A brief account from meditation teacher – Maitreyaraja, addressing an interesting question – What is the relationship between Mindfulness and Positive Emotion?
When a stranger asks you for help, how do you respond?
I remember being lost in France. I had just arrived in the country, settled into the place that I would be staying in for a week and I thought I would go out for an early evening stroll through the woods. I referred to a map and there seemed to be a fairly simple circular walk out. I set out. It was a beautiful evening, I was in a different place and I was taking in the sights. I kept walking and then at some point I managed to stray from my path. I didn’t notice for a while and kept thinking the current path would be curving round to bring me home. It didn’t! I kept going and I took what I thought was the right turn and it wasn’t. I kept going. After a while, I had to admit to myself that I was completely lost.
Everything looked completely unfamiliar, it was getting darker and darker and it was threatening to rain. My attempt at going back the way I had come hadn’t worked and now I didn’t know what to do. Determined to work it out for myself I carried on, thinking the route would be clear soon. Fear increased within me, maybe I would have to spend the night out in the woods. Eventually, I could see a light in the distance, there was a house and there was somebody in. I would ask for help. I knocked at the door and this old man answered. I couldn’t speak French and he couldn’t speak English. Eventually, I managed to explain to him with the help of his son where I was staying and then….he drove me home. You don’t forget being treated kindly if you really need help.
Going Beyond Yourself
In order to be kind, you need to be able to aware of other people. You need to be sensitive to what is going on for them and then be able to respond in a sensitive way and go beyond yourself, to some extent, to help them. It turned out that I wasn’t so far away from home but it would not be easy to direct me and in the end, this old man drove a long circuitous route to bring me back. I really appreciated that.
If we look into our experience I think we’ll find that there are already significant small and larger ways when we act on our kindly impulses. We have been socialised and brought up to be able to be aware of others and to act kindly, at least sometimes. It can be a very natural thing to us. Someone asks us the time on a city street and before we know it we’ve checked our mobile to tell them. We don’t think about it, we naturally just respond to the needs of the situation.
Kindness is also a quality that can be cultivated and developed. You can’t really be kind to another person unless you are aware of them. Awareness remains superficial unless it is supported by a ground swell of positive emotion. Awareness and kindness are complementary qualities which can be cultivated through two different meditation practices: the Mindfulness of Breathing practice for awareness and the Metta Bhavana practice for kindness. These are two practices which I currently teach at the London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green, London. Mindfulness practice is a much more well known as an effective meditation practice these days. Our approach to meditation at the Centre is that we teach both. If you only have one practice, you don’t have the full set!
Developing Positive Emotion
In the Metta Bhavana practice, as with all meditation practices, you have to start from where you are. It is easier to have a generous response to others if we are in a good mood. Part of the art of meditation is recognising what kind of mood we are in and working creatively with that. When we meditate, ideally we are meditating with the whole of ourselves: our mind, body and heart.
We can feel what is going on for ourselves currently and from that basis use words or images to connect with a healthy, positive attitude towards ourselves. In the Metta Bhavana practice we start with ourselves and then we gradually move on to include others. We use our imaginations to bring other people to mind, working through the five stages of the practice to extend our friendly attitude towards others.
Doing the practice can affect our mood for the better whatever is going on for us right now. We can feel that we have warmed our being through with loving kindness at least a little bit by the end. There is also a noble Ideal behind this practice too, pointing towards a much more robust and consistent way of embodying kindly awareness. Even strong feelings of irritation and anger can be held, more keenly felt and worked with in meditation. The kindly impulses cultivated within meditation can start bubbling up and out into our everyday lives and touching the people around us.
Meditation Teacher at the London Buddhist Centre.
To read more on Mindfulness, click here.
Or read this article on Conscious Breathing.