The Practice of Metta or Loving Kindness Meditation

Loving kindness meditation or “Metta” is a traditional Buddhist prayer practice 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. The research studies of Richard Davidson of University of Wisconsin-Madison and Matthieu Riccard, a molecular geneticist turned Tibetan Buddhist monk, have shown repeatedly that the Metta prayer practiced over an 8 week period for 20 minutes per day makes lasting positive change in the parts of our brains that mediate happiness, wellbeing, and healthy relationships with others.

Having done the practice daily for more than a year, for 8 of those months daily for 30 minutes, I can attest to the positive benefits within myself and those around me. If anything the practice cultivates a deep sense of beauty and magic in life.

The basic practice of Metta is done in 5 parts: to oneself, to someone easy for you to love, to someone neutral, to someone that is challenging for you to care about, and lastly to bring these 4 people together.

To start:
Sit in a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed. Set your timer. * The total time can be for 10-20 minutes, best to start with a shorter time like 10 minutes. 20 minutes is the usual time. Bring attention to the heart, the sensation of the heart.

Part 1: Extending love to yourself.
We start this practice with generating loving kindness within our own hearts; bringing up a feeling of wellbeing and letting that radiate out to our body. We sit aligned in our posture, letting go of tension and self judgement to the best of our ability.

Say these words aloud or quietly to yourself as you sit:
May I feel safe. May I feel happy.
May I feel loved. May I feel at peace.

For some, extending love toward themselves is either difficult or doesn’t feel right. In this case, extend love to this “self” called “me” through God, Jesus, Buddha, Mary or someone you deem holy. You can even extend to them instead if that feels better. Please consider though that you are “matter” that this force of light and God streams through. Why would they work through you if not for you to share in the feeling of loving kindness? It is important to learn to have and to hold this feeling in oneself to be able to extend toward others. It may take practice, but all traditions consider the generation of self love as essential as a means of being in service to others.

Part 2: Extend love toward someone easy for you to love.
There is nothing complicated here. It can be a benefactor, your child, your partner, a good friend.

Say:
May you feel safe. May you feel happy.
May you feel loved. May you feel at peace.

Part 3: Choose someone neutral.

This can be the postman, a teacher, someone you see every day but you don’t have any feelings toward, good or bad. Extend love to them and

Say:
May you feel safe. May you feel happy.
May you feel loved. May you feel at peace.

Part 4:  Extend love toward someone you feel challenged by.
Here, it is important to be mindful of your own temperament, and your own process. If it is your first few times doing this metta practice, it is better to choose a person you can approach without too much heart ache or trauma to yourself. When you are ready to progress, get the support of a teacher, therapist or mentor to help you with the challenge.

Say:
May you feel safe. May you feel happy.
May you feel loved. May you feel at peace.

Part 5: Bring all 4 people to your mind’s eye.
Extend love equally to all 4. This can be the most challenging part of the practice.

Say:
May we all feel safe. May we all feel happy.
May we all feel loved. May we all feel at peace.

Note: There can be a tendency to have a preference of where and how you extend your love, we somehow believe that the force of love that flows through us is in our control. It may be behaviorally that we can control the sensation of love, and we can certainly withdraw our frequency of self from another. But the force of love is always there,  flowing around us and through us. In this practice, we are putting all 4 together and extending equally. It may be that we don’t feel that the one we feel challenged by deserves the same amount of love as the easiest one for us to love, or it may be the one hardest for us to extend love to is ourselves. No matter the case, extend love equally to all. This practice generates one of the 4 characteristics of love, equanimity. When we practice a balanced state of love, we end up rebalancing our being for greater health, as well as those around us. When we practice love, those around immediately benefit. It does not mean we are a doormat, quite the contrary. We can see in this practice that all beings fundamentally want love, we can choose to remove ourselves from situations that are harmful and we can do so in a loving way. Because of this, this practice helps to foster the 2nd component of love called compassion.

There is one final component to this practice that is optional. You can finish the practice by extending love toward all beings. You can extend love first toward your community, your neighborhood and radiate out to include your state, your country and then the world.

Say:
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 minutes, 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”.

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 sometimes 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.

If you have any questions about this practice, please email me at info@ritanaomi.com.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Hugh Byrne, a deeply insightful and loving meditation teacher in the Washington, D.C area (www.hugh-byrne.com) who inspired me to write this. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Matthieu Ricard are also chief inspirations.
 
 

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