The Buddhist practice of metta has been in use for over 2500 years. Also called Loving Kindness it is one of the most powerful meditation practices I’ve worked with in my 13-year practice, and is also one of the forms of mediation that is most thoroughly researched. I have found that the peace and healing — for ourselves, and for others — that is accessible during the practice offers the kind of happiness that gives us the ability to concentrate and then to enter a generative, creative state.
Metta cultivates serenity which is is one of the most important ingredients in being able to concentrate the mind. Concentration can also be thought of as entering a deep state of gratitude. If we have no serenity, the mind will be scattered, and we will not be able to gather in the energy that is being lost to distraction or pain. We may be able to be somewhat creative or focused, but we will not be operating as our “best selves.”
When we can concentrate — tuning into the peace and balance available in the present moment — all our energy is returned to us. Loving Kindness Meditation provides direct access to this state of being.
The following Metta Practice is my adaptation of a Westernized version of Loving Kindness taught by one of my teachers Sharon Salzberg. I invite you to adapt the phrases I share below to ones that feel personal and powerful for your practice. Namaste, Cheryl
Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and focus on your breath, allowing it to slowly and naturally relax. After a couple of minutes, begin working with these metta mantras, in this order.
May I/they be free from inner and outer dangers. May I/they be safe.
May I/they be healthy.
May I/they be happy and peaceful.
May I/they live of life of grace and ease.
Repeat these mantras, or wishes, first to yourself and then to others in this way:
- Start by directing the phrases to yourself. Take your time, fully feeling the effects of each word.
- Next, direct the metta towards someone you feel thankful for or who has helped you.
- Now visualize someone you feel neutral about—people you neither like nor dislike. Direct the thoughts to that person.
- Next, direct the thoughts to someone you don’t like or whom you feel has caused you pain. Remember, you are not endorsing or condoning this person’s actions, or inviting them into your life. You are acknowledging the hurt between you and recognizing that this person too has suffered in their life and has the same wish that you do to be happy.
- Finally, direct the metta towards all beings universally, including yourself. Do each step and end your meditation with: May all beings near and far be happy, healthy and at peace.
I want to take a moment to address the reality that Steps 1 and 4 can be difficult at times depending on what is going on in our lives.
In Step 1 we recognize that to have the most positive effect, the practice of Loving Kindness begins with ourself. This is a very important step. I encourage you not to gloss over it. If you can’t find a way to feel tenderness toward yourself, the rest of the practice will be much less effective.
Many of us have times in our lives where we feel we can only offer kindness toward ourselves begrudgingly, and then only after we’ve accomplished some super human task and feel we “deserve” it. But I’d like to offer the possibility that you can soften to yourself much more than this. In fact, extending the hand of friendship to yourself is crucial, not just for your healing process, but for the rest of your life. Loving Kindness Meditation can teach you how.
RE: Step 4
When you are sending metta to someone you don’t like, it does not mean you are endorsing or condoning their actions, or that you are inviting them into your life. The traditional Buddhist instruction indicates that for this step you should find “an enemy.” This is someone who has harmed you. Someone you don’t like. Someone who you believe is wrong, bad, even unforgiveable. You don’t have to like them at all to know that, even though it may look insane to you, they too are actually trying to find happiness. Think that, regardless of how they got there, whether or not they “deserve” it, this enemy has felt the sharp, seemingly unendurable pain of loss. Whether they have allowed themselves to feel it as you would doesn’t matter. In their own way, they have felt what you have, exactly. Remember you are not excusing their behavior.
This next bit is very important…. If Step 4 causes you distress, let it go for now. Be kind to yourself. Or take it down a few notches, choosing someone that is intensely irritating to you or perhaps a public figure vs. someone you feel has done you harm.
Loving Kindness Meditation is a very powerful and beneficial practice, EVERY time you do it, and especially over time. It is good to hold the Mindfulness Principals of Beginners Mind, Allowing and No-Judgement close to heart when you are practicing metta. Whatever feelings, sensations come up is OK. If Monkey Mind (wandering thoughts, your To Do list, worries about yesterday or tomorrow) distracts you during the meditation, that’s normal. Just notice the Monkey and then let her swing on by.
If you’re curious about some of the research done about this practice check out my blog, “Scientific Research and What The Buddha Says About The Benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation.”