When energy becomes heightened, however, we need a very powerful tool—the tool of unconditional loving-kindness, maitri (mentioned in the first chapter), which allows us to be who we are unreservedly.
First, let’s take a closer look at the tool of maitri. We introduced it in the first chapter as the ability to love ourselves, embrace who we are. Maitri is having an unconditional friendliness toward ourselves. Accepting ourselves as we are, in both our sanity and our confusion, is the key to opening our heart. It allows us to be in the present moment just as it is, without trying to cling to it or push it away. Accepting ourselves fully is what stops our struggle. It allows us to appreciate ourselves and our world despite the obstacles. Only when we love ourselves in this unconditional way can we also love others. Only when we love ourselves can we be lovable. Maitri has a soft quality that is open, kind, relaxed, warm, and inclusive. It allows us to be who we are and let all our colors shine. We breathe easily.
Some people seem to exude loving-kindness. They radiate a sense of well-being and warmth. Although we tend to think of these people as padma or ratna types, maitri can be experienced in all five colors. The energy of maitri can be equally, but more subtly, present in buddha, vajra, or karma people. Maitri gives us an ease in being who we are, whatever our energy: a clear and precise vajra, a generous and accommodating ratna, a compassionate and loving padma, an all-accomplishing karma, or a calm and spacious buddha.
Maitri is lacking when we feel bad about ourselves. When we are judging ourselves or reacting to someone else’s judgment about us, we are more neurotic. We raise our defenses, project onto others, and close into a realm. It may seem impossible to think of ourselves as lovable when heavy negativity is coming toward us. At such times it is natural to build a defensive wall to justify what we did or said. Our openness and friendliness toward ourselves disappear.
Deeply rooted self-hatred is likely to be internalized by children who come from a background of neglect, abuse, or criticism. For instance, Ann was neglected by her parents and sexually abused by a male relative when she was very young. Her only source of unconditional love was her grandmother, whom she seldom saw. By the time I met her as a therapy client, love in Ann’s life was “long gone.” Her self-hatred was intense. Convinced that she was fat and ugly, this petite woman was locked into a prolonged cycle of bingeing and purging. The cycle was driven by a harsh, critical “warden” who kept her cycling through the realms, trying to find some ground. None of them worked. These realms were real for Ann; she had names for herself in each of them.
Even without a critical environment, it is easy to feel bad about ourselves when we bounce from one constricted state of mind to the next. We can feel bad regardless of our style: we are too critical and sharp (vajra), we are too needy and greedy (ratna), we are too obsessive and grasping (padma), we are too controlling (karma), or (the hardest to see) we are too much in denial (buddha).
A common reaction when maitri is missing is to seek love outside ourselves. Feeling warm, open spaciousness coming from someone else can be a lifeline. Some of us find unconditional love in our intimate relationships (lovers and friends); others find it with therapists or teachers. Ultimately the idea is to internalize it, to cultivate maitri within ourselves. Nevertheless, it is much easier to experience maitri when the environment is infused with it. Sometimes all it takes to kindle self-love is a smile or a big hug from someone else.
I knew that Ann needed to be surrounded by maitri. Her grandmother had rocked her and sung her lullabies. I did the same. Although sometimes she would soften and cry, it was very hard for her to internalize maitri. I realized that just working with maitri was not sufficient; we also needed to work with transmutation. Ann’s story will continue later in this chapter.
There are many ways to experience loving-kindness. Sometimes words don’t do it for me. I want to be touched. Getting a good, sensuous massage softens my rough edges, and I feel warm and integrated. Maitri comes through the hands. Healers know this very well. Sometimes music can soften. Albioni’s Adagio or Bach’s “Air on a G String” can bring tears to my eyes. Music and massage combined are a magical maitri-infusing combination.
Aspects of Maitri
Maitri has several aspects, each of which sharpens our understanding of how it works. This is the intelligence of maitri. These aspects are often—but not always—experienced in the following order:
1. Maitri has an element of familiarity. This involves being acquainted with our habitual patterns. They don’t throw us off. They feel like old friends. We know that we have a tendency in a certain direction: too bossy (karma), too quiet (buddha), too critical (vajra).
2. Maitri involves accommodation. Having made friends with our habitual tendencies, we no longer hate ourselves for them. When we see the intensity of our closed energy—when we get angry at someone, for example—we no longer try to avoid what’s happening. We allow it to be. We accommodate our neurosis and so expand our palette of acceptable energy states.
3. Letting ourselves be infused by the warm quality of maitri relaxes us. It allows us to be gentle and kind toward ourselves. Our pain is still there, but instead of avoiding it, we care for it as we would care for an open wound.
4. Working with maitri enables us to develop bravery, which means that we can touch our vulnerable, raw spots and still stay open. Intensely emotional situations demand this kind of bravery.
5. Our life experiences are workable. When we encounter an unwanted circumstance, we don’t give up. Rather than contract and close, we open to the situation. We see it not as a crisis but as an opportunity. Maitri allows a sense of workability in our lives.
6. This last aspect of maitri includes all the others, in that the quality of friendliness toward ourselves is unconditional. Having maitri means that we are friendly toward all aspects of our experience, sane or confused. It means that we are friendly with our constricted views, our small mind, the facets of ourselves that we like the least. We can love ourselves without reserve, with zero stipulations.