Metta practice leads to extreme tension, how to proceed?

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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

Metta practice leads to extreme tension, how to proceed?

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
I have been doing metta meditation for a couple of months. It seems that something like metta practice is appropriate at the moment because there's been a lot of stress and negativity lately. The practice ideally consists of inclusive awareness of the six senses, and opening my heart to the experience of that. The inclusive awareness is not much of a problem, at least at first, but opening my heart is. The trick my teacher suggests for this is to imagine someone you care about and open your heart to them. Then do the same thing for an inanimate object, which basically means cultivating a warm regard for it. What you do when opening your heart to the person and the object, you then practice doing for the expanded field of awareness. Please let me know if I'm not making sense on this point. The imagery worked for me, but I understand if the idea of opening your heart to a paperclip sounds crazy.

The blockage with this practice is that opening my heart to the field of awareness triggers, or perhaps brings to awareness, a tension behind my eyes. Going back to the beginning and including the tension in the field of awareness then opening my heart to that intensifies the tension, and repeating the process intensifies it further. It gets quite painful and stressful, and is pretty clearly not the way forward.

I've gotten some mileage out of imagining an external deity (the Buddha) blessing the experience. Also gotten some mileage out of identifying the tension with the Buddha and imagining it blessing me. As a fairly modernist secularist, this imagery bothers me a little, but it is what I have found to work so far, at least in terms of allowing me to include the tension in awareness without a huge positive feedback. It sometimes leads to brief release of the tension, too, but that's pretty rare.

I'm wondering whether other people have experienced something like this. It seems to arise from a deep dislike for myself, in which case I imagine such an obstacle is probably pretty common. I'm looking for other approaches to the problem. Some resistance to the Buddha imagery has been evolving (which I then include and open to/imagine it opening to me, so hopefully it won't harden, but still), so it would be nice to have some alternatives, particularly some more effective ones.
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katy steger, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Metta practice leads to extreme tension, how to proceed?

Posts: 1745 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
Hi fivebells,

The inclusive awareness is not much of a problem, at least at first, but opening my heart is. The trick my teacher suggests for this is to imagine someone you care about and open your heart to them. Then do the same thing for an inanimate object, which basically means cultivating a warm regard for it. What you do when opening your heart to the person and the object, you then practice doing for the expanded field of awareness. Please let me know if I'm not making sense on this point. The imagery worked for me, but I understand if the idea of opening your heart to a paperclip sounds crazy.


This is exactly a purpose of metta meditation (especially for the person who experiences more progress in cultivating logical conviction in meditation versus determining absolute faith). When meditation produces tension, then the tension can eventually expel the swelling attachment that is causing the tension; here the tension is the accumulating question: how do I sincerely feel kindness-without-bounds towards a paper clip?

That is not a crazy undertaking.

The tension can be thought of as a inflammation arising from the growing, attractive object - the contact of a compelling question for a lured mind. The tension is good and useful in this way: it produces the poignant simple question? How do I see a paperclip in kindness?

Answering this question is about causality. What are the causes of the paperclip/the design/the application/the steel wire/the galvanization/the extraction/the employee/the person who buys dinner because someone buys Gem?

This is one aspect of the metta practice.

Your thoughts/feelings?

Edit:
The blockage with this practice is that opening my heart to the field of awareness triggers, or perhaps brings to awareness, a tension behind my eyes. Going back to the beginning and including the tension in the field of awareness then opening my heart to that intensifies the tension, and repeating the process intensifies it further. It gets quite painful and stressful, and is pretty clearly not the way forward.
I used Chenrezig posture (breast bone up, elbows slightly lower than shoulders, hands demonstrating two immeasurables) to free a chest tension after working with dukkha. Repeatedly relax the skin at the brow when it is found to be tense.*note the thought that is in the tension upon realizing the tension has returned, then relax the brow

I'm wondering whether other people have experienced something like this. It seems to arise from a deep dislike for myself, in which case I imagine such an obstacle is probably pretty common. I'm looking for other approaches to the problem.
Yes, self-aversion is reported a lot. It also can be diffused by considering causality and adding back sensible antidotes as the practice deepens and dissolves this conditioning.
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Metta practice leads to extreme tension, how to proceed?

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Thanks for your reply, Katy. The questions "How do I experience kindness-without-bounds towards myself/this experience?" are inducing an intense grief reaction, which suggests that holding those questions will be a useful way into this.

Approaching the question through historical causal relationships is interesting. How does that work in meditation? Do you cultivate metta for the people involved in production/care of the object?

I would like to be able to relax this tension as it arises but focusing attention on that area of my body only intensifies the tension.

