Metta meditation is the cultivation and radiation of intentional friendliness and goodwill. A retreat with Mark teaches loving-kindness through guided meditations and inspiring instructions. Susan (Yoga Instructor) delivers the Hatha Yoga. It focuses on healing ourselves and relationships, and developing blissful concentration. The path of loving-kindness brings spiritual renewal by delivering the real, tangible and immediate benefit of genuine happiness
The brahmavihara refer to four virtuous modes of living and the meditation practices used to develop them. They are:
Often translated as the ‘sublime attitudes’, they are also known as the four immeasurables (appamaññā) because they are limitless or boundless. During the retreat we focus on mindful development of loving-kindness (metta bhavana) to develop a deep state of concentration (samatha-jhana-samadhi). All divine abodes will be studied to develop a balanced spiritual heart.
The purpose of a metta retreat is to promote a fundamental change in our attitudes towards ourselves and the world. The training enhances our outlook on life and improves interactions with other people. Metta is a guiding path and mode of living that brings peace and happiness now. Loving-kindness is a medicine for the heart. It is the bringer of love and light into our lives and the world. It is an authentic living that cures harmful beliefs that limit our expression and enjoyment of life. Conscious practice protects our moral virtue. It blocks wrong actions such as killing, harming and hurtful speech.
Metta is a tool to remove harmful mental states of low self-esteem that hinder a positive outlook. These states cause much suffering to ourselves and those around us. Loving-kindness weakens their strength, lifts the cloud, and frees the mind from living under such states as:
The pali texts include these reasons for practicing metta:
The single-minded intention of love is a beautiful object to use as a base for concentration and serenity. As our intention of goodwill becomes stable, the normal internal chatter of thought subsides. The body fills with light and warmth. Awareness with loving-kindness begins to expand. Consciousness becomes great and exalted. The knowing presence grows abundant beyond sense-perception. This samadhi of love and bliss is a divine abode – a home of peace and sublime beauty. The heart experiences a beautiful liberation from the world.
When fully developed, loving-kindness is a vehicle for insight wisdom – vipassana. The mind filled with metta is still a conditioned state. We can contemplate this relatively stable mind-object to see its conditions as impermanent. This experience, as beautiful and blissful as it may be, is still within the conditioned realm. It is still a subtle stress, relative to the unconditioned state, Nibbana. Loving-kindness is a pathway to the impersonal truth of non-self – just as insight is a pathway to universal love. The liberated heart of love expresses the universal truth of voidness and emptiness. Metta is a divine abode and a beautiful vipassana object – to note, to know, and to let go.
The nine-day loving-kindness retreat is comprised of different elements designed to keep the practice of metta as continuous as possible. The sessions of each element performs its own function. Guided sessions and teachings are focused on healing the heart and generating positive attitudes. The meditation sessions are for following the instructions for metta-jhana. The whole retreat is silent except for the daily chanting sessions and personal interviews. The five precepts are observed during the retreat to give structure and maintain harmony. The various elements should be studied and practiced as a whole for the best results.
It is important to strictly follow the retreat schedule, embracing all the different elements. Learn to respect the schedule with a heart continuously generating goodwill and happiness. Notice that experienced meditators know how to use the retreat structure to train the mind. There are 12 hours of loving-kindness trainings daily. This is an intense re-orientation of our attitudes and approach to life. Gain the benefits by participating to the best of your abilities.
4:00 – 4:30 a.m.Wake up activities
4:30 – 5:15 a.m. Guided metta / chanting
5:30 – 6:00 a.m. Hatha Yoga6:00 – 7:00 a.m.
07:00 – 08:30 a.m.Breakfast / Chores / Bathing
8:30 – 9:30 a.m. Metta instructions
9:30 – 10:15 a.m.Walking metta
10:15 – 11:00 a.m. Sitting Metta
11:00 – 1:00 p.m.Lunch / Rest / Open Awareness
1:00 – 1:45 p.m. Sitting metta
1:45 – 2:30 p.m Walking metta
2:30 – 3:15 p.m. Sitting sequence yoga
3:15 – 4:15 p.m. Hatha Yoga
4:15 – 5:00 p.m. Sitting metta
5:00 – 6:30 p.m.Drinks / Interviews / Bathing
6:30 – 7:30 Group Talk
7:30 – 8:15 p.m.Eveing Metta Meditation
8:15p.m - Relax / Q&A / Prepare Sleep
The development of moral virtue (sila) was taught directly by the Buddha as the foundation for the higher trainings in concentration and wisdom. Loving-kindness helps purify our motivations and cultivate mental attitudes of harmlessness, kindness, sympathy and empathy. These mental states help maintain wholesome bodily and verbal activities – Sila.
During the retreat the five-precepts are considered each evening. This practice of re-confirming our commitment to goodness increases our self-confidence. It also creates a pleasant and harmonious environment. Recognising the power of moral virtue (sila) as a condition for our happiness is directly experienced by ourselves. Practicing virtue develops moral-shame and fear-of-wrong-doing. These two ‘protectors of the world’ set up a new foundation for our interactions with the world that allow for a peaceful life and a positive outlook.
On the loving-kindness retreat, sense-restraint means guarding the mind by making sure the welfare of others is foremost in our mind. We practice by directing our intentions towards the benefit of others. We make sure that our involvement and interactions with sense objects – sights, sounds, odours, flavours, and touches – respects other people. We restrain our normally ego-driven desire for sensuality and replace it for concern and care for other beings.
