This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of my first book, Lovingkindness. For years before 1995, I had very much wanted to write that book in order to highlight the distinct methodology of lovingkindness meditation. Even though it is closely aligned with and supportive of mindfulness, or insight practice, and they are usually referred to as though one, lovingkindness actually has its own dedicated path of practice.
I had gone to India in 1970 and my meditative life began in January of 1971 with an insight meditation course: learning to observe my breath, my body, my emotional states with a more calm and balanced awareness. We would do a little lovingkindness practice at the end of the retreat, intentionally offering peace and kindness to ourselves and others. It was almost a kind of ceremonial ending, a way of saying goodbye focusing on love rather than ruminating on how to get a train ticket or a visa extension, or obsessing about which fantastic guru to visit next and whether they would finally provide the end of suffering we all longed for before our visas ran out.
It was only in 1985 when I went to Burma for a three-month long retreat that I got to do an immersion in the method of lovingkindness meditation. Lovingkindness is the common translation of the word metta in Pali, the language of the original Buddhist texts. Metta literally means "friendship." I usually describe it as a deep knowing of how connected all of our lives are. Metta doesn’t mean we like everybody, it doesn’t even mean we like anybody, but with metta we know deep inside that our lives are all connected to one another. The corollary understanding is that everybody counts; everybody matters. Not everyone will be our best friend, but everybody’s life has something to do with ours.
Mindfulness practice relies on developing an ability to include more and more experiences of sight and sound and sensation and feeling and thought in our field of balanced awareness — not holding on, not pushing away, but simply being with our experience. This lays the ground for having a cleaner, clearer sense of what’s happening within us and around us, without so much projection, distortion or assumption getting in the way.