The benefits of meditation is widely known by even those who do not actively practice it, since it made it to our mainstream world in the past decade. But I think the deeper realizations of a meditation practice often get lost in our fast paced, stress-relief seeking overstimulated life. Though meditation helps a lot with stress reduction, traditionally it has not much to do with stress relief and relaxation.
Meditation was taught by the Buddha as a way for people to gain insight into what life is really about and to gain wisdom, which will lead to a cessation of the way people cause themselves unhappiness.
There is a type of meditation practice, one that I am also guilty of neglecting, that hasn’t been hyped on social media (yet). This practice, known as mettā, is best translated as “loving-kindness.”
The term “mettā” originates from the historical Pali language, which was commonly used in India during the time of Buddha. It can be translated with many ways: All-encompassing love, Goodness of heart, Warmth of heart, Friendliness/ Friendship, Active interest in others.
The practice of Mettā, much like mindfulness, is about achieving a certain quality of mind. In the case of Mettā meditation, the goal is to arrive at a sense of loving-kindness for all creatures. This is accomplished through continually repeating wishes of well-being towards yourself and others. The practice begins with yourself, and then progresses to loved ones, to neutral people, and even to people you dislike.
As for me, I think I avoided this practice because of how uncomfortable it made me feel.
I found it easy to wish loving-kindness onto friends and family, when I connect with my heart and my deepest intentions I can even wish it onto myself. But I do find it particularly difficult to wish it onto someone I dislike.
I knew of this meditation before but only practiced once or twice. Once, I found myself in a situation where I felt like someone only made friends with me to introduce her to our community and especially to people in leading positions who could be “useful” for her goals. My boyfriend made me check in with myself because to him, my response seemed like a trauma reaction and a bit paranoid. I realized he might be partially right—but I still saw the red flags. I thought it’s time to give loving-kindness a go and see where it takes me.
So I want to show you what mettā meditation is and share my two tricks that helped me to show up more successfully with this energy in my spiritual practice. I finally managed to sit with mettā every morning for a whole month.
How does this meditation work?
Mettā meditation was a real challenge at the beginning. The idea is to accept every sentient being and thus every human being, even your enemy.
So retreat to a place where you are undisturbed. Plan the meditation consciously in your free time or before going to sleep. Depending on the situation, you choose the right position: you can sit down, lie down or take the lotus position.
5 phases of mettā meditation
Mettā meditation is divided into five phases. These contain the formulas that you say to yourself internally. The metta sentences are aimed at the basic needs of every person: happiness, security, health, quality of life .
These formulas form the basis for the following five phases:
All-encompassing love for yourself
Close your eyes. The initial phase is one of the most important: this is ultimately about self-acceptance and self-love . Only those who unconditionally accept their strengths and weaknesses can also accept other people with their strengths and weaknesses. Say these mettā phrases for yourself:
- May I be happy.
- May I feel safe and secure.
- May I be healthy.
- May I live carefree.
You are welcome to vary them linguistically, for example the basic needs could also sound like this:
- May I be full of joy.
- May I feel protected and cared for.
- May I be free from disease and pain.
- May I live serenely.
All-encompassing love for a loved one
In the next step, you focus on a loved one. For them, you should have positive feelings of affection and sympathy. You will quickly think of people from your immediate environment—family, partners, friends or even good colleagues. Choose someone you can easily wish the best for . Now change the mettā sentences slightly:
- May you be happy
- May you feel safe and secure.
- May you be healthy
- May you live carefree.
All-embracing love for a neutral person
The first challenge occurs in the third phase. This is done by giving a neutral person the warmth of heart and kindness that you have wished for yourself and your loved ones so far. Choose someone you neither dislike nor particularly like. Repeat these mettā sentences.
All-encompassing love for a difficult person
Now turn to someone you dislike or have a bad relationship with . This phase is the most difficult in mettā meditation, but also the most important.
The mettā sentences that you now address to the difficult person are the same as for sympathetic people.
A few tips to make it easier for you:
- As a difficult person, do not choose your worst enemy straight away, but someone with whom you may only have a disagreement.
- If it doesn’t work right away, don’t put yourself under pressure. Finish mettā meditation as intended and practice again another time.
All-encompassing love for all people
The point here is to see yourself as a living being and a component in the whole cosmos. You wish all people and all living beings, whether plants or animals, only the best. This includes close, neutral and difficult people, but also those you may not know personally. It might be people who live in war zone and flooded areas, etc. Wish these people and living beings all-encompassing love with the following mettā phrases:
- May all people / living beings be happy.
- May all people / living beings feel safe and secure.
- May all people / living beings be healthy.
- May all people / living beings live carefree.
At the end of the last phase, take a deep breath in and out. Roll and stretch, move your toes and fingers. Now open your eyes and orient yourself in space again.
Over time, I came up with a trick that really helped me open up and find a genuine intention of loving-kindness toward others and myself:
- Visualize something that really brings you joy. I like to start with bringing up a feeling or memory that makes me really happy, such as playing with my little sister when she was a baby or memories of my own childhood when I felt free and joyful or the way my kitties make me feel. Once I have the feeling I visualize it as a golden light in my chest and slowly spread it out to fill up my whole body. I try to keep up this warm and lovely feeling throughout the whole meditation and spread it over the people I see during my practice as well as the whole world.
“To send loving-kindness does not mean that we approve or condone all actions, it means that we can see clearly actions that are incorrect or unskillful and still not lose the connection.”
—Sharon Salzberg from Why Loving-Kindness Takes Time
The part I love the most in Mettā is that it feels very quick even if I practice for 20 minutes or 45. Both seem the same length and makes me equally satisfied. I already built myself a daily meditation practice throughout the years, once in the morning and once before bed every day, so I just replaced my morning silent meditation with Mettā meditation. I didn’t have any goals with it apart from sticking with it long enough to see the effects on myself or how it works differently on me than any other meditation I tired.
After the first 2 weeks I noticed huge changes in my behavior and the way I related to others. It might be important to mention that I was always wary of strangers since I was a kid and I have a harder time trusting people and opening up for them. As an introvert, I wouldn’t call myself outgoing. I’m the type who rather sits and listens to everyone else in a conversation to figure out where I stand in the group.
What I noticed after a month of practicing daily was my more positive and open attitude toward strangers. It felt more natural to talk to new people and in some cases I was the one starting the conversation! I also became more self-aware in social situations. I was less judgmental with myself and with others. And regarding that incident that took me to Mettā meditation in the first place? I realized that even if someone is using me for selfish reasons and then stops making friends with me when her place is secured, and I might be correct with my red flags, it is not about me. I have the power to stop the interaction in a loving kind way and not let people take advantage of me. Mettā helped me tremendously to let go of the anger and disappointment I felt in that situation and stop poisoning myself with the toxic thoughts, anger, and overthinking. Ever since if I find myself in a difficult situation with someone, I just recite the Mettā sentences in my head and wish love and well-being for the person and let them go energetically.
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Photo: Laura Vinck via Unsplash