Loving kindness meditation or “Metta” is a traditional Buddhist prayer that wishes benevolence and good wishes toward oneself and another. It is not a religious meditation, every major religion prays for the relief of suffering and the wish of peace toward others. The difference is the form in which this meditation is done, you can be of any faith or tradition and do this.
From a spiritual point of view, it makes sense to practice loving one another. Recent research suggests that it makes sense from a health and world view standpoint to practice loving one another as well. The work of Richard Davidson of University of Wisconsin-Madison and Matthieu Riccard, a molecular geneticist turned Tibetan Buddhist monk, have shown repeatedly that Metta or Loving Kindness meditation practiced over an 8 week period for 20 minutes per day makes lasting positive change in the brain, the parts of our brains that mediate happiness, wellbeing, and healthy attachments (relationships) with others.
The basic practice of Metta is done in 3 parts: to oneself, to another, and to a community/all beings.
We bring the practice first toward ourselves. Letting go to the best of our ability: self judgement, ideas of what we are supposed to be in that moment, and tension in the body. Most people have difficulty bringing love toward themselves, they instead feed themselves indirectly through others or through goal oriented behavior. Within this practice, we let go of others and sit simply with ourselves.
The second part of the practice is focused on a person we love or care about. This part of the meditation is sometimes divided into 3 parts. Someone you love, someone you feel neutral toward, and then someone you are having great difficulty with. For the latter, “challenging person”, it is important to be mindful of your own temperament, and your own process. If it is your first few times doing this practice, it is better to just choose a person you can approach without too much heart ache or trauma to oneself. And then when ready to progress, to get the support of a teacher, therapist or mentor to help you with the challenge. For the purposes of these instructions, we recommend just starting with someone you care about or have no feelings toward (someone in the supermarket or in traffic) or of neutrality.
The third part of the practice extends love toward all beings. It can also be used to extend toward a community, a neighborhood or for those suffering from a calamity.
The total time to start can be 10 minutes. Usually 20 minutes is the time chosen.
Things to have:
A timer is helpful. I use the iphone (droid compatible) app: Insight Timer. On this app, you can set the timer to give a gentle bell ring at different marker points to let you know when to change the prayer. This app is not necessary to have, however a timer is very helpful as it allows you to have the container of beginning and end, something essential for meditation. At the minimum, set a time before the meditation. To start, 10 minutes may be more than enough.
It might be helpful to have pictures of yourself, another and the larger community. This is my personal twist, I tend to be sensory and visual and it helps to keep me focused. But it is not an essential part to the meditation.
When you do this meditation, you may have feelings that be the OPPOSITE of love, or feel challenged to do it at all. This style of practice is very often done on retreats with a teacher and a sangha or community. So please be mindful and practice kindness toward yourself and do what is most compassionate toward your wellbeing. If challenging emotions arise, let them be. Just as good thoughts and feelings come and go, so do challenging ones. When you allow them to flow through, there is more space for positive feelings to return.
Sit in a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed. Bring attention to the heart, the sensation of the heart.
Say these words:
May I feel safe. May I feel happy.
May I feel loved. May I feel at peace.
You can say them out loud or to yourself. Repeat them to yourself, allowing any thoughts, feelings and sensations to arise and be. Allow for a feeling of happiness and love to permeate your being, you might want to have an image of yourself in mind or use the picture. Keep your eyes, your gaze soft if your eyes are open.
After several minutes, bring to mind someone you care about:
May you feel safe. May you feel happy.
May you feel loved. May you feel at peace.
Saying out loud or to yourself. Allowing their image come to your mind. Continue with the sensation of wellbeing in your heart, of happiness and love to fill the space of your heart.
After several minutes, bring to mind a community, a people, or the earth into your mind’s eye. Go to the sensation at the heart and allow love to fill your heart. Say these words:
May all of you feel safe. May all of you feel happy.
May all of you feel loved. May all of you feel at peace.
After several mlnutes, you can stop and sit in quiet to integrate and let the mind settle. Allow for a little transition between the meditation and going back “to the world”.
If you have any questions, please email Rita Moran at firstname.lastname@example.org