“Lovingkindness, or metta in Pali, is an ancient meditation practice taught by the Buddha. According to the story, the Buddha sent his monks to practice meditation all night in a haunted forest. The forest spirits frightened the monks so badly that they ran back to the Buddha in terror. The Buddha then taught them metta practice and sent them back into the woods, where they discovered that the spirits had become friendly. From then on the monks were no longer afraid, and they experienced peace and ease.
We all have frightening and disturbing spirits living in our minds – voices of fear, worry, depression, shame, self-doubt, and animosity towards ourselves and others. The pervasive unease of the human predicament seems heightened in today’s global atmosphere of calamity, strife and uncertainty. We need metta practice more than ever.
Metta practice rests on the understanding that every human harbors seeds of lovingkindness, even though those seeds may seem dormant. Our minds have a deeply conditioned survival mechanism of focusing on danger and negativity. Metta practice helps us reconnect to our seeds of kindness, and incline our minds and hearts towards our innate capacity for love, acceptance, and unconditional friendliness.
The mechanics of the practice are simple- we begin by sitting quietly, grounded in our body and breath. We spend a few moments reminding ourselves of the feeling of lovingkindness, perhaps remembering a time when we felt loved by another being. We then offer metta to ourselves. Traditionally, we silently repeat phrases such as “may I be safe,” “may I be happy,” “may I be healthy,” “may I live with ease.” Or we can make up our own phrases that feel meaningful. Or we can use images or gestures such as placing a hand over our heart or on our cheek. We then move on to offer metta to other people we care about – someone who has helped us, a dear friend. Then we stretch our hearts further by offering metta to someone we don’t know well – an acquaintance, someone we see in passing but don’t know at all. Stretching even further, we offer metta to someone in our lives who is difficult. Eventually we expand our circle of metta to include all sentient beings.
This practice is simple but powerful. The traditional Buddhist texts list eleven benefits of practicing metta: You will sleep easily; You will wake easily; You will have pleasant dreams; People will love you; Devas (gods or angels) and animals will love you; Devas will protect you; External dangers, such as poisons, weapons, and fire, will not harm you; Your face will be radiant; Your mind will be serene; You will die unconfused; You will be re-born in happy realms. Contemporary research on metta meditation has supported the following benefits: Increased positive emotions; Quieting of inner critic; Increased empathy and compassion; Fewer migraines; Increased telomere length (a biological marker of aging).”
Written by Miv London