How do those of us with only four two arms do the Chenrezig posture? emoticon Edit: (I.e., Not sure which arms correspond to which immeasurables. I guess the inner arms are Compassion and Metta?
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katy steger, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Metta practice leads to extreme tension, how to proceed?

Posts: 1745 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
The questions "How do I experience kindness-without-bounds towards myself/this experience?" are inducing an intense grief reaction, which suggests that holding those questions will be a useful way into this.
Great sorrow. This causes great engagement, causes a great tension, "wants" to be understood, becomes a great provocation to search out causes of freedom. The story of Patacara speaks to mindfulness showing arising and passing, impermanence, mindfulness clearing great sorrow.

This tension - and the strong intention to shed it - can provoke a consistent and concentrated 'mindfulness' practice, a concentration practice of watching exactly the doing/thinking/feeling, turning attention to smell, taste, sound, and touch as the senses contact their objects.

One exercise: when getting up to get a glass of water, a moment can be taken to visualize what actions are expected to be done in the course of rising from the chair to actually drinking the water. Visualization complete, the actual rising from chair and going for water may begin: in the actual actions one can note any and all actual activities that occur en route to drinking water and how they differ from what the mind had anticipated and foreseen. (I enjoy this almost like a game sometimes, "What don't I know I am going to do in this simple activity?) There's no right or wrong way to do this (and this most certainly is not something to perfect and think, "oh, next time I'll do exactly what I think I'll do." It's just a way to discover the many events that may occur when one thinks they are simply rising to get a drink of water). This is mindfulness; the practice that exposes impermanence. Here is Patacara's life after understanding impermanence from Gotama:
[indent]Having washed my feet,
Then I watched that water,
Noticing the foot-water
Flowing from high to low.
With that the mind was calmed
Just as a noble, thoroughbred horse.[/indent]

Gentle.

Approaching the question through historical causal relationships is interesting. How does that work in meditation? Do you cultivate metta for the people involved in production/care of the object?
This is a way. Seeing that even the paper clip only exists as a result of human desire at every step of the chain. (This does not make a conclusion against modernity, it just sees how even the paper clip, the steel, the galvanization, the factory, the operators, etc, came into being, each step containing desire and stress). In this way, one can look at anything/one.*Edit: so in metta meditation: see the paper clip for its causality; when feeling self-aversion, see self and aversion as temporary consequences of a causal chain (which consequences may become useful causes for new, positive consequences) and know those causes with friendliness and gentleness like holding a baby or the hand of a sick person. **Further edit: so take an object for which metta (boundless kindness) is easily generated/up-welling, then simply replace the object with another object, like placing someone/thing new on the stage of your mind's attention. The plain object, such as a paper clip, is already known to be an object that has come into being as a result of human desire and stress. This is why even this plain object may be the focus of metta. Metta meditation is a tremendous practice for curing self-aversion, aversive otherization, ill-will.

How do those of us with only four two arms do the Chenrezig posture?
Ha. I did the lifted (upper) arms. I was careful to keep shoulder blades back and down (relaxed) arms in a comfortably lifted position and I only stayed like that for as long as it felt energetically relaxing. It was an intuitive move that drained chest tension resulting from dukkha-focus. I don't know why; it wasn't taught to me, just a memory of the image and the body intuitively doing it at that moment. A friend in tibetan study told me it was like Chenrezig. The third and fourth paragraph of that previous link explain what the raised right and left hands symbolize. I was not aware of these symbols or the deity at the time.
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Ian And, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Metta practice leads to extreme tension, how to proceed?

Posts: 784 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Suppressing the urge just to say: Ask your teacher about it (since you mentioned having one, and since that person is the one you've chosen to be responsible for helping to guide you).
fivebells .:

The blockage with this practice is that opening my heart to the field of awareness triggers, or perhaps brings to awareness, a tension behind my eyes. Going back to the beginning and including the tension in the field of awareness then opening my heart to that intensifies the tension, and repeating the process intensifies it further. It gets quite painful and stressful, and is pretty clearly not the way forward.

Could you describe the tension further? What does it feel like? Is it a dull or a stabbing tension? Where is it located? Why is it that you sense discomfort from it? Describe it as fully as you are able.

Is it like a pressure building inside of your forehead? If so, it could be just what is known as a common sensation of concentration or of a concentrated mind. Many of us experience this during meditation. It's nothing to be afraid of (unless it develops into something else, like a throbbing headache). If it's only a mild pressure building up, use it for insight contemplation. Meaning, pick an object that you want to gain more insight about (preferably something having to do with the Dhamma if possible; or failing that something from your own life that's troubling you) and focus (concentrate) on that object for a while to see what "comes up."

fivebells .:

I'm wondering whether other people have experienced something like this. It seems to arise from a deep dislike for myself, in which case I imagine such an obstacle is probably pretty common. . . .

