Sharon Salzberg is a life-long practitioner of Buddhist meditation, and her work was instrumental in bringing key Buddhist practices to the United States. Through books such as A Heart as Wide as the World and Loving-Kindness. The Revoutionary Art of Happiness, she teaches that simple practices like metta, translated from Pali as lovingkindness, can open our hearts, help us conquer our fears and make the world a better place.
Metta meditation consists of conjuring up feelings of love and wellbeing in one’s heart, first for oneself, then for one’s loved ones, then for teachers, for neutral people, and finally for difficult people in our lives, expanding the circle of oneness until there is nobody from whom we stand apart. In the following fragment, from her book Loving-Kindness, Salzberg discusses metta as a reflection of that which is purest and most essential in us, and explains why nothing can touch or alter that inner core.
“We can understand the inherent radiance and purity of our minds by understanding metta. Like the mind, metta is not distorted by what it encounters. Anger generated within ourselves or within others can be met with love; the love is not ruined by the anger. Metta is its own support, and thus it is free of inherently unstable conditions. The loving mind can observe joy and peace in one moment, and then grief in the next moment, and it will not be shattered by the change. A mind filled with love can be likened to the sky with a variety of clouds moving through it -some light and fluffy, others ominous and threatening. No matter what the situation, the sky is not affected by the clouds. It is free.
The Buddha taught that the forces in the mind that bring suffering are able to temporarily hold down the positive forces such as love or wisdom, but they can never destroy them. The negative forces can never uproot the positive, whereas the positive forces can actually uproot the negative forces. Love can uproot fear or anger or guilt, because it has greater power.”
“The practice of metta, uncovering the force of love that can uproot fear, anger, and guilt, begins with befriending ourselves. The foundation of metta practice is to know how to be your own friend. According to the Buddha, ‘You can search throughout the universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.’ How few of us embrace ourselves this way! With metta practice we uncover the possibility of truly respecting ourselves. We discover, as Walt Whitman put it, ‘I am larger and better than I thought. I did not think I held so much goodness.”