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a journey into metta meditation
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a journey into metta meditation

by rick colella
Be Spiritual | Meditation

trudy goodman on opening the heart
When Trudy Goodman was in her early 20s she had a series of unexpected experiences that jumpstarted her on the spiritual path. She hadn’t thought much about meditation until she was on the verge of her initiation into motherhood.  “There was a spontaneous opening that happened during labor when I was giving birth to my daughter.  I was alone and I was very young.   I was 21 years old. I remember the white tile wall of the hospital turning blue at twilight. I had an experience of tremendous opening, seeing all life infinitely connecting in every dimension simultaneously to everyone, as was very powerful, revealing hidden dimensions of experience that I’d never known.”  The second experience came when her daughter was very ill.  “She was two years old and had the most virulent form of bacterial spinal meningitis.  It was all the worst it could have been.  She was in a coma for over a week and we were told that she was dying. One night her IV collapsed, again. A team of about six doctors and nurses were bending over her teeny little body in the hospital bed. I had an experience of seeing God and knowing ‘oh God is not somewhere else, it’s nothing else but this activity of love and tenderness in the universe.”  Through these early experiences Trudy learned there was more to life than she’d ever imagined and began studying meditation.  

Now, decades later, after years of practice in the Zen and Vipassana traditions, and being informed by being a psychotherapist, wife, mother, grandmother, as well as by her Jewish background, the founder of InsightLA happily passes on her Buddhist practice by leading retreats around the country with such notable teachers as Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, and Lama Surya Das.  

Metta (Lovingkindness), one of Theravada Buddhism’s heart opening practices, is traditionally done as a companion practice to Vipassana (Insight Meditation, Mindfulness). Also, because of its power to cultivate attention, it is often used in intensive practice situations to invoke deep states of concentration called Jhanas. “In Metta practice, we learn to grow our capacity to love by deliberately planting seeds of gladness in our hearts. We practice gently dissolving our obstacles to loving fully,” says Trudy. “It is a systematic and sequential practice. First you offer Lovingkindness to yourself, then those for whom you might naturally feel an upwelling of love – a benefactor, a friend, a pet,  then you begin to extend Metta to people you don’t really care much about one way or another, the neutral people.  Later, you begin to open to the difficult people in your life.  It’s possible to come to the point where you can extend Metta to somebody who’s hurt you very badly or betrayed you. What I’ve discovered in intensive Metta practice is that there is no limit, it is boundless.”  

Trudy goes on to describe her first experiences with offering Metta to those who were difficult.  “At first it’s like the myth of Sisyphus where he rolls the boulder up the hill and it just rolls back down.  I tried over and over again and my concentration would shatter into a million stories and intense emotions. I kept trying and eventually I could walk up that hill and the view was so clear that I could freely and genuinely wish those people well. I could feel that bigger love where no one has to be excluded from your prayers and well-wishes, an all-embracing kindness. 

Trudy insists that Metta is not a superficial or Pollyanna-ish practice. “It’s not about pasting a smiley face on experience and trying to plant flowers around the darkness and say ‘everything’s going to be love and light and I’m just going to do affirmations to make sure that’s the case’.  It’s about deliberately opening, asking, and invoking a way of being that’s more present, happy and loving. It’s about being able to accept yourself completely, exactly the way you are in this very moment of your life, not later.  Metta means unconditional acceptance of each expression of life – life in the form of you, life in the form of me, this life of all worlds, of all beings, of every creature in existence.”

Trudy believes that a sitting meditation practice can be extremely beneficial to hatha yoga practioners.  “Part of the purpose of hatha yoga is to enter into meditation and to connect with dimensions of our being where we realize that we are part of something a lot bigger than ourselves.  So I can see that someone who’s doing hatha yoga and loving it may be ripe to also enter into meditation.  And sitting meditation can provide them with some new tools and ways of being with experience. Some of this learning can come out of their yoga they are really practicing in that spirit, but people often don’t translate from their yoga class into learning how to be present with their difficult emotions and their family and their job.”

Trudy invites all hatha yoga practitioners not only to practice physical yoga on the mat, but to practice stillness, to be present, to open the heart, and to truly carry the practice into our lives. |