When I first began my private practice in Northampton, I started a blog. As things started getting busier and I started having some technical problems with blogspot, I reluctantly abandoned the project. But given the new things I've been doing and the kind of work I've been developing, it seems like the time to reinvigorate it. I named the old blog "The Metta Project" and wrote a post long ago about how that name originated. I'll share it with you now.
The Metta Project?Metta is a state of mind that's intimately connected with mindfulness. Traditionally, it's said that mindfulness-awareness and metta are two wings of a bird. You need both to be a whole bird, and to be able to fly.
Metta the word translates roughly to something like "loving-kindness" or "loving-friendliness" in English. It's like compassion, and is related to all positive inter- and intrapersonal feelings.
In a nutshell, it's the feeling of unconditional love--or the kind of caring you'd give to your closest friend... It's the feeling you have for people you care deeply for and that you (ideally) have for yourself. Traditionally, it's also described as the feeling a "mother has for her only child"--although that might confuse the issue more than clarify it, depending on your mother. I think, though, that it's a good reference if you are a mother or father--it's that heart feeling of willingness to suffer and exert oneself for the sake of someone precious--that you often feel for your kids.
Metta is a lost art in some ways--especially when it comes to caring about oneself. Loving oneself is where it all starts: you can't love others without loving yourself. Unfortunately, most people lose track of themselves as deserving of love in the midst of all the messages we get about being better, and about acquiring the external things we're told we need, trying to acquire love and trying to change ourselves to get what we want out of life.
As a psychotherapist, I see the lack of metta and its effects pretty starkly. I'd say that the problem of 90% of the people I see in my work--and I'm not exaggerating here--is caused by an inability to love oneself for who one really is.
Wrap your mind around this. 90%. Of clients over my professional life. Addiction, depression, schizophrenia. People who can't accept and love themselves (and then can't accept others)--can't "say yes" to their own being, like in the guided meditation I posted.
The Buddha says this even better than I do... There's a scripture in which he lists a bunch of profound and righteous actions that people can do in order to develop good karma.
(Note, if you dislike about hearing about the Buddha and karma--you can pretty much substitute "a really great therapist" for the Buddha and "psychological health" for "good karma" and you'll still have the story.)
He lists a bunch of great things people can do... Stuff like feeding and clothing people--especially holy people--and supporting people who're trying to cultivate their minds. Everyone's delighting at knowing that if they give food and their possessions to holy men, they'll be happy and healthy. Seems pretty cut and dry. I can imagine people packing up to go home, pretty clear that they get the message. And then he says:As great as all of these might be, it would be even more fruitful to develop metta even for the time it takes to squeeze the utter of a cow. [AN 9:20]
I'm dramatizing a bit here--but I can just imagine people wrinkling their brows and looking around, confused: Weren't they supposed to give everything they owned to the Buddha? What's this about loving kindness?... It takes maybe 5 seconds to squeeze the utter of a cow. How could that be better than feeding the hungry and giving your wealth to spiritual teachers and stuff?
The Buddha goes on and says more about mindfulness. But for our purposes, this is the punchline: Metta is a big key to psychological health. And to dig a little deeper into what he's saying, it's actually also a key to the health of the greater society. If everyone loved themselves and loved one another fully, imagine the world we'd have. You wouldn't need to feed anyone; no one would be going hungry to start with. If you have metta in your heart, you will end up helping other people, yourself--and the world--more than you know.
One day I was sitting around contemplating all this, and I thought, "If my life was a project that involved helping people find and develop their metta--even for a moment--it would be worthwhile." And so the Metta Project was born.
All the best,Nick
A few years later, it's interesting to note that the idea I had here still stands. Though loving kindness isn't the only curative aspect in play in life today, a handful of years after I wrote the above post, I still think it's a big one. In this blog, I hope to talk about these various pieces of mental wellness from the integrative perspective that I've come to establish a name for myself by. Feel free to join me.