Dedicating the Merit of our Practice

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(Read the original on elephant journal)

The other day, I stood alone in the temple in front of an altar full of a stunningly beautiful and potent mandala of crystals, Tibetan singing bowls, and Buddhas.

As I breathed with my palms together in prayer in front of my heart and wished that the journey my family and I are about to embark upon be safe, peaceful, and joyous, for one brief second my mind was clear and radiant.

I realized that this wish for myself and the two beings closest to me (my husband and daughter) was simultaneously a wish for all beings without exception. The pure and simple aspiration, “May the journey of all beings be safe, peaceful, healthy, and happy” welled up from that indescribable source that lies within each of us and is ever surrounding us all.

Dedicating the merit is fundamental to all meditation. It is absolutely essential and not to be overlooked. Here is an example of a dedication of merit you can recite at the end of your practice:

May the earth be wholesome everywhere
The world blessed with prosperity
May the poor and destitute find wealth
And the stooping animals be freed

May every being ailing with illness
Find relief at once from suffering
May all the sickness that afflict the living
Be instantly and permanently healed

May those who go in dread, have no more fear,
May captives be unchained and set free,
And may the weak now become strong,
May living beings help each other in kindness.

May travelers upon the road,
Find happiness no matter where they go,
And may they gain, without hardship,
The goals on which their hearts are set.

From the songs of birds and the sighing of trees,
From the shafts of light and from the sky itself,
May living beings, each and every one,
Perceive the constant sound of Dharma.

~ Shantideva

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Metta Check-in

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Metta is a simple, peaceful and powerful technique of visualization and repetition of aspirations, or good wishes.

Here’s an example of a metta meditation that you can adapt for your own personal practice:

I sit on the ground with my legs crossed. I sit tall, feeling strong and grounded. I gently close my eyelids, and in my mind’s eye, I see my own face as if I’m looking in the mirror. I say to myself,

May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be free from suffering.

Sometimes, this flows smoothly and easily. It feels splendid to offer myself these loving wishes. Other times, doubting voices arise in my mind. (“Why should I be happy?” “There is no freedom from suffering.”) Whatever comes up, I simply notice.

Next, I see my two living grandmothers sitting before me.

They are 89 and 92 now. I see them in their old age and I see them as I remember them as a child. I see them as the young, glamorous girls they were in old photographs. I hold their hands in mine and say:

May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be free from suffering.

This is easy. I love my grandmothers. They are wonderful. It feels natural and pleasant to send them these positive wishes.

Now, I see myself sitting there along with my two grandmas. I see my flaws and my strengths. I witness my body and my mind. I see my other beloveds have joined us. My parents, my husband, my daughter, my brother, my sister, my soul mates.

May we be safe.
May we be happy.
May we be healthy.
May we be free.

I see an acquaintance. I see the cashier at the corner store. I see the security guard who stands calmly outside the bank all day. I see the new neighbor.

May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be free.

I see an enemy. I see someone who has stabbed me in the back. I see people who have gossiped about me and slandered my reputation. I see difficult people, individuals with whom I have had disputes and conflicts. At first it’s impossible, but eventually I soften up and say, even to them,

May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be free.

I place my palms together and visualize the metta as a green light in my heart center. My body begins to glow with this green light, like an electric bulb.

The light then gets brighter and more powerful and spreads out from my body to cover my entire house, street, neighborhood, community, town, city, region, state, country, continent.

It extends beyond the land, permeating the oceans and continuing to shine across the whole Earth. I see that all beings and myself are one. I repeat the metta aspirations for all sentient beings:

May all beings be safe.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be healthy.
May all beings be free.

I feel grateful to be alive, to be a human, to have this opportunity to live, learn and love every day.

May we love and be patient.
May we serve and benefit others.
May we share and live in harmony.
May we be at peace and live with ease.

Do you practice metta? What aspirations do you use?

Practice Loving Kindness with Metta Aspirations

11179971_10152784915271994_8682155515547017100_nSilently repeat any or all of the following (or your own aspirations) in your mind.

May I be safe.

