Aching with Longing

This is a blog post from Gareth Young, a co-founder of Red Clay Sangha in Atlanta. His sangha, along with the Insight Meditation Community of Georgia hosted a Lovingkindess and Brahma Vihara retreat that I led March 2 – 5 in the North Georgia Mountains. Thanks to all who made this happen. Here’s Gareth’s post:

Aching with Longing

Today I finished a short meditation retreat led by Lisa Ernst from Nashville and co-hosted by the Red Clay Sangha and the Insight Meditation Group of Georgia: Zen-based and Vipassana traditions coming together for an interdenominational Buddhist retreat.  We had invited Lisa to lead the retreat using her own style of practice and she focused the retreat on metta.

Like most Buddhist teachings (for my mind this is actually an attribute of all legitimate Buddhist teachings) metta practice is a set of tools that can be used by anyone regardless of their faith tradition.  In simple terms it is is designed to cultivate loving kindness and compassion for self and other, and it centers upon repeating continuously a series of phrases such as:

May I/him/her/all beings be free from danger
May [I/they] have mental happiness
May [I/they] have physical happiness
May [I/they] have ease of well being.

It may sound banal, even silly, but it is extraordinary and it works – though it does require a lot of patience!  And by focusing on the self first it naturally allows one to deal with feelings of self-loathing, inadequacy, being unlovable and the like that are so common in our culture.  The premise, which I think is correct, is that only from a place of self-loving can one move into the world and unconditionally love the other.

The genesis of this blog post is not metta practice itself – though I commend it to you – but a beautiful poem by Tagore, a giant of Indian literature who I knew shamefully little about until I just read about him.  Lisa waited until this morning after our hearts had been opened up by a couple of days of metta practice before reading the poem to us and it blew the doors open for me.  It is a piece of pure beauty that hopefully will blow a tempting gust of air through your own doors, too:
On the day when the lotus bloomed, alas, my mind was straying, and I knew it not. My basket was empty and the flower remained unheeded.

Only now and again a sadness fell upon me, and I started up from my dream and felt a sweet trace of a strange smell in the south wind.

That vague fragrance made my heart ache with longing, and it seemed to me that it was the eager breath of the summer seeking for its completion.

I knew not then that it was so near, that it was mine, and this perfect sweetness had blossomed in the depth of my own heart.

To read more of Gareth’s blog, go here.

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