Often (though less often than I used to) when I’m in a situation where we’re talking about mindfulness or awareness, someone will say “But what about metta?” They will have a perception of mindfulness as being a bit dry or cool and will have a view that it needs to be balanced with metta or loving-kindness. This is not only an idea, it tallies with their experience that mindfulness alone lacks warmth or friendliness and needs to be countered by another practice cultivating these qualities.
I have to say, this is not my experience and though I practised metta and the other brahma vihara’s for many years I rarely do so these days. However, I do feel they are lived through my life and inform the way I practice awareness as a wisdom path. An idea I find very helpful is encapsulated in this phrase by Sangharakshita.
“You can’t have clarity without metta objectifying your perceptions”.
Often metta or karuna (compassion) are associated with feelings and emotions. Actually, they are more about our responses to people and our world. These positive responses come from an intention or direction to which we incline the mind and heart. From this intention, we can connect with loving-kindness or compassion and it influences how we act and how we think about our self and others. Our perspective changes from a habitual one (perhaps judging yourself for a perceived failure or getting angry – again! – at your housemate finishing and not replacing breakfast milk) to a fresh, open, more kindly one.
If I take ‘clarity’ to mean mindfulness infused with clear seeing or wisdom, then what Sangharakshita is saying is that if clarity is present, metta is also present, otherwise, it is not true mindfulness. Clarity can sound sharp and penetrating and, like mindfulness to some, cold and lacking in feeling.
I love the idea that metta, or loving-kindness, objectifies our perceptions. Metta helps us see more clearly (have more clarity) and accurately. In our culture emotions (no distinction is made between habitual, negative and positive emotions) are characterised all too often as getting in the way of our ability to think clearly and rationally. This view determines that emotions muddy the waters and need to take a back seat for us to make a sensible decision.
So it is actually quite radical to understand that kindness is inherent in seeing things clearly and fully. Seeing the world through ‘kind eyes’ helps us see the bigger picture. We’re less caught up with our own particular story and can try to see what’s best for another person or what might bring the most benefit to a larger situation. We might not always get it right, but we have a better shot at it through coming from a kindly, spacious aware mind.
Mindfulness and metta share certain qualities and are not so distinct as we might think. Awareness in its fullest sense has a sensitivity to what it is knowing; it is receptive rather than forceful; it is becoming more and more free from the pushes and pulls of our desires and destructive discontent. And, in the quality of sampajana, or clearly knowing, there is the wisdom that understands how we create our own suffering and how we can learn to do things differently.
We can have metta infused with mindfulness, and mindfulness infused with metta. We can bring all these powerful qualities of mind and heart together. In this way, we can be truly aware and truly kind.