The Metta Practice of Loving-Kindness

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 to 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 5 parts by extending love: to oneself, to another, to each person equally, to a community/all beings and lastly but importantly to letting go of all technique.

Metta starts first with extending love toward ourselves. Most people in the United States have difficulty bringing love toward themselves, they instead feed themselves indirectly through others, and ways of living and doing through goal oriented behavior. Within this part of the practice, we let go of others and sit simply with 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.

The second part of the practice is focused on another person. This part of the meditation is divided into 3 parts. With several minutes as above to each person.

a. Someone you love,

b. Someone you feel neutral toward, and then,

c. Someone you are having 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, I 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 of those that you have been extending love toward so far: yourself, someone you love, the neutral person, the person you struggle with. Bring everyone to your minds eye and extend love equally to each one. You may notice it may be difficult to extend love to one versus another, and at different times it may be easier for one situation versus another. Just come back again when the mind wanders and do your best. Do what you can do.

The fourth part is extending love for a minute or two toward all beings. It can also be used to extend toward a community, a neighborhood or for those suffering from a calamity.

In the fifth part all technique is released, allowing for everything to integrate and be. Just like in a yoga class where the “lieing down” or savasana is important for integration so is this last portion of the practice.

The total time to do this can be 10 minutes. Usually 20-25 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.

I also do this meditation in sitting, standing and sometimes walking. As long as you let the spine be flat and your breathing and body are relaxed, any if these ways are appropriate.

Have a journal and writing instrument.

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.

To start: (I will include a recording at another point…)

Sit in a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed. Bring attention to the heart, the sensation of the heart.

Perhaps remember a time when you felt most loved and cherished and bring that feeling to the heart. Allow it to take root. 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. You can also imagine being gazed upon by someone who you know has unconditional love for you: a deceased parent, God or higher being, angel, anyone that unfetters you from personal judgment.

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 someone you have feelings of neutrality toward them, someone you don’t really know:

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 someone you are experiencing irritation or dissatisfaction with. To start, choose someone that you have only minor irritation with. All of us want love and affection, but it is not necessary to traumatize yourself to get there.

May you feel safe. May you feel happy.

May you feel loved. May you feel at peace.

Again, saying this out loud or to yourself. Allowing their image come to your mind. As best you can, continue with the sensation of wellbeing in your heart, of happiness and love to fill the space of your heart.

After several minutes, bring everyone to mind you have been praying for and extend love equally…to you, your friend, your neutral person, your “irritant” and say:

May you feel safe. May you feel happy.

May you feel loved. May you feel at peace.

Saying out loud or to yourself. Allowing the images 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. You can do this by starting with your immediate circle and spreading out wider and wider. Remember the sensation of love at the heart and radiate love from here. 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.

To end, let go of everything and everyone. Let go of all technique. Sit for several minutes in quiet, allowing the heart mind to settle. And rest. You may even want to lie down in savasana.

Allow for a little transition between the meditation and going back “to the world”.

A few other teachers to consider:

Matthieu Ricard http://www.matthieuricard.org/en

Tara Brach www.tarabrach.com

Jonathan Foust www.jonathanfoust.com

Hugh Byrne www.hugh-byrne.com

Jack Kornfield https://jackkornfield.com

Sharon Salzberg http://www.vipassana.com/meditation/facets_of_metta.php

As well as, Jon Kabat-Zinn http://www.mindfulnesscds.com

You can reach me, Rita Naomi, on this facebook page or at info@ritanaomi.com
 
 

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