Loving Kindness, Metta or Maitri, meditation was one of the first Buddhist meditation practices I taught myself from a book about 20 years ago. I was immediately drawn to the practice as I was really interested in human rights and social justice issues and it seemed such a wonderful idea to cultivate kindness to others in a sitting meditation.
Metta is a Pali word which is often translated as Loving Kindness but can also mean loving friendship. It is the way we feel towards and treat a good friend. Love is a wonderful antidote to fear and so this practice can bring out our innate capacity for love and help us become less judgmental of others.
Loving Kindness is one of the brahma viharas or the ‘noble attitudes’ in Buddhist meditation (the others are compassion, equanimity and sympathetic joy). Scientific research shows that the benefits of this practice include: increased positive emotion, relief of PTSD and chronic pain, anti-ageing, increased social connection, decreased bias and decreased self-criticism.
To practice Loving Kindness meditation start by centring yourself in meditation and then repeat the following phrases (or something that resonates for you) over a number of times in your mind. They are directed to your own and others’ wellbeing.
Start by repeating the phrases for yourself and then move on to the following: a respected person/benefactor; a friend; a neutral person; a hostile or difficult person; all beings everywhere.
“May I / you be happy”
“May I / you be safe and free from harm”
“May I / you be well in body and mind”
“May I / you live my/ your life with joy and ease”
You can find a link for a 15 minute guided Metta practice here.
Particularly in Western society we can find it difficult to send feelings of love for ourselves so you may find it easier to start by sending Metta to a friend/loved one before moving onto yourself and others. It is very common for people to find difficulties sending feelings of love toward someone they see as neutral and even more so for the hostile or difficult person. Even if you do not feel the sentiments of the words you are repeating you can note that with mindfulness and continue to repeat the phrases. Over time and with consistent practice the heart starts to soften and open to feel friendship and connection with all beings.
Taking it off the cushion
Once you have an established sitting practice you can start to bring this practice of cultivating loving kindness during everyday activities. You might be sitting in a cafe, driving in traffic, lining up in a shop, or it may be a more personal situation where you are starting to feel yourself close off to those around you. See if you can send feelings of lovingkindness to those around you and repeat the phrases – even just “May you be happy” and notice if your perspective shifts.
With my social activism I also held feelings of anger for the world around me that seemed to be so cruel. I loved the idea of cultivating feelings of love for people around the world but when it came to sending those feelings to the dictator that was torturing political prisoners it was a step too far. But with practice I can genuinely say that I feel lovingkindness towards all people, regardless of what they have done with their lives they are human and deserve to be held in love and compassion just like me. Love, not hate, will change the world!
लोकाः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवन्तु
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”
S. Salzberg (1995) “Loving-Kindness: The revolutionary art of happiness”, Boston: Shambala
S. Salzberg (2017) “Real Love: The art of mindful connection”, London: Bluebird