Want to calm your nervous system? Feel connected to your heart and humanity? Dispel anger and resentment? Feel centered and empowered to take wise action? And feel that sense of compassion organically flow from you as blessing to those around you?
Welcome to the practice of metta meditation – or “lovingkindness.” Metta meditation is a simple, transformative practice with the potential for a profound shift in our nervous system, mood, and relationships…and, might I add: our world. Anyone can practice metta meditation – I teach it to my three and six year old children.
Metta (lovingkindness) meditation is a foundational meditation that classically is taught along with awareness meditations that develop compassion, sympathetic joy, and equinamity.
In lovingkindness meditation, we repeat phrases or “well-wishes” to different “groups” of people: ourselves, a benefactor, a dear one, neutral person, difficult person, and then all beings.
These are the phrases that have stuck with me over the years. They are easy to remember wherever we are:
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease.
With awareness and the qualities of nonjudgment, gentleness, and allowing, the repetition of these well-wishes begins to break down the barriers within us, as Rumi says, that keep us from loving and experience love. As we go about this meditation, softly or silently saying these well-wishes to ourselves (and then gradually moving out to sending these well-wishes to others), we can notice how it FEELS IN THE BODY to offer yourself these blessings. We can notice the sensations arising within us with gentleness and the quality of “allowing.” We may also may notice what images or thoughts come to us. We may notice the “feeling tone” that arises within us. We do it all with that quality of radical acceptance and allowing. Just gentle curiosity.
It can be helpful to use the breath as an anchor when our attention gets distracted. I weave awareness of my breath into and as I go along in this meditation. It’s a beautiful way of staying centered and focused.
After we have practiced offering these well-wishes to ourselves, we then move on to extending these same well-wishes to others.
I remember the first time I practiced metta meditation. I was living in Boston and attending graduate school at Boston College. I had a rigorous schedule with the demands of my studies, graduate assistantship, and practicum. It was a cold Saturday morning as we gathered with the Tibetan sangha I had grown fond of on the grounds of a Unitarian church in Cambridge. I arrived somewhat stressed and definitely tired with my mind calculating the amount of time I was taking away from studying. But I chose to sit and see what this metta thing was all about. I remember feeling my body beginning to settle and my heart beginning to lighten as I quietly repeated the new phrases of lovingkindness. We got to the “difficult person” and thought now I don’t know who I chose, I do remember tears beginning to fall down my cheeks as I saw how I had been holding onto resentment. I saw and felt the pain I was causing myself and others by holding and gripping this resentment. And as I continued to repeat the phrases, I felt my heart opening – gently, sweetly. I remember finishing the meditation with a profound sense of stillness.
Now 13 years later, I have practiced this meditation many times. And like any form of meditation, though there have been time of difficulty and feeling challenged, I have learned that as I sit, connect with my breath, and abide in awareness, things shift on their own.
As we practice metta meditation, we feel a sense of equanimity, “loving-acceptance” of what is, and a happiness that isn’t based on the weather systems within us of emotions, thoughts, and experiences. A sweetness organically arises.
The truth is that love heals. It’s really that simple. Yet we tend to overcomplicate it. But what really shifts suffering, what really heals, is love. Lovingkindness meditation opens that heart to such healing and love – for our own selves, our dear ones, and this world.
I will be leading metta meditation on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 1 pm. Whether you are new or a seasoned meditator, join us for an hour of sweet, centering, nourishing meditation. Click HERE to register.