If that is true (what you say in the emphasized passage) then you may need to examine from whence this impression arises in order to get to the bottom of it. Maybe you can do this yourself; and maybe you may need some professional assistance. It's hard to say (just judging from a random remark made in a forum post).
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Metta practice leads to extreme tension, how to proceed?

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Thanks for your reply. Calling him my teacher might be misleading. I have been working from his book and recorded dharma talks for 11 years, but have only met him in person a few times and there is no formal relationship. There are definitely other experienced people I could ask in person, though.

The tension feels like it is in my sinuses and spreads out from there to my temples, then my brow, then tension in my jaw. Maybe not the same every time, that's what happened just now as I induced it. If I continue, it develops into a headache (mostly from the jaw tension, I think) and what I think is high blood pressure (body throbbing with my pulse.)

It's the first time I've tried to do this in a while, since I've been using the Buddha imagery instead. I'm noticing that there is hostility mixed in with the people I am initially opening my heart to and that is carrying over to opening my heart to the experience. Hmm. Maybe that's why I have to depersonalize the source of the opening.

Professional assistance as in therapy? I appreciate your concern. I've gotten some conventional psychological insight that way, but I can talk about this dislike all day and still not be capable of releasing it.
s
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Eran G, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Metta practice leads to extreme tension, how to proceed?

Posts: 182 Join Date: 1/5/10 Recent Posts
fivebells .:

Professional assistance as in therapy? I appreciate your concern. I've gotten some conventional psychological insight that way, but I can talk about this dislike all day and still not be capable of releasing it.


There are some areas of the mind where western psychology seems to do better. at least for some people... emoticon

Have you heard of Somatic Experiencing? It is a a form of therapy that is body (as opposed to talk) based and has strong similarities to mindfulness practice. SE is useful in working with deep traumas that other forms of therapy cannot heal. I'm no suggesting that you necessarily suffer from the effects of trauma but I think this may be a useful way to dissolve internal blocks like the one you're describing.

HTH,
Eran.
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Metta practice leads to extreme tension, how to proceed?

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Thanks, Eran. I read the wikipedia page on it, and will take a look at Levine's book. If it seems to make sense, I might try to find a practitioner nearby.
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Metta practice leads to extreme tension, how to proceed?

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
I skimmed through Levine's Waking The Tiger. It is pretty vapid. Perhaps Healing Trauma has more substance, because it is intended as a book for practitioners. As far as I understand his recommendations, I am already practicing them. Still, for that reason, it might be useful to work with someone trained in this method. I will see whether there's anyone in the area. Thanks again for the suggestion.
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Eran G, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Metta practice leads to extreme tension, how to proceed?

Posts: 182 Join Date: 1/5/10 Recent Posts
You're quite welcome emoticon

If there are any practitioners around you, I would suggest giving it a try. I've found that the space created by having another person present is important. While it may not seem like much to a practiced meditator, this can also be why this may be more powerful for experienced meditators. Anyways, this is all just theory, practice is what counts.
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neem nyima, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Metta practice leads to extreme tension, how to proceed?

Posts: 168 Join Date: 8/6/10 Recent Posts
A teacher in the Thai tradition at a Monastery i was staying at described Metta as synonymous with accepting & relaxing, it got rid of that tension problem that's associated with generating Metta.
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Metta practice leads to extreme tension, how to proceed?

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Thanks for the suggestion. I think that's a good definition, though it hasn't really helped me to release the tension.

The Buddha-in-the-tension-blessing-me imagery actually seems to be picking up steam. It has been followed by release of the tension relatively often, in the past couple of days.
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neem nyima, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Metta practice leads to extreme tension, how to proceed?

Posts: 168 Join Date: 8/6/10 Recent Posts
But that's the trick just relaxing and not pushing it. whether you do Avalokateshivara practice or just go through Metta of self, friend, benefactor/neutral & enemy or breath in love and out love. That's the trick stop trying to solve this shit with effort and your mind. Relax and allow the love to come, don't even love just relax your heart and the quietly like a mouse in a kitchen let he love come out of the hole. Peace Neem emoticon
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Metta practice leads to extreme tension, how to proceed?

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Definitely agree that that's what metta is, the trouble is that I haven't been able to "just do it." Seems like I need some kind of end run around tension-inducing associations with "just relax and accept it."