A Facebook friend posted this article entitled 18 Spiritual Teachings That Will Alter Your Mind and Improve Your Life. The seventh item on the list reads:
Learning the metta meditation technique at a spiritual conference in Palo Alto in 2004 was transformative. Metta is loving kindness. The basic technique is to send good wishes to ourselves, our loved ones, strangers, enemies and ultimately every sentient being without exception. I have introduced it to countless yoga students over the years. Metta is powerful and can be used in formal meditation as well as on-the-spot.
At first glance this exercise seems easy and innocuous enough. What could be wrong with extending loving kindness? But then my mind (my ego more specifically) dwells on the following two problems. First, must I really extend loving kindness to the people who have hurt me? Second, what possible benefit would I receive by doing this?
To address the first problem, I must admit that it is really difficult for me to send loving kindness to those kids who bullied me when I was young or to other people I hold resentments towards. I can sort of force myself to do it but then I sense a layer of protective sarcasm develop. This feels inauthentic to me and not what this exercise is about.
To address the second problem, I begin with the proposition that those lingering resentments are an energy drain that would be to my benefit to plug up. This of course is a selfish reason for wanting to perform this exercise. I suspect the real purpose or value of this exercise has nothing to do with selfishness. After all, loving kindness by definition is not selfish I would think. It seems reasonable to say that in order to truly extend loving kindness it must be done selflessly. It must be a gift with no strings attached. Otherwise it is merely an investment. It is akin to lending money at interest. Not that investing or lending money at interest are intrinsically evil activities. They are just not authentic extensions of loving kindness.
But maybe I am getting too caught up in labels and definitions and categories. Perhaps I am looking at this from an egocentric perspective. Maybe it is better not to look at this in terms of who benefits from it or my motivations behind it. Maybe it is good enough just to extend loving kindness and that is it. Let the benefits and motivations be there or not be there, in other words.
The mere experience of extending loving kindness without concern about who benefits or what motivates me is the exercise in and of itself. It is its own reward in other words. I should treat any thoughts about benefits and motivations as any other examples of my mind wandering while meditating. When this happens I merely bring my mind back to center without judgment or recrimination. In this case, bringing my mind back to center would be to return to extending my loving kindness out there. Anything else is a distraction.