April 25, 2023

A Q&A with IMS Teacher devon hase

Wishing Goodness and Safety: A Daylong Metta Retreat
Saturday, May 27, 2023
9:00 am – 5:00 pm ET
Register for this retreat here.

devon hase loves long retreats. Cumulatively, she’s spent four years in silent practice in the Insight and Vajrayana traditions. Since discovering meditation in 2000, she has put dharma and community at the center of her life: she spent a decade bringing mindfulness to high school and college classrooms and now teaches at the Insight Meditation Society, Spirit Rock, and other centers around the world. She enjoys supporting practitioners with personal mentoring, and her friendly, conversational approach centers relational practice and the natural world. Along with her life partner nico, devon co-authored How Not to Be a Hot Mess: A Buddhist Survival Guide for Modern Life. She continues to spend a good part of the time in wilderness retreat in Oregon, Massachusetts, and elsewhere. For more info on devon, please visit: devonandnicohase.com.

Here, devon talks with IMS’s Raquel Baetz about her upcoming online program, Wishing Goodness and Safety: A Daylong Metta Retreat.

Why did you choose to focus on metta practice for this program? What speaks to you about this topic?

I’ve been on retreat for the past year, and I did a lot of metta practice during this time, in particular using the traditional phrases for the many categories of beings. I’ve always respected these heart practices, but after this time of retreat, I have a newfound respect for them. They feel like a skillful response given all that we’re now holding—collectively and individually. They are a necessity in these times.

Who is this program and metta practice appropriate for?

The beauty of metta practice is that it’s appropriate for everyone. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned meditator, these practices are deeply healing. We all have the natural wish to be happy and well, so metta practice is simply a way to cultivate what we already have in us. It’s like polishing a crystal—as we continue with the phrases, we see the natural qualities of the heart beginning to shine brighter and brighter. During this program, participants will receive a grounding in the practice, including guided meditations and talks on the historical roots of the practice, as well as how we can bring these tools to daily life.

What is the plan for this day-long program? 

On a traditional Vipassana retreat, there may be a metta session every day, but unless it’s a metta retreat, the cultivation of lovingkindness is often seen as a support for the insight practice. I want to fill out some of that teaching and practice. During this program, we’ll focus on the style taught by Sayadaw U Pandita, which is based in phrases, image, and felt sense, because that’s the primary metta practice that is taught at IMS. 

For those who find metta practice challenging, what advice might you have?

It’s a great question, and it might be one reason why we often don’t center it as a practice, because it can be difficult. We often think, “I’m doing a lovingkindness practice, and so it should feel good.” But often it doesn’t feel good. It’s like running a magnet over your heart, and all the pieces—sometimes broken pieces—come out. It’s a purification; all of that is going to come out. Metta practice trains us to respond skillfully to the emotional landscape—all of the parts in us that are asking for our kindness and attention. How do we hold that in a wider field of care? We’re learning bit by bit how to skillfully accompany ourselves in kindness, knowing that it doesn’t always feel like we’re steeped in love. 

It’s a training and it takes the same kind of patience, softness, and trust that traditional insight takes. The practice is worthwhile, even though it’s not for the faint of heart. There’s so much reward if we are able to go step by step, very gently, but in a committed way over time. And it does get easier. It’s not necessarily that fewer emotions come, but there’s more kindness, so we can hold it all with a little more grace.

For some, one of the challenges with the practice is extending metta to those we find difficult to love. What are your thoughts on this?

So often we are our own most difficult person! And traditionally, we start with ourselves, because that’s supposed to be the easiest category. But for many, especially here in the West, it’s not the case. During this program, we’ll start with a beloved person, friends, benefactors, even animals, pets, places in nature, whatever is easy to love and allows the heart to relax. This is important, because metta grows when we feel connected and resourced. Over time, we find a deeper kind of resilience in the heart that allows for more kindness for ourselves, and eventually for neutral and challenging people as well.

It’s also important to remember that difficult people are just difficult. And we often think that metta is about loving everybody. So we try to leap ahead and do that. But really if we spent years just doing metta for ourselves or training with easy people, that’s enough. It was enough for me for a long time. This can make way for forgiveness, which is also an important part of metta practice.

We have a lot of cultural conditioning that gets in the way of metta for ourselves. Yet it’s so important and healing, because once we have that kind of love for ourselves, we begin to access forgiveness, and then metta for others can arise, even for the most challenging people. If we’re grounded and we feel resourced, and we feel okay and safe in the world, there’s a more natural sense of, “I can be generous. I don’t have to like this person, but I can love them. I can send them metta.”

That’s why I like to center metta for easy people and self, and trust that, over time, the neutral and difficult people will also be included in our field of care in a way that’s not forced and not about us needing to be better than we are. It’s more like this is just the natural unfolding of metta, that when we are deeply resourced ourselves, it naturally can extend to other people, and it becomes much less personal because we are healed from our own hurts. 

Tell us about the title of the program, Wishing Goodness and Safety.

There’s a line in the Metta Sutta which I love: “Wishing, in gladness and in safety, May all beings be at ease.” That line points to what we’re talking about: If I’m feeling like I have gladness and safety, then that wish is so natural that I can easily send it out to all beings. The way I hear that translation is that we ourselves have to be in a good place. We can feel grounded, we feel gladness, goodness, safety, and ease because we’ve been doing metta. We have a heart that has metta in it, so it’s this natural blessing that comes.

What can someone do to prepare for this program?

With metta, it’s helpful to do some reading. Sharon Salzberg’s book, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, is a really good foundation for all of these practices.

And then doing some metta. Dharmaseed.org is such a wonderful resource for guided brahma vihara practices—metta for self, metta for a friend or benefactor, or just doing a word search and seeing what it brings up. Doing some guided metta ahead of time will be a wonderful support for this day of practice together.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know?

One of my beloved teachers says that there is great goodness, great merit, in even having the intention to do retreat. Even taking seven steps toward our cushion, or toward this day-long, that’s deep metta. We can trust the heart’s good intentions. Even if we spend the whole day feeling numb or struggling in some way, we’re holding all of that within the field of care, and that is so healing in the end. We really need to trust that the goodness of our intentions is all it takes to be able to do metta.

The intention for metta can bring all kinds of unexpected blessings, and so much of it is just the good intention to show up for ourselves. We are training in trust, in knowing that we don’t have to push the heart to be different than it is. We show up, and we learn to allow the practice to unfold in its natural way.