We know that meditation helps to lower stress, promote restful sleep and even improve brain function. But what if meditation could also warm our hearts, sweeten bitter thought patterns and encourage a more positive worldview? Well, you’re in luck—these are just some of the benefits associated “metta meditation,” or loving-kindness meditation.
There are more styles of meditation than simply sitting down and being quiet, though for many, that’s what first comes to mind. An exploration of different meditation types will lead you to discover a diverse number of ways to meditate. Metta meditation is one of my favorite meditation practices, mostly because of its feel-good effects and versatility. This Buddhist practice can be done with eyes closed or wide open, and can be practiced anywhere, whether you’re in your bedroom or on public transit. In a metta meditaiton, instead of quieting the mind, we actively develop the habit of loving-kindness, selflessness and altruistic love toward all beings.
So how do we practice this?
There are many ways of practicing metta meditation, from using mantras or prayers to visualizations that allow you to send positive energy toward a specific image. Whatever your choice, the basic formula is to begin your meditation by generating feelings of loving-kindness toward yourself and then extending loving-kindness to others. Most metta practitioners choose to do this through repeating a simple mantra silently or aloud. A common—but powerful—mantra to begin with is:
“May I be well. May I be safe. May I be at peace. May I be happy.”
This mantra doesn’t have to be stated verbatim, and you’re encouraged to find a phrase that resonates with you. Once you choose a mantra, begin to send metta, or loving-kindness to people in the following order.
Begin with Yourself. Sending metta to yourself always comes first. You might find this challenging, and that’s OK. Set a timer for two or three minutes in the beginning, and repeat the mantra above for your allotted time. You can always increase your time as it gets easier. If you are feeling resistance to sending yourself love, consider it information to have and reflect on later. Don’t be discouraged. After all, you’re working on it!
Someone you love or feel warmly toward. This is not necessarily a lover, though it could be. (Note that the love we talk about in metta meditation is different from romantic love.) Close friends, family members, teachers—even pets and animals!—are all options for sending loving-kindness. Repeat the same mantra you practiced above for the same amount of time, and replace the “I” with “you” for this and subsequent rounds of your meditation.
A neutral person. Sending metta to a neutral person is a great opportunity to practice loving-kindness on a bus or in a crowded coffee shop, and you’re encouraged to choose a stranger or someone you don’t know as your focus. Envisioning the person you choose, repeat your mantra for the same you chose in previous rounds. While this may be a bit more challenging when compared with sending loving-kindness to a beloved family member, sending metta to a neutral person is especially useful in cultivating an altruistic feeling of love toward all beings.
A person who challenges you. That’s right. This is when you send loving-kindness to your boss who is making you work overtime, your neighbor who cut down that tree you loved, or even someone who hurt you deeply in the past. Using your mantra, stay with it even if anger or sadness arise. Know that whatever comes up may indicate that your heart may be served by letting go of of some things. Be confident that you are doing the work of warming and softening.
That’s it! Go forth and spread the love! Remember that this practice can be done anywhere and at any time. Even five or 10 minutes a day of generating these positive thoughts will likely make a difference.
Have you practiced this style of meditation before? What has been your experience?