(Bend me, shape me, any way you want me.)
You may not have thought of it before, but Blu-Tack can teach us a lot about the practice of meditation. For those of you on foreign shores who might be unaware of this cornerstone of British office stationary, Blu-Tack is a – you guessed it – blue putty-like substance that can be rolled, stretched and pulled apart and is used to stick pieces of paper and the like onto walls, notice boards and other flat surfaces. People even use it to make figurines.
But the thing is, when you first take your piece of Blu-Tack it is distinctly un-sticky: it’s hard, cold and certainly not tacky. And so a little office workers’ ritual is required. You place a small piece of it between the palms of your hands, and then rub them back and forth and round and round, gently rolling and warming the baby-blue putty incubating within. After about fifteen seconds the previously intractable lump will have transformed into a supple, sticky, stretchy ball. The piece of Blu-Tack has now become malleable and is ready for action.
The process of meditation is remarkably similar. Often we find that when we first sit down to focus on our breathing (or whatever our primary meditation object is) our mind is not yet ready. It’s like the cold Blu-Tack: unyielding and difficult to mold into a pleasing shape. In short, you want to concentrate your mind, but your mind does not want to be concentrated. You want your mind to hold to the breath, but the mind is simply not willing to be held in place.
So what can we do? Think of the Blu-Tack: when it was in its unsticky state all that was required was a soft, warm embrace. Well that’s precisely what our minds need. So we gently take hold of our mind and give it a little roll between the soft warm hands of metta, of loving-kindness. Metta is the ultimate tool for subduing the recalcitrant mind and preparing it for meditation.
As the Buddha said, when metta is developed: “One’s mind concentrates easily.” (AN 11.16)
PUFF the Magic Metta
There are many ways to practice metta. Cultivating this sublime state is a particularly personal thing and so requires experimentation. I have found, as have many others, the PUFF method very powerful.
With this technique we use four words to develop loving-kindness towards ourselves and others. As we repeat the words we find our hearts and minds gradually relaxing as metta establishes itself within us. After five or ten (or more) minutes of this our minds should be warm, supple and able to focus on the breath with little persuasion, just like a nicely massaged lump of warm Blu-Tack. Lovely.
First of all take up your meditation posture. Relax both body and mind and let all things be. Then recite these words to yourself:
1. Patience, Patience.
2. Understanding, Understanding,
3. Forgiveness, Forgiveness.
4. Friendliness, Friendliness.
We say each word deliberately, slowly, and with care. And we say each word twice. To help us remember these words, if we take the first letter from each word and put them all together we get the word PUFF. Once we have reached ‘Friendliness’ we then proceed to repeat the words in reverse order until we get back to ‘Patience’. And then we begin again.
If you wish, as you repeat these words, you can picture yourself just as you are now: not how you’d like to be, but as you are at this very moment, warts, ill-will and all. Hold yourself in the warm, caring attitude of loving-kindness. Just keep on patiently repeating the words over and over, gradually allowing the qualities you are invoking to permeate your body and mind.
It shouldn’t take long before your mind is nicely warmed. If not much appears to have changed, don’t worry: some lumps of Blue-Tac are tougher than others! However, once you are ready, bring the breath to the forefront of your attention and continue to be mindful of that instead. You can even combine the two practices by repeating the words in unison with the breath. Hopefully your mind will now stick to the breath like a freshly rolled ball of Blu-Tack to the wall.
Of course, metta can and should be developed wherever possible: on the bus, while waiting at the doctors’ surgery, while laying in bed after a bad day.
And always remember: whenever you are feeling rotten, just go outside for a quick PUFF!