Meditation in the Garden

Moon Bridge by the Japanese Teahouse at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Long ago in my childhood, as I was growing up in Southern California, I was blessed by parents who both savored beauty and creativity. Together we went to museums, gardens, arboretums, botanical gardens, and  historic places including the old Spanish missions erected by the monks who helped settle California, led by Fra Junipero Serra, about whom I learned in elementary school.

Recently in a guided meditation, I was drawn back to the Japanese Teahouse of the Huntington Library in San Marino, near Pasadena. This teahouse fascinated me with its low cushions and tables and delicate rice paper shoji screens. I might have forgotten it except for my son reminding me not long ago of my taking him to the same beautiful place in his childhood, and he remembered Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy.”

Thomas Gainsborough's "Blue Boy" painted in 1770, from the collection of the Huntington Library

Thomas Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy” painted in 1770, from the collection of the Huntington Library

When he mentioned the painting, I recalled my many trips to the Huntington Library as well, and I mentioned the Japanese Teahouse which suddenly came into my mind complete with full-color impressions. He recalled it, too, and we spoke of how lovely it was.

Japanese teahouse interior

Japanese Teahouse Interior

In my meditation some time ago I saw myself in the teahouse on a cushion, the shoji walls moved aside to reveal the beautiful gardens outside. I saw a woven basket filled with gorgeous lotus flowers beside me. First someone who helped raise me came to me and presented me with a lotus blossom, a loving gift teaching self-love and acceptance, for it is sometimes easier to accept the love from another than to give it to ourselves. Then as I sat, one by one my close friends and loved ones approached me and to each I gave a flower. Next came those towards whom I feel neutral feelings, and lastly those with whom I am or have been in painful conflict, and each received a flower.

lotus flower

The next time I sat in meditation and brought up this scene, I found that I was sitting just outside the teahouse on a rock near a stream, surrounded by manicured lawns and shrubbery, and in my basket were dahlias.

dahlia

Each, as before, but in different order came and were given a flower. Some came by for a second flower and this was fine. Water flowed by me, making its sweet fluid music, and early crickets chirped in the reeds. Orange and dappled koi circled lazily in the waters by a stone footbridge linking me to the lawns of the teahouse.

Koi by the Japanese Teahouse at the Huntington Library

Koi by the Japanese Teahouse at the Huntington Library

I will share with you now a Metta (loving kindness) meditation I use every day, in one form or another. This one is taken from Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice, by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. May it serve you as well as it has served me. The sounds behind my voice are those of a stream and crickets, punctuated by a Tibetan singing bowl.

Please enjoy, and share if you feel so inclined.

Click on the link below for a 7.15 minute meditation.

Namaste

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Celebrating the Metta Sutta

Metta Sutta

The Metta Sutta is dharma from The Buddha to guide those of us who follow his teachings in the manner in which we ought to manage our attitudes, our intentions and our actions in all areas of life. This translation is the “Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness” (Sn 1.8) translated from the Pali by The Amavarati Sangha.  Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 2 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.1.08.amar.html

We can begin by reading the Metta Sutta often. We can post a copy of it on the wall of our home or office where we can see and be reminded of its powerful sentiments throughout the day. I created the poster of the Karaniya Metta Sutta you see above using one of my own photographs for this very purpose in my life. When we sit to meditate, we can read the text and reflect on the words as we focus on our breathing, and we can aspire to the sentiments for ourselves, our loved ones, those with whom we have or have had conflict, and lastly for all beings everywhere, in every status of existence. Sharon Salzberg in her book Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness (Shambhala) explains this in detail and offers exercises with which to begin to implement the Metta Sutta. I highly recommend the book to anyone wishing to bring loving kindness into fruition more fully in his or her life.

We can realize profound psychological benefits from practicing Metta, or Loving Kindness, meditation.

  • We begin to have loving thoughts towards ourselves. This is huge and very healing for any of us who suffers low self-esteem, shame, guilt or insecurity. This is not a negative selfishness but an empowering, enlightened self-interest. It is not possible to revile the self and exalt others with heartfelt sincerity. We must allow ourselves to receive self-love, self-acceptance, hopefulness for and on behalf of ourselves, and to desire to experience joy and happiness, even as we experience the inevitable suffering life brings. Only then are we capable of feeling love, acceptance, hopefulness, and wishes for joy and happiness on behalf of any other being.
  • We expand on the love we already perceive for our family and other loved ones. This allows us to focus mindfully on them while wishing goodness for them, just as we wish it for ourselves. This aspect of Metta can soothe the conflict that arises in even the most loving relationships when we feel misunderstood, taken for granted, abused or exploited. Sometimes the other person needs our loving kindness more than our scolding or our rebuke, even when we feel the least like providing that loving kindness.
  • We wish for goodness for even those with whom we’ve experienced great conflict, felt anger, carried resentment, or harbored negative emotions, intentions, judgments or sentiments. When we do this, we are freeing ourselves from the toxic poisons those negative thoughts and feelings imbue in us, toxic poisons that can be addictive in their own right. When we begin to wish positive aspirations for those enemy persons, we are freeing ourselves from optional suffering, right then. Recently I practiced Metta on behalf of a public figure for whom I had felt anger due to the appearance of corruption and abuse of power. When I did this, I felt a sense of relief.
  • We wish for freedom from suffering for all beings, and that includes non-human animals as well as those persons living and not-yet-living, as the Metta Sutta says. We wish for goodness for people we know and those we will never meet, and this positive energy is very powerful.

I recommend savoring the Great Bell Chant that features Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh chanting and speaking a message of Metta. This video is beautiful and can bring peace to anyone who allows the sound to envelope his or her being, if even for a few minutes.

Loving kindness practice is a process. We allow ourselves to begin it, with no particular expectation, no mandate to get there by a certain date or time, but to simply begin, if and when we wish to begin it. And until we do, many practitioners of Metta around the world are wishing it for us, as they do for all other beings

I suggest you try Metta meditation for yourself. Please comment on this post to let us know what happens for you. Or feel free to contact me via either of my websites listed on the About page.

Namaste

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