Last weekend I led a lovingkindness retreat at a beautiful retreat center in Magnolia Mississippi, a place I’d never been before. Magnolia is a small town aptly named – the minute we entered the city, blooming magnolias were everywhere. Founded by Dolores Watson about 5 years ago, Flowering Lotus Retreat Center has grown considerably and has hosted teachers such as Phillip Moffitt, David Loy and John Orr. Dolores is a remarkable and energetic woman who so obviously loves the dharma. I first met her last November when she attended my seven day residential retreat here in Middle Tennessee. I wasn’t at all surprised that the care and thought she has put into the center shines through in every detail. She has her own bold and unique style, which I loved.
The experience level for this retreat ranged from four or five people who had never meditated before to several with extensive retreat experience, and everything in between. We focused on lovingkindness (metta) practice for the weekend, which I always appreciate teaching. Watching hearts open and barriers dissolve, seeing people finally realize its ok to offer kindness and love to themselves, is a deeply fulfilling experience for me. I remember how hard it was the first time I tried it many years ago, how I felt guilty and even selfish spending so much time giving metta to myself. But when my heart finally cracked open, I was able to receive and extend love to all beings for the first time. That has stayed with me ever since when I practice metta. At this retreat, as we moved our metta outward to loved ones, family friends, indifferent and difficult people, some at the retreat got a taste of the heart that is not separate from all beings, the heart that can love unconditionally. This is the realm of true compassion. May all beings be free from suffering. May they live in equanimity.