sunrise

After my sunrise walking meditation at Folley Beach, SC

When we practice Loving Kindness Meditation, we acknowledge that every one of us shares the same wish to be happy, and the same vulnerability to change and suffering. We can shift the way we view ourselves and others — with kindness instead of criticism. ~ Sharon Salzberg

We are working with metta, also called Loving Kindness Meditation, in the two mindfulness circles I lead each month. Practicing this meditation ultimately changes how we relate to ourselves and others; we start to feel less isolated and more connected. Research has also demonstrated its many benefits for the body, mind and emotions including:

  • Reducing stress and anxiety, inflammation and migraines
  • Lifting our mood and producing positive emotions
  • Increasing feelings of hope
  • Decreasing physical and emotional pain
  • Reducing anger
  • Activating empathy
  • Improving social connection and compassion

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The Buddhist practice of metta has been in use for over 2500 years. Thanks to companies like Google and Apple who have formal at-work, metta training programs for employees, as well as hospitals and universities that have widely incorporated the practice into their cultures, it is one of the forms of meditation that is most thoroughly researched.

Chade-Meng Tan, head of mindfulness training at Google, says in an article in The Guardian that mindfulness opens the doorway to loving kindness, which is at the heart of business success. His believes his role at Google is to enlighten minds, open hearts and create world peace. 
He hopes that one day, his role will become commonplace.

I find it interesting that there are quite a few overlaps in the scientific research about the immediate and long-term health benefits of metta, and the benefits shared by the Buddha. I’ll share a bit from each perspective here.

According to a study published in the National Institutes of Health the practice can decrease inflammation in the body and reduce stress-induced immune and behavioral responses. Research shared in the Huffington Post shows how loving kindness meditation leads to positive changes in the brain. Just as performing acts of kindness gives us a natural high, sitting and practicing this meditation can cause the same changes in our bodies and minds. While metta is especially powerful, nearly all forms of meditation create positive shifts in the body and mind. I shared some of that research in another post a couple of months ago titled, “Why Meditate? Research via Harvard, U of WA, New York Times, Forbes and Huffington.”

What The Buddha Had to Say About Metta

The Buddha was characteristically precise about the benefits of metta meditation according to Sharon Salzberg in her book Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.

“Buddha said that the intimacy and caring that fill our hearts as the force of loving kindness develops will bring these ten advantages:

pink-flowers1) You will sleep easily. 2) You will wake easily. 3) You will have pleasant dreams. 4) People will love you. 5) Devas [celestial beings] and animals will love you. 6) Devas will protect you. 7) External dangers [poisons, weapons, and fire] will not harm you. 8) Your face will be radiant. 9) Your mind will be serene. 10) You will die unconfused.

People doing formal metta practice often memorize these benefits and recite them to themselves regularly which can sustain us through those inevitable times when it seems as if the practice is not “getting anywhere.” When we consider each of these benefits, we can see more fully how metta has the potential to revolutionize our lives.

The next benefit the Buddha pointed out is that if we practice metta we will receive in return the love of others. This is not a heartless calculating motivation, but rather a recognition that the energy we extend in this world draws to it that same kind of energy. If we extend the force of love, love returns to us.”

The current view of meditation practice has been you have to work so hard to gain these states,” he says. “I would like in my lifetime to reframe the whole practice, not as a sacrifice but as a doorway, as a path along which every step is joyful.

~ Chade-Meng Tan, Head of Mindfulness Training at Google