One of my lovely students asked me a very good question after our meditation class together. We finished the meditation with a practice called “metta”, where we send loving-kindness to every being in the world and wish them well. She said that she found it very challenging because it reminded her of all the suffering in the world, especially related to animals, and it brought up an overwhelming sense of sadness.
I have actually struggled with this before, and I’m guessing it’s quite common, so I thought I would share with you my (very long!) answer to her question. It is a mix of personal experience and advice I’ve received from my own teachers over the years. I hope you will find it useful.
Metta meditation is hard in many ways, because humans are problematic and there is so much suffering in the world. When we are trying to send love and compassion to humans and other beings, it’s difficult not to think about how it’s lacking in the current state of the world.
Feeling overwhelmed by this suffering is actually a deep, deep practice of metta. You are so compassionate that you actually feel the pain and sorrow. It’s not a state that I would encourage you to stay in, as it goes against what we are trying to manifest with this meditation. I want you to feel love and peacefulness in your heart, not leave the meditation sad and angry!
So what do we do? There are several ways you could go about it.
The first one…
is the one I’d recommend for now, because you are just starting with this kind of meditation and we only spend about 5 minutes doing the metta meditation. If these feelings come up again, acknowledge the suffering. “It hurts, it makes me sad and angry”. Become aware of how this affects you.
Also acknowledge that you have no control over what other humans choose to do, and refusing to come to terms with that will only cause more suffering within yourself (I’m struggling with that too, we’re on this path together!). This is the practice of “aparigraha”, letting go.
Acknowledge what you are doing in your own life to lessen this suffering, how you have a positive impact, however small. Try to shift your focus towards how your actions, your behaviour, your energy make the world a more peaceful place.
Practicing metta is already helping. Fostering loving-kindness and becoming a more peaceful being is already helping.
The second one…
is something you can do when you feel ready to, and when you have more time, as it’s a more personal practice that doesn’t really work during a guided meditation. It’s a visualisation technique that requires a bit more creativity work.
When you feel overwhelmed by the suffering, visualise a world where this suffering doesn’t exist anymore. May there be a world where no cows are slaughtered. May there be a world where no pigs are slaughtered. May there be a world where no animals are being farmed. How would this world look? Where would the animals live? Be the bridge towards this world, hold the space for this world to manifest itself, so that one day, this vision may come into being.
This is quite a difficult space to hold! It’s a lot of work, but if these feelings come to you often, it might be the kind of work that you should be doing.
One last thing…
that I find helpful when I have feelings of anger and animosity towards someone during metta practice, like you may have towards people who cause animal suffering… It can be hard to wish happiness, love and safety to these kinds of people, right? It’s part of the work, but what I find always works for me is wishing them to find the true spiritual path.
What it means for me, is wishing for them to start a spiritual practice, meditation, yoga… so that they become more compassionate, loving, wiser, less destructive. So that they start making the world a better place. They would surely be happier, and the rest of the world too.
So that’s my trick 😄
Have you experienced similar struggles during metta meditation? How did you deal with them? Are there other challenges in your meditation practice you’d like me to address?