May I feel secure and grounded. May I feel a sense of belonging to the Earth. May I know who I am.

May I be happy.

May I be joyful. May I be content. May I live with bliss.

May I be healthy.

May my body be strong. May my mind be balanced. May I exude well-being.

May I be peaceful.

May I be calm. May I be patient. May I be loving.

May I live with ease.

May I relax. May I let go. May I just be.

May I be free.

May I be free from suffering. May I be free to be me. May I be liberated.

May you be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (Visualize a loved one and repeat each phrase to them in your mind’s eye.)

May you be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (Visualize a neutral person whom you do not have strong feelings about and repeat each phrase to that person.)

May you be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (Visualize a difficult person, someone with whom you are having a conflict, or even an “enemy,” and say the phrases to them. This one may take a while before you can actually do it!)

May we be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (Repeat the wishes, visualizing yourself together with all your loved ones.)

May we be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free.

Visualize yourself and your wider community.

May you be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free.

Visualize the light of your metta reaching out to shine upon all beings on Earth.

The remaining aspirations are wishes for all beings, including ourselves.

May all beings be safe.

May all beings be happy.

May all beings be healthy.

May all beings be peaceful.

May all beings be free.

May all beings feel strong & supported.

May all beings be loved & cared for.

May all beings breathe & relax.

May all beings go with the flow.

May all beings express our unique power.

May all beings open our hearts.

May all beings listen.

May all beings imagine.

May all beings connect with our intuition.

May all beings connect with our divine nature.

May we all love.

May we all share.

May we all serve.

May we all unite in peace and harmony.

May You Practice Metta

“Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!”

~ The Metta Sutra

Metta means loving-kindness. It’s also a simple yet transformational practice of well-wishing taught by the Buddha.

It is a way of opening our hearts and letting love and kindness pour in for ourselves, our loved ones, our wider community members, the difficult people in our lives and ultimately all beings.

It may seem idealistic, silly or difficult at first, but with practice metta can transform your life. A daily dose of metta does a spirit good.

I’ve been practicing metta (not every day) for 11 years. I learned the ancient Buddhist practice from a New Yorker in a conference center in northern California. I’ve since read about it in books by the likes of Pema Chodron and the Dalai Lama.

Over the years, I have found metta to become second nature. I wish goodness for all. I do not wish harm upon anyone. I’m sure a lot of readers out there already know about metta, but are you practicing it regularly? Are you experiencing its value and benefits?

May has 31 days, so here are 31 daily aspirations to guide your metta meditation practice for the month. May they be of benefit!

Read on

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Learning to Love, Loving to Learn

May is for Metta.

Metta is loving kindness. This technique taught by the Buddha is a simple yet transformational practice of well wishing. It is a way of opening our hearts and letting love and kindness pour in for ourselves, our loved ones, our wider community members, the difficult people in our lives and, ultimately, all beings.

May has 31 days, so here are 31 daily aspirations to guide our metta meditation practice for the month. May they be of benefit!

1 – May I be safe.

2 – May I be happy.

3 – May I be healthy.

4 – May I be peaceful.

5 – May I live with ease.

6 – May I be free.

7 – May you be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (Visualize a loved one.)

8 – May you be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (Visualize a neutral person.)

9 – May you be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (Visualize a difficult person.)

10 – May we be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (Myself and my loved ones.)

11 – May we be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (My wider community.)

12 – May you be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (All beings on Earth.)

13 – May all beings be safe.

14 – May all beings be happy.

15 – May all beings be healthy.

16 – May all beings be peaceful.

17 – May all beings be free.

18 – May all beings feel strong & supported.

19 – May all beings be loved & cared for.

20 – May all beings breathe & relax.

21 – May all beings go with the flow.

22 – May all beings express our unique power.

23 – May all beings open our hearts.

24 – May all beings listen.

25 – May all beings imagine.

26 – May all beings connect with our intuition.

27 – May all beings connect with our divine nature.

28 – May we all love.

29 – May we all share.

30 – May we all serve.

31 – May we all unite.

