Thursday 2 August 2012

The development of loving-kindness

Of all weeks to visit the Ipswich Buddhist Centre, I picked the night when they were discussing Buddhism and death. Pretty appropriate, I think, considering the reason I ended up going was due to this blog. But it did make for a more intense evening than I was prepared for.

The task was to go to a meditation session but, having been curious about Buddhism in the past, I decided to go to the newcomers' night, which is held once a week. The idea of the evening is to provide a relaxed and informal session where meditation beginners and those who are new to Buddhism can go to find out a bit more.

After being made to feel welcome and having a brief chat with some of the other people there, we were taken upstairs to a quiet room to meditate. I really had no idea what to expect but there were plenty of cushions and blankets and mats and to make you feel comfortable while sitting and there was plenty of advice offered also.

Not sure I'm quite ready for this yet...
Picture by Tevaprapas Makklay

 The meditation was The Metta Bhavana, or development of loving-kindness. It is a meditation to help you become kinder to yourself and others.  

Now, I’m not a religious person, But who also doesn’t want to develop a more ‘warm and open heart’? I think spending 30 minutes sitting quietly and thinking warm and positive thoughts towards yourself and other people can’t be a bad thing.

Although I found my concentration wondering at a few points, I did find the experience very relaxing and I’m now keen to practise it again.

As well as the calm and focus of meditation, hearing of some of the concepts of Buddhism – the interconnectedness of living things, nothing is permanent, karma and re-birth – in the past have made me curious to learn more. When I was travelling in South East Asia I visited quite a few Buddhist temples and spoke to a lot of people who practised the religion but I still feel I know relatively little about it.

That is why I choose to go to the newcomer’s evening rather than just the meditation session earlier in the week. The evening also featured a discussion on a concept of Buddhism; this week’s topic being death. Considering they discuss 21 different topics on rotation, I did pretty well to come along on one the two weeks of the year they dfocus on death!

What was said was interesting. In basic terms, Buddhists believe in rebirth and the idea that the consciousness moves on when the body dies. After a talk about these beliefs, there was a chance to contribute to an open discussion. Much of the discussion focused around people’s experiences of ‘letting go’ when older relatives, who have been suffering with a disease, and seeing their death as something positive.

While there was some talk of unexpected death, it was mostly focused on how it can be a reminder of your own imminent demise, how death is inevitable and that nothing is permanent, but little of it seemed particularly helpful for somebody grieving an unexpected death. 

I am in no doubt that, had I been braver and brought the issue up myself, that they would have been open to talking and perhaps something more comforting for me would have come from the discussion. But I am never really one to speak out in group conversations, despite feeling welcome and engaged.

There was one quote that I found comforting. It said that death was just an enforced period of meditation. Given the positive experience I found meditation to be, I think that idea is reassuring.    

Ipswich Buddhist Centre holds its Newcomers' Night is every Wednesday between 7:30 - 10pm

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