The five-precepts assist in the practice of sense-restraint. It is not recommended to flirt with others. This training is for developing universal love not personal lust. Viewing each other with ‘kindly-eyes’ and smiling good intentions from the heart is the practice.
Having the right attitude towards the training is very important on retreat. While you are patiently following the meditation instructions, check your attitude. Practice must not be for results. Right practice is putting conditions in place – not wishing, wanting, or hoping for results. Sometimes we meditate with too much wanting: wanting to be successful, wanting to ‘get it’, and not wanting to fail. This is wrong attitude. Be open, spacious and relaxed. Check by asking yourself:
Noble silence is extremely helpful for a successful nine-day retreat. It helps determine the outcome of your meditation progress. Do not talk to anyone between getting up and lunch time and again in the late afternoon! Silence is needed to break the mind’s verbalising habits and patterns. Verbal speech is rooted in thought. Real silence is the silence of thought. Giving-up the habit of commenting over a long period is very effective for calming the mind. It is important that the meditation is not disrupted by chatter. Try not to get caught in conversations in your mind. The madness of thought is normally hidden (but sometimes exposed!) by our talking. Reading and writing are also discouraged during the retreat. Silence allows us to be more mindful, detached, and still. Use the intentional structure of the mind to generate loving-kindness not words! Conversations distract us from single-mindedness. This practice of noble silence is for everyone’s benefit.
The retreat day begins with a guided loving-kindness meditation. Mark leads the sessions in this methodical practice. The session starts by radiating metta to ourselves. Time is taken to establish the heart in self-love and acceptance. It sets the tone for the day and is a beautiful practice both on-and-off the retreat. This is a wonderful routine to establish for practice in daily-life. Self-love is important, as much suffering arises through distorted images of ourselves.
The practice then proceeds by spreading intentions of loving-kindness to selected groups of people:
This guided practice is for healing and developing healthy attitudes. The training is to overcome limiting beliefs and traumatic experiences. Broken relationships with loved ones can be restored through metta. Troubling relations with difficult people may be eased or even alleviated. Loving-kindness is an attitude we use to change our perception, not to ‘fix’ others. By focusing our love on the person, not on their behaviour ,we learn to forgive and let go of grudges. Letting go of harmful looping patterns in the mind, especially hatred, gives renewal and resolution.
Hatha yoga is a mindful heart-based and breathing yoga that uses traditional asana postures. The aim is to generate and fill the body with loving-kindness and focus. By activating awareness of the whole body in the different postures, we remain deeply internalised. We continuously suffuse and spread intentions of love throughout the body. The asana routine includes a standing-series, sitting-series, and a lying-down series. Shavasana plays an important role in the practice.
The Hatha yoga practice prepares the mind for deeper states of meditation by tranquillising and centring awareness. It relaxes and energises the body while maintaining awareness in the-thought-of- love. This unique practice of yoga is practiced twice daily, giving a heart-changing experience of an ancient spiritual tradition.
The technique of developing metta-samadhi is explained during the daily meditation instruction sessions. Detailed instructions on developing metta bhavana (samatha-jhana) are given. The directions are systematic and methodical. This is a training in centring the mind and bringing it to one-pointedness. The instructions include the initial use of mantra recitation to remove distractions. Procedures for radiating loving-kindness to various groups and in different directions are given. The method for generating and maintaining the metta-nimitta or mental-concept-of-love is explained.
The silent sitting and walking meditation sessions are 45-minutes long. During these periods we practice developing one-pointedness of mind on the thought-of-love (metta) to the exclusion of all other objects. Whilst seated in the cross-legged position, or on a chair, we generate and radiate love to all living beings. The continuous centring of metta in the heart is directed towards all beings. As the practice develops, the singleness of the metta mind becomes still and stabilises. Concentration deepens and the heart expands – revelling beauty, bliss, love, and light.
Mindfulness of loving-kindness is practiced in the four major postures of standing, walking, sitting, and lying-down. However our focus is not on the whole body posture or the feet during the walking or standing meditation sessions. Rather, we maintain our practice by carefully nurturing the metta-nimitta. The walking and sitting sessions function together allowing the mind to grow quiet on a single object. This is samatha or calm-abiding meditation.
During the breaks for breakfast, lunch and drinks our focus is on friendliness in our immediate environment. These periods allow us to practice spreading thoughts towards people directly around us. This practice adjusts our default settings of judging and internally commenting on our people’s behaviour or actions. Non-reaction and spreading positive vibrations is very useful as a daily-life practice. By learning to become equanimous and not reacting in our normal way, we let go of suffering. It is powerful in transforming our lives. But it does take time to re-orientate a lifetime of unaware behaviours. This is a practice of actively replacing and changing the patterns of the mind. Radiating love to each other creates a very beautiful experience for everyone on the retreat.
The Karaniya Metta is one of the protective chants performed by monks and nuns throughout the Buddhist world. During the evening chanting sessions we learn to chant this text in Pali and English translation. We examine the meaning of the text and how to practice it. Exploring the metta discourse of the Buddha is a heart-inspiring experience. There are many types of loving-kindness meditation. This is how the Buddha directly taught us to practice. You will leave the retreat with this beautiful practice in your heart – connecting you with the ancient roots on the teaching of loving-kindness.
Sitting Metta (4 sessions)3 hours Walking Metta (2 sessions) 1.5 hours Yoga (2 sessions) 2.5 hoursGuided Metta / Chanting (1 session) 1.0 hour Metta Instructions (1 session)1.0 hour Brahmavihara talk (1 session) 1.0 hour Daily Activities 6.0 hours Sleep 8.0 hours