Loving Kindness (Metta) Meditation
The original name is Metta bhavana, which comes from the Pali language. Metta means ‘love’ (in a non-romantic sense), friendliness, or kindness. It’s an emotion, something you feel in your heart. Bhavana means development or cultivation. The practice of sending loving kindness happens in 5 stages commonly, with each stage lasting about 5 minutes for beginners.
- In the first stage, you feel metta for yourself. You start by becoming aware of yourself, and focusing on feelings of peace, calm and tranquility. Then you let these grow into feelings of strength and confidence, and then develop into love within your heart. You can use an image, like golden light flooding your body, or a mantra like “May I be well and happy”, which you repeat to yourself.
- In the 2nd stage, think of a good friend. Bring them to mind as vividly as you can, and think of their good qualities. Feel your connection with your friend, and your liking for them, and encourage these to grow by repeating, “May they be well, may they be happy.” You can also use a mental image of a shining light projecting from your heart into theirs.
- In the 3rd stage, think of someone you do not particularly like or dislike. Your feelings are “neutral”. This may be someone you don’t know well but see around. You reflect on their humanity, and include them in your feelings of metta.
- In the 4th stage, think of someone you actually dislike- an enemy. Trying not to get caught up in any feelings of hatred, you think of them positively and send your metta to them as well.
- In the final stage, you think of all 4 people together- yourself, the friend, the neutral person, and the enemy. Then extend your feelings further to everyone around you, to everyone in your neighbourhood, in your town, in your country, and on throughout the world. Have a sense of waves of loving kindness spreading from your heart to everyone, all beings everywhere. Then gradually relax out of meditation, and bring the practice to an end.
Metta is the strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others. It’s not just a mediation, but a way of life that’s practiced daily. Through metta one refuses to be offensive and renounces bitterness, resentment, and animosity of every kind, developing instead a mind of friendliness, accommodativeness and benevolence which seeks the well-being and happiness of others. True metta is devoid of self-interest. It evokes within a warm-hearted feeling of fellowship, sympathy and love, which grows boundless with practice and overcomes all social, religious, racial, political, and economic barriers. Metta is a universal, unselfish and all-embracing love.
One of the goals of practicing metta is to help you reverse your programming so you can open your heart rather than close it. The reason we send out metta or loving kindness to those who have wronged us or committed atrocious acts is because any energy we send out goes through our own physical, emotional, mental and spiritual being first. When we send out judgment, we’re feeding ourselves judgment. When we send out hatred, we’re bathing our cells in hatred before it goes anywhere else. When you send out love, you experience love as well. Sending loving kindness to yourself and others gently erases, layer by layer, any self-rejection or self-hatred you may be experiencing.
The Psychology of Metta Loving Kindness
One loves all beings;
- By the non-harassment of all beings and thus avoids harassment
- By being inoffensive (to all beings) and thus avoids offensiveness
- By not torturing (all beings) and thus avoids torturing
- By the non-destruction (of all beings) and thus avoids destructiveness
- By being non-vexing (to all beings) and thus avoids vexing
- By protecting the thought, “May all beings be friendly and not hostile.”
- By protecting the thought, “May all beings enjoy well-being and not be distressed”
In these 8 ways one loves all beings, therefore, it’s called Universal love. And since one conceives (within) this quality (of love), it’s of the mind. And since this mind is free from all thoughts of ill-will, the aggregate of love, mind and freedom is defined as universal love leading to freedom of mind.
Metta is a “solvent” that “melts” not only one’s own psychic pollutants of anger, resentment and offensiveness, but also those of others. Since it takes the approach of friendship, even the hostile one turns into a friend.
Harassment: is the desire to oppress or damage.
Offensiveness: is the tendency to hurt or injure
Torturing: is a synonym or the sadistic tendency to torment, subjecting others to pain or misery
Destructiveness: is to put an end to or to finish
Vexing: is to tax, trouble, or cause others worry or strain.
Practicing loving kindness reinforces the idea that it’s not our judgment or hatred that brings positive change to the world; it’s our presence and capacity for unconditional love of all beings that does this. Being compassionate towards someone does not mean that you agree with or accept their actions. It means that your authentic heart honours their authentic heart.
When one is heart centered is does not mean that they must take care of everyone around them. Being a caretaker and constantly taking care of others is actually a disrespectful habit based from your unwillingness to be uncomfortable with their reactions. It also comes from a place of ego based arrogance and assuming that we know what is best for others. Often times when we help others out of their messes repeatedly, it takes away from the lesson that the divine is providing them. Do not become an enabler and take away from another person’s ability to learn the lessons being provided to them.
I have been extremely guilty of caretaking. It was my belief that because I was in a better financial position than those around me, then every time they came to me for help, I was somehow obligated to help them. If they came to me requiring help in any other area, I was always there. If they needed counselling and gave me a guilt trip about how bad their life was, I was there until the end giving it my all.
But I realized two things from this: The first is that the ones I was ‘helping’ weren’t even trying to help themselves. They had just learned to rely on me because I was in the habit of saying ‘yes’ and even if I ended up on the streets and had lost everything, these people would not be there to help me if I needed it. And the second thing I learned is that while I was out there helping everyone else, I was not taking care of myself. I was not honouring myself and what I truly needed. Self-care is just as important, if not more important, than caretaking for others.
So, spend some time each day to practice sending loving kindness in each of the 5 stages and watch how your life and the world around you begins to shift. You will find that you see the world through a very different pair of glasses. What once seemed important to you, no longer is. The little things that used to irritate you, no longer do. All of the ‘drama’ inside yourself begins to disappear and is replaced with this incredible sense of love and peace. It’s overwhelming and emotional at first, but it gets easier the more you practice. Give it a try.