Combining metta and the reflection on impermanence
Taken separately, both metta, the step by step development of loving kindness, and regular reflections on impermanence have the potential to bring us a keen sense of the preciousness of life, a kind of fearlessness, and greater generosity. When they are combined though, their power is increased even more.
I’ve not heard this talked about elsewhere, although I’m sure people do it. Perhaps in the course of their lives people are reminded of the transience and uncertainty of our time here. Then, naturally, metta flows more abundantly.
What I’d like to suggest here is that we don’t wait until ‘life happens to us’, but that we consciously and regularly choose to combine these two meditations. If we do this, we can find an increased depth, clarity, and vigor to our practice.
I know people avoid the meditation on impermanence. It can elicit so much fear, and anticipated sadness, but this is just the initial response to these reflections, the ‘first gate’, if you will, and if we stop there, we’ll never know the benefits of clearly seeing this truth.
Recognizing that our lives here, like this, is for this one time only, and that none of us knows now long we have here, this cuts so much pettiness, and hesitation; it has us completely give what we have, holding nothing back, and it has the potential to really awaken our gratitude and wonder at being alive.
I’ve taken to thinking of the knowledge of impermanence for this reason as a midwife for love.
When we bring metta together with the awareness this aspect of our being here, the pure feeling flows more easily, and abundantly. We recognize that we have no time to lose, to small mindedness, or to holding onto any unforgiveness. Recalling impermanence awakens generosity, such that metta really shines forth from us powerfully.
There’s a passage in the book, ‘A Monk in the World’, by Wayne Teasdale, where he describes a home-sanctuary made by a married couple with children. He describe how one man’s young son would often join him during his hour of prayer and meditation, climb onto his lap, and sleep peacefully during that time.
I can only relate to this from remembering the young children I taught for a number of years in Taiwan. With this image of a young child resting on my lap during meditation, when I cultivate metta, I know something of what good parents and guardians all wish for their children. The feeling is very pure, abundant, and perfectly clear.
There’s a fragility to being a parent or guardian. One never knows what kind of world a loved one will meet, or how long we will be able to be there for them. This is a model, then, for all our relationships. We never know how long we have.
As a thought experiment – if we think that this may be the last time we see or can pray for our friend or family member, that either we, or they may not be here tomorrow, or next week, or next month, it awakens our very best nature. We spontaneously offer the best kinds of prayers for their happiness. And if we should be so fortunate to see and talk with them again, this kind of pure motivation is sure to find expression in our speaking, and actions.
Just as they say with the Lam-Rim, or Stages of the Path teachings, we have to have some sense of the advantages of any practice before we whole- heartedly take it up. When it comes to the meditation on loving kindness, people usually don’t need much convincing. Recalling impermanence, though, is another matter. It’s usually avoided if at all possible. This is only because we haven’t glimpsed the advantages of keeping this in view. Once we do, it’s natural to make this a regular part of practice.
Love, naturally, without needing to be told, wants to reach perfection in us. That is what we would call it’s fulfillment, and even though this ideal often seems so far from where we are, when I take up the practice with the awareness of my mortality, I begin to taste that very fulfillment of love.
We have to give ourselves completely. This is the only thing that makes sense to me now. This is what brings the greatest reward.