, the eyes transform, the seeing transforms, as I said, and the actions transform, and the choices transform. Out of the heart's transformation -- that's at the centre of everything. It changes the way we see the world and the way we act and choose in the world. And then through that, of course, we are transforming the world. So, very definitely for me, the Dharma is interested in a transformation, a healing of the world. In the Jewish tradition it's called tikkun olam, 'healing the world,' 'praying for the world,' in the mystical Jewish tradition. To me, that's a beautiful thing. In Dharma practice, we're interested in that, but we're actually starting it here, and letting that be deep, and then letting that spread out.

[35:18] How are we doing that? One of the key ways the mettā practice works is that we're working at the level of intention and intentionality. We're working at the level of these seeds that come up and kind of guiding the seeds in a certain direction, nourishing, nurturing a certain direction of seeds. Or, we could say, planting certain kinds of seeds -- we're planting the seeds of intention, of well-wishing. So it's working at the level of intentionality, and that is an enormously, enormously powerful level of the being to engage and to work with because it's malleable, because it's amenable to nurturing and direction, because it's something that we can, by repetition and by practice, actually really affect deeply. Immensely powerful, so really not to underestimate the power in our life of habit and intention, and habit of intention. It's enormously powerful. It's not oftentimes a sort of stratum of the being that we may pay that much attention to or even be that conscious of. But so much of our life and the way our life unfolds hinges on that, hinges on that level of intentionality. What am I feeding there? What am I nourishing there? What am I allowing a momentum to? And where is it leading?

And so we work very simply, very patiently with intentionality. The Buddha has a beautiful, beautiful phrase with this in regard to mettā practice. He says it's like filling a bucket with water: there's a drop, some tap or something is just dripping, and it seems like nothing is happening, but drop by drop the bucket is filled. Drop by drop the bucket is filled.[2] That's what we're doing. We're dealing with intentions, almost one by one.

Intentionality is an interesting level of the being to work with because, rather than saying we're fixing our self or changing our self or making our self better or whatever it is, we're actually working with intentions. And the intentions are not-self. They're not-self. They're not something to judge. They're just something that's there, that's malleable.

Okay. All of that, everything that I've just said, brings enormous healing. All of this about nourishment and cultivating well-being and happiness, and working with the intentions, and transforming the way of seeing -- all that together is healing our being at the deepest, deepest level, and bringing connection and opening.

Now, I think it's probably, maybe true to say that you might be, we might be arriving at this retreat with different motivations and different kind of reasons, conscious reasons to come. So all of that is healing and healing of ourselves. And sometimes a person feels, "Oh, a mettā retreat -- I have so much harshness and self-judgment, so much inner critic." We'll be talking about this character, the inner critic, a lot on the retreat as well. "I have so much of that. I need to address that. I need some self-healing -- mettā retreat." And yes, absolutely, absolutely that's what we're addressing here. That's a fundamental part of what we're addressing here, the self-healing. And at the very same time, I feel, I really believe, and I see, in us as human beings, there's something else, something else that longs for something bigger than even just self-healing. There's a deep current in the humanity of our heart. We long for something beyond the range of the self -- going back to this boundlessness -- something to truly expand our sense of existence, to truly expand it into the immeasurable, something to open it all out.

There's a beautiful poem by Rilke the poet. I'll read you all of it.[3]

[40:30 -- 41:03, poem]

There's something that wants to widen, something that intuits that sense. Even if we feel like most of what I see in my life is just about me, and I need to address that self-healing -- we are addressing that -- there's something else. As I said, this tikkun olam, this wanting to expand out. So the retreat, or any retreat, is for serving, for honouring, for nurturing our deepest movements of heart, our deepest aspirations. That's really what we're supporting here. And it's really important, I feel, to let oneself feel that; to let oneself feel the movement of aspiration in oneself and really to appreciate it, to love it, to love oneself for it, to honour it. It's such a profound and important and beautiful part of our being. There's something that wants to expand.

In the Mahāyāna tradition, there's this word bodhicitta. It's a beautiful word, and I can't really go into all of the totality and the depth of what that means. But it's really pointing to a kind of revolution that's possible for us, a revolution in our whole orientation of our existence, a revolution in the heart from this kind of tight circle that I was talking about -- 'me' and 'my' perhaps little circle -- turning everything upside down, and actually, in its real form, prioritizing the happiness of others, living upside down, turning everything on its head, and living for others first.

We might hear something like that, and there can be all kinds of reactions. What would it be to turn the whole sense of existence inside out like that? What would that be? Not to underestimate the potential of where practice can lead. A person might have all kinds of reactions to hearing something like that, may be inspired or moved. Maybe the inner critic comes in: "Oh, something else ..." I measure myself, or there's a kind of should with it, or a pressure, or something like that. Or it sounds moralizing, you know. Maybe that goes on, and it's okay. It's okay if that goes on. But perhaps, perhaps another part of the being intuits a whole other possibility, a whole other sense of possibility for our existence -- just perhaps. And we may feel ambivalent with that, or fearful, or sceptical of its implications and the consequences. I think what I really want to say is there's such a range of what's kind of available in practice, and not to underestimate where practice can lead, this adventure.

The possibility of transformation in practice is probably, for most people -- and I meet a lot of people, and I hear from a lot of people -- the possibilities are larger than the possibilities that they entertain for themselves, that we entertain for ourselves. The possibility is enormous -- the possibility to unveil our Buddha-nature and have that manifest in the world.