 

 

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May 2015

Metta Check-in 
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On Blocking Negative Energy

20140126-064443.jpgThe other day on the boat from San Pedro to Pana, I ran into this guy, a Mexican, a longtime resident of Lake Atitlan, a friend or former friend of many of my close friends.

As we shared his last lancha ride across the beautiful lake he has called home for over 20 years, he chose to lecture me and verbally vomit all over me with his complaints, negativity and hatred.

He started out by thanking me. Using my car, my husband had done him a big favor a few days ago. Then he shut up for the first half of the boat ride. But for the last bit, he stood in front of me, speaking wildly.

He began, as usual, giving me unsolicited relationship advice. He went on to insult me and all “gringos” for our role in ruining the earth. I was a captive audience, on a boat in the middle of the lake. I got to hear what he really thinks of me, the things he would only say behind my back before.

I said almost nothing. I just nodded and listened. I could have said a lot of things, namely, “You’re spitting on me,” or “I don’t love you either.” But I chose to say basically nothing as the tirade continued for at least ten minutes.

His life has blown up of late, from what I understand, into a series of escalating dramas. He is outta here, hightailing it for Mexico, done with this place. He insists that Guatemala is not a safe place to be, geographically, politically or economically.

Right now, I say, “Good riddance.” But I know that’s kind of bitchy. I will work with forgiveness practice. I will practice forgiving him for the emotional/verbal abuse. I will practice wishing to be forgiven by him for any harm I caused. And I will practice forgiving (but not forgetting), always.

I did my best to block his raging and negative energy but of course some did make it through. I felt angry and irritated at first that he had dumped all his shit on me. I couldn’t remember a time when anyone had spoken to me so harshly and rudely. I’m still a bit upset by the whole thing, as shown by my decision to write about it here, now.

I have been able to let go of a lot of the heavy, bad feelings that lingered after this encounter, and here’s how.

I connected with the earth. I feel my feet on the ground. I feel a sense of belonging, right where I am.

I took a shower. I connected with water. I cleansed both my physical body and my emotional body.

I expressed my power through nonviolence, through peace. I chose to walk away, not to insult this man or respond to his accusations.

I opened my heart by sending him metta, wishing that he may be safe, happy, healthy and free.

I spoke my mind by talking to my husband about what had happened, processing my feelings immediately after the fact.

I connected with my intuition and realized that he is wounded, suffering, and hurt, which is the reason why he is lashing out and wounding and hurting everyone else.

I connected with my crown and remembered that I, too, am capable of this type of behavior. It is human nature. I remembered that despite our apparent differences, he and I are actually the same.

The #1 Mistake You Don’t Know You’re Making in Yoga.

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And by “yoga,” I mean life.

I know, because I did it for years in my own yoga practice, without even realizing I was doing it. Then I realized I was doing it and I still did it for years, but less and less so over time.

I still make this mistake, sometimes: Beating myself up inside.

It can happen in any moment, anywhere, no matter what situation or what stage of life we are in. As well, it can happen on the yoga mat, and often does.

This internal assault can happen in a variety of ways. Maybe it’s through fed thoughts — those thoughts we dwell on and obsess about and overanalyze, as opposed to the natural, inevitable thought flow that is always passing through our consciousness. Maybe it’s through negative self-talk (“I can’t believe how much I suck“) or destructive behaviors, attitudes and addictions.

About ten years ago, I was at the peak of my physical prowess. Twenty four years old, a bendy, budding Buddhist living the dream in California, eating a raw vegan diet and really falling in love for the first time. A few years later, having gained about 20 pounds, mainly around my midsection, I was no longer able to go as deeply into forward bending and twisting yoga poses.

As I deepened my mindfulness and meditation practices and became more aware of my running inner dialogue, it dawned on me that I was beating myself up in my yoga practice. Sometimes the voice was loud and shrill, other times nothing more than a subtle but condemning whisper, but it was almost always there. I hated my stomach. I hated my body. I hated my lack of discipline which led to the weight gain. I despised my flabbiness and resented it.

