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A Tale of Two Traditions: Joy & Contentment

by | Nov 12, 2019 | Advent & Christmas, Change Leadership, Community, Creativity, Mindfulness, Self Care | 0 comments

Changing the words to the Metta meditation practice wasn’t even on my radar. I had started the month of practicing loving kindness meditation, specifically the Buddhist Metta practice, as part of my Meditation Teacher Training by following the script and recorded guided meditations we were given. In our session with my small-group leader at Yoga on High, Linda Oshins suggested that we allow ourselves to experiment with the words to the traditional Metta Meditation:

May I/you/we be happy.

May I/you/we be healthy.

May I/you/we be peaceful.

May I/you/we be filled with loving kindness.

In my mind, changing the words of a Buddhist meditation practice with which I am only marginally familiar seemed like tricky business. I did not want to co-opt or dilute a traditional Buddhist meditation practice that I had only practiced a few days. But, Linda’s gentle nudging toward experimentation reminded me that I can and should let the energy of the practice guide me. Her urging made me curious about how the practice might be adapted for the Christian settings in which I frequently teach.

With the powerful, pulsing, warm heart energy guiding me, some new words emerged.

May I/you/we be joyful.

May I/you/we be healthy.

May I/you/we be content.

May I/you/we be filled with loving kindness.

As I felt into the energy of the word happy, it felt like something more fleeting than the energy resting in my heart. I felt more than happiness there. Perhaps … Joy? For Christians, joy is one of the four themes of Advent (the four weeks of preparation before Christmas). Churches and some individuals will light a candle each week on a wreath, signifying the growing light in the darkness up until Christmas. Joy is the third candle, distinct because of its brighter pink color, rather than dark purple or blue. For me, this season has become a time to practice finding joy (and peace, love and hope) amidst trouble, in the waiting, and in the uncertainty. Joy — for both Christians and yogis — is complicated business. Something to be experienced not in spite of, but alongside life’s challenges and struggles. My practice felt like joy was something that burned in us regardless of present experiences.

The word peace in the third line of the mantra also demanded some exploration. When I rested on that word in meditation, something felt not quite complete. Peace, coming from the Hebrew word Shalom, means peace, wholeness, completeness, prosperity. In modern English, the word peace does not have quite the same resonance — typically meaning the absence of violence or a feeling of calm. I began using the word content instead, which implies, at least to me, something deeper, perhaps the thing that Shalom originally intended — wholeness, health and prosperit coming from a deeper source. Being content evokes for me, the line of the Christian “Lord’s Prayer” (more commonly known as the “Our Father”) that states, “give us this day our daily bread.” [Emphasis mine.] In other words, the prayer asks only for the things we need now, in the present moment. To ask for only what you need in the moment implies a complete trust in the Source that gives us all things. That trust would allow us to be content in any moment — whether in times of scarcity or abundance.

I felt my heart grow exponentially in the month that I practiced Metta. Perhaps for the first time, I experienced the felt sense of the “Greatest Commandment”:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40 (NRSV)

This lovely Buddhist meditation practice showed me that these loves of which Christian scripture speaks — God, neighbor, and self — are inexorably intertwined. They are not felt in spite of life’s challenges, but because of them. Joy, health, contentment and loving kindness are in us all the time — we just have to allow them to shine from our heart.


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