So, talking about widening the circles and this possibility of bodhicitta -- what is it to make others equal to myself? I'd like to actually start that right here -- right here, right now on the retreat -- by reflecting a little bit on the way we see the retreat -- so the way we see the retreat, and the way we see the others here. Very easily, on retreat, if not right from the beginning, but very soon, we can get into a sense of me and my practice, and these other people are kind of sometimes just in the way, or bothering us in some way, or crowding us out. I wonder if right from now, right from this moment, we can really encourage a sense of we and us: we and us here in this hall, we and us on this retreat, we and us here at Gaia House. Is that possible? What would that mean? And to keep nourishing that sense of things.

[46:26, guided meditation begins]

So let's just try something. Just take a second and -- I've been talking a long time. I know. I'm going to shut up in a second and let Chris say something. [laughs] Just take a moment and feel into the body. Just ground yourself in the body. There's nothing too big deal here. Just feel the body. You don't have to be in lotus or anything like that. Just feeling the body, grounded, let yourself look around you. Look around the room, and see who's here. Let yourself look. Take in the other people here. Take your time. Really see. Really look. Can you feel the presence? Keep looking. Can you feel the presence of these beings here together? Can you see other human beings? Can you feel, can you be aware of their humanity? Human beings just like ourselves, their life, their struggles, their joys -- these are human beings. Can ... keep looking! [laughter] Want to push your edges a little bit here. [laughter] Keep looking! The night is young. [laughter] Can you let yourself feel some connection to that humanity, to the togetherness, to the sense of us and we?

[48:34] Okay, now close your eyes. The eyes are closed, and the visual sense is muted, in the silence, in the stillness. And can you let the awareness reach out and feel the same humanity and open to the same sense of connection, same sense of we, of us? Can you let yourself be aware that all these others, all these other us's are supporting, supporting you and your practice over the days here? Their presence, their dedication here, their being here, their showing up is a support. Can you feel yourself nurtured by the support of the other beings here? Can you realize, too, that your being, your presence, your dedication, your showing up, even when you don't feel like it in the hall, when you're tired, bored, fed up, that your showing up is a support also to the we, to the us?

[50:26, guided meditation ends]

Okay, you can open your eyes now, if you like. So we are practising a shift in view. In a way, that's what the Dharma is. That's what practice is. We're practising a shift in view. We can encourage this and keep encouraging a sense of we, of us, over the days. We will keep encouraging it, and you can keep doing that for yourself -- not just in here, but throughout the house. And we'll talk more about that later. Feeling the connection, feeling the support and the supporting. If you feel like you need to shake your body out, please, just for a few a seconds, feel free.

Tomorrow, in the sitting after breakfast, we will begin unfolding the mettā instructions in quite a lot of detail and different possibilities, as I said. But for now, let's just be very simple together. And perhaps I'll say a few words.

[51:45, guided meditation begins]

So if you want to establish yourself in a posture that feels comfortable, you feel grounded and upright, feeling the uprightness of the posture. Just letting the awareness sense into the body and the bodily experience right now. Let the awareness really inhabit the body, fill out, to fill the body. Just feeling into the sense and the life of the bodily experience right now.

So letting the awareness be spacious. Really, the awareness fills and encompasses the whole body, the whole space of the body. We're just tuning in there, to that experience, that field of experience. So, aware of the body, aware of the silence, the sounds, the voice. And just letting the sense of yourself, the sense of your being, the sense of your body reveal itself, right now, in awareness. Just feeling yourself, feeling your being. Letting the being be there in this sense of openness, of awareness. Feeling it held there. Feeling yourself, your body, your being, held.

Is it possible to get that sense -- held in the silence, held in awareness? Whatever's there, whatever presents itself in the body, however the mind is right now, the emotions, thoughts, images, whatever, whatever it is. The being, revealing itself and held in gentleness, in spaciousness, in the warmth of the silence, in the tender touch of the awareness, the space of awareness. No pressure. Just gentle holding and allowing. And softening -- softening the body, perhaps, but maybe more softening the awareness around the body, around the being, around the experience. Softening. Just allowing it all to be held. It is held.

In the softness, the space, the gentleness of that awareness, just wishing yourself well. This body, this heart, this mind, this stream of being, wishing it well, wishing yourself well. And gently letting the awareness expand out, aware of the other beings in this room right now, other bodies, hearts, minds. Letting that tenderness, that spaciousness, hold them too. Softness, allowing, being. And just recognizing that in this moment, you are receiving the well-wishing of everyone else in this room, held in that field, giving and receiving the sustenance of allowing. Very gentle, without making any demands on yourself, demands on your experience, just open, allowing, softening, wishing well.

[1:05:25, guided meditation ends]

Okay, that's possibly the longest opening session I've ever participated in. [laughter] You're troopers, and you made it. [laughter] So, also wishing you a very lovely retreat, and just an encouragement to really relax now you're here, and relax into the place, relax into the retreat, relax your being, and to really let yourself feel very welcome here -- fully in the body, in the being, really fully welcome here.

Tomorrow morning, who's got the first bell in the morning, the wake-up bell? What's your name? Naomi. Naomi, could you ... Should we have a lie-in tomorrow morning? [laughter] Yes? Someone's saying ... Okay. [laughter] Is this being recorded? [laughter] Naomi, if you'll ring it fifteen minutes later, and then we'll have the wake-up bell at 6:30 and the first sitting at 7:00. And then after that is breakfast and the work period. And then we will, as I said, begin unfolding instructions in quite some detail at 9:30. Okay, so I wish you a very good night's rest and a good sleep. And see you again in the morning.

  1. Walter Sullivan, "The Einstein Papers: A Man of Many Parts," New York Times (29 Mar. 1972),, accessed 14 July 2021. ↩︎

  2. Dhp 121--2. ↩︎

  3. Rainer Maria Rilke, "Widening Circles," Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, trs. Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005), 45. Archived at, accessed 2 Nov. 2020. ↩︎

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry