Metta meditation, also known as the loving-kindness meditation, comes from one of four 2,500-year-old teachings called the Brahma Viharas. These virtues and the meditations that accompany them were originally taught by the Buddha to help us connect most directly with our desire for true happiness. Metta meditation is one of these practices that can open the heart to greater love and kindness towards ourselves and others.
Why practice loving-kindness?
All spiritual traditions, including the schools of yoga, seek to free the mind and spirit from suffering. This desire is common to all people all over the world. We can alleviate suffering and access states of love/kindness and friendliness towards ourselves and others by repeating the phrases, images, and feelings that invoke them.
Metta meditation can reestablish a sense of self-love and self-worth that is often missing when we are experiencing a depressive state and can create a nourishing environment for healing relationships. Along with these positive effects we also get the other benefits of meditation in general such as quieting the mind, stabilizing our attention on the present moment, and looking deeply into the nature of our hearts and minds to find more mental clarity.
How to practice metta meditation
At first, this practice may seem mechanic, awkward, or even irritating, but in time, even in the face of difficulties, loving-kindness will develop. Be patient. It is best to repeat the metta phrases daily for 15 to 20 minutes for several months to experience their full potential. Perfect is the enemy of good, so just start with as much as is accessible to you.
Does daily practice really matter?
For more reasons to commit to a daily practice check out this blog post.
Traditionally, the metta meditation phrases are directed to people in the following order:
- A mentor/someone you love
- A Neutral Person
- An Enemy
If your suffering is at the forefront of your life at this moment you may find it most beneficial to start with yourself first, however. When you are ready to add on others, visualize that person while opening up to a sense of loving-kindness for them.
The phrases start with “May I or May You” to create space for it to happen without being overly aggressive. You can personalize the phrases at will, noticing what is the most meaningful and effective at opening your heart at each moment. Here are the traditional phrases:
May I (You) be filled with loving-kindness
May I (You) be safe from inner and outer harm
May I (You) be peaceful and at ease
May I (You) be happy and free
To practice, repeat the phrases again and again, letting the feelings permeate you. Let the feelings arise within the words. Some people like to locate a good sensation in their bodies and focus on feeling into that sensation. You can practice in any way that works best for you. If you need a bit of guidance or inspiration, practice the traditional way that Buddha instructed: picture yourself as a young and beloved child, or sense yourself as you are now, held in a heart of loving-kindness.
As the barriers within your heart begin to break down, you can include more categories: neighbors, animals, the whole earth, and all beings everywhere. When the time is right, you can even experiment with including the most difficult people in your life, wishing that they, too, be filled with loving-kindness and peace.
As the metta meditation phrases get established in your consciousness, you can use them in traffic jams, in buses and airplanes, during disagreements, and really in any circumstance that may arise for you. With practice, metta meditation may even appear in your subconscious without needing to invoke it formally.