Holistic Kindness is the title of the chapter in Ven. Sucitto’s book, Pāramī, that deals with mettā, the feeling of unbounded kindness and goodwill towards ourselves and others. The feeling arises spontaneously from time to time. Can we learn to establish, sustain, and nourish this freeing mind state?
From Ven. Sucitto: Let’s get to the crunch point. A heart brimming with love is indeed an attractive ideal, but what’s more important is breadth of application rather than intensity of affection.
Some mothers feel unbounded love towards their children, some people towards their pets, others towards parents, mentors, or even lovers (though this can get complicated). Usually, though, this limitless love is associated with particular beings we know; it doesn’t include strangers, i.e, the majority of humanity.
Recent natural disasters have confirmed that when people near or far are suddenly in dire straits, we respond with a desire to help and care for them. When people we know suffer a loss or receive a terminal diagnosis, we naturally reach out to them without reservation. This movement of the heart is mettā, and it is a temporary break from our normal activity of maintaining the boundaries between self and other. We see others’ needs as if they were our own, we want to be close to them, to comfort them, to surround them with love. This is mettā, stimulated by a specific event. What if we were able to sustain this state? To surround everyone with love all the time?
Mettā is not a desire to remedy everything or enforce justice; it is a free movement of the heart in a positive direction, without a fixed destination. Mettā challenges our normal way of relating to others. We give up fault-finding, we give up the notion that people should be as we are, share our views, etc. Mettā releases others from being the objects of our projections; it recognizes otherness and says “OK.” We don’t need other people to be “on our side” or to fulfil our expectations.
Similarly, if we hold mettā for ourselves, we don’t have to measure up to an ideal. We can just be as we are, making efforts to live in a wholesome way, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, but always being OK. We can forgive ourselves for past mistakes and proceed with a light heart.
The beginning of mettā is to set aside our judgments of ourselves and others, and simply recognize that even if we are all different, we are all equally desirous of acceptance. We all respond to being enveloped by a kindness that doesn’t ask anything of us.
The full book, Pāramī, by Ven. Sucitto, is available for download here: https://forestsangha.org/teachings/books/parami-ways-to-cross-life-s-floods?language=English