Gradually, though, that hatred and resentment softened. I learned to watch the thoughts and self-talk about my body, my fatness, my weaknesses. I learned to notice them without getting all wrapped up and perpetuating thinking about them more.

Eventually, I accepted my body. To accept one’s body sounds like common sense but for many of us (Americans, women, people, almost everyone?) negative self-image is so pervasive in our psyches that we are unaware of it.

I recently read Cyndi Lee’s memoir, May I Be Happy. Cyndi Lee is a well-known NYC (and international) yoga teacher whose studio/brand/style is OM Yoga. She’s Buddhist. I’ve been to her Manhattan studio but have never taken her class. I took a workshop from her husband, Buddhist/musician David Nichtern, in 2004 in SF. He taught us the beloved metta meditation technique.

I could barely get through the first half of the book. It had more to do with body image (namely Cyndi’s extremely negative self-image of her own fit, healthy body) than with yoga or Buddhist practice.

But, the latter half made up for the whiny and self-absorbed tone in the first part. Transformation happens. The most important takeaway from the book—and this article—is this:

There is nothing wrong with you.

Take that, go forth, and practice yoga and live life.

Seeking: Healers—Inquire Within.

“Few of us are satisfied with retreating from the world and just working on ourselves. We want our training to manifest and be of benefit.

The bodhisattva-warrior, therefore, makes a vow to wake up not just for himself but for the welfare of all beings.”

~ Pema Chodron

A Bodhisattva is one whose aspiration is to attain Buddhahood (enlightenment) for the benefit of all sentient beings. Although the concept comes from Mahayana Buddhism, I believe Bodhisattvas can come from any (or no) faith tradition.

Bodhisattvas are healers. Compassionate, kind, real, patient, mindful and intelligent.

As Bodhisattvas, we take vows—we set the intention of serving others. We aspire to be of benefit to all beings, including ourselves.

Kind of a lofty goal, right? As Buddhist teacher Gil Fronsdal suggests, rather than thinking of the Bodhisattva concept as some huge ideal, we can think of it as the only thing we can do.

There are famous Bodhisattvas like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa, but the beauty of the Bodhisattva is that it is available to each one of us. There are countless souls working anonymously, right now, for everybody’s liberation and enlightenment. Will we join their ranks?

Here are some of my own favorite renditions of the Bodhisattva vows. If they resonate, write them down on a piece of paper and post them in your house where you will see them every day.

The traditional vows:

Beings are numberless; I vow to awaken with them.
Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them.
Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to enter them.
Buddha’s way is insurpassable; I vow to become it.

From Pema Chödrön’s The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

Throughout my life, until this very moment, whatever virtue I have accomplished… I dedicate to the welfare of all beings.

May the roots of suffering diminish. May warfare, violence, neglect, indifference and addiction also decrease.

May the wisdom and compassion of all beings increase, now and in the future.

May we clearly see all the barriers we erect between ourselves and others to be as insubstantial as our dreams.

May we appreciate the great perfection of all phenomena.

May we continue to open our hearts and minds, in order to work ceaselessly for the benefit of all beings.

May we go to the places that scare us.

May we lead the life of a warrior.

The Dalai Lama’s explanation:

The vow of the Bodhisattva is that she will not go into Nirvana until every single suffering being has entered Nirvana. One has to understand what this means.

Our awakening is not a personal triumph. We do not have to win a spiritual sprint. We are one mind. Awakening is to penetrate more and more deeply into this truth.

The world is alive. And as long as there is suffering then this living whole is shattered. Whether it is my suffering or the suffering of another, when seen from the perspective of the Bodhisattva makes no difference, because, seen from this perspective there is no ‘me’ or ‘another.’

In the Diamond Sutra, “Although the Bodhisattva saves all sentient beings, there are no sentient beings to save.”

These vows are practiced in three ways: restraint from harmful actions, doing wholesome deeds and working for the benefit of others.

How can we cause no harm in our actions? What kind deeds can we do for someone today? How are we working for the benefit of our fellow beings? As MLK put it, “The most important question is: what am I doing for others?”

The world wants—and needs—more Bodhisattvas. Inquire within; are you up to the task?