Lovingkindness Meditation is sometimes called Metta meditation. At its core it cultivates feelings of love and kindness for ourselves, the people we are close to, strangers, and also for people we have strong difficulties with. It's a core part of meditation practice and it's one people don't often realize they need until they see the benefits of working with it.
It fits into a mindfulness and emotional intelligence practice for some very important reasons:
Why do lovingkindness meditation?
1. Loving Ourselves and Others. Many of my students struggle with loving themselves. In the west, we are taught to hate ourselves from a very early age. We are living in a culture designed to teach us, "I am not enough." We are taught we have to do something to "deserve" to be loved. In reality, we are enough and we don't need to do anything to deserve to be loved. Many students can readily bring up feelings of love for someone they are close to but often really struggle with having feelings of love for themselves. This practice provides that pathway for learning to love yourself.
2. Conscious Emotional Selection. As you learn to hold compassion for yourself and, particularly, for the people you don't respect, dislike, or even hate, you are learning that emotions are not passive reactions but, instead, are conscious decisions. This practice creates the ability to pull up feelings of compassion for another person even during difficult moments. You are learning to create an emotion rather than only have the ability to feel or not feel based on your reaction.
3. Clearing Difficult Experiences. As you learn to calm your mind, past difficulties and suppressed emotions will often begin rising to the surface. The stillness you've created through meditation is the signal to your mind that it should begin healing itself. So as you sit, it's not uncommon that past suppressed and not fully dealt with difficult emotions and trauma will begin bubbling to the surface. As these difficult events and feelings emerge, you need a technique to help them clear and for you to heal. Compassion meditation, along with forgiveness meditation, are ways to work through those difficulties when they arise so they can be dealt with and let go of.
How do we do it?
For lovingkindness meditation, you switch your home from the breath to the heart center. You are cultivating that feeling of compassion, loving, and kindness that you feel in your chest and that exists in your body. You breathe and center yourself from your heart center.
After you take a few moments to just relax and feel centered, you can begin this meditation. You start with yourself, move on to people you are close to, then on to strangers, and finally you include people you have difficulty with. You are working to extend your feelings of love and understanding further and further out from yourself.
First, you picture yourself clearly and recite the phrases below. Really work to feel and extend these well wishes to yourself.
May I know peace.
May I know love.
May I know kindness, and compassion, and understanding.
May I love myself.
You may have learned this meditation with different phrases. I have modified these based on my client base and what I've learned the people I work with most need to hear. Different teachers use different phrases. As you work with this practice more and more, you may find that you naturally modify the phrases to better fit what works best for you as an individual.
As you recite these, really focus on breathing from your heart center. Cultivate and really feel that peace, love, kindness, compassion, and understanding for yourself. This may come easily or this may take some time. It just depends on where you are at on your path of really learning to love yourself.
Sit with this and repeat the phrases as long as you need to really feel the emotion. In class we have time limits, so I usually repeat this group of phrases five times before proceeding.
Expand the circle out
From yourself, you move on to picturing someone you have strong feelings of love for. For this step, don't pick someone you are having a disagreement or difficulty with. If you are having a disagreement with someone who would normally be in this position, you can still pick that person but you will use them in the "difficult person" position instead. You will see why when we get there.
Breathe in and expand your feelings of caring out to the person you feel love for. Picture them firmly in your mind. Really see them be happy and well. Feel your love grow to include them in its circle. The phrases modify slightly for others:
May you know peace.
May you know love.
May you know kindness, and compassion, and understanding.
May you love yourself.
You can cycle through a few different people if you find this helpful. Really feel these well wishes for them as you expand your circle out.
Next, move on to the stranger. Select someone you see in your daily life that you don't really interact with or know at all. Often people select someone they see on the bus but don't talk with or a coworker they see in the halls but don't even know the name of. You are picking a person you have no strong positive or negative feelings around.
Repeat the phrases for this next person and feel your circle of compassion and kindness growing out to include them as well. People often find this easier than they initially think it would be.
And, lastly, you extend the circle out to include the difficult people or the people you are currently having conflict with in your life. And, here, you have an interim step to help the feelings naturally expand. Picture your difficult person, first, as a child. Even the most difficult person was once a child. So as you select the person you struggle with, the image you first bring to mind is that person when they were four or five years old.
For the starting few repetitions of the phrases, picture that smiling child your difficult person used to be. Send that child the compassion and love you have now cultivated for yourself, the people you are close to, and the stranger. It may be easy to hate the person as they are now but it's almost impossible to hate the child they were before life took them further down its rather rocky path.
Once you are able to feel the circle of compassion inside you expand to include that child, then switch your visual image to the person they are today. Repeat the phrases and expand the love you felt for them as a child to include who they have become. This takes work and it's difficult for everyone who does it. Stick with it.
As you add this practice into your meditation schedule, take the time to feel the emotion expand out. Don't rush this. You are working to love yourself and others, be able to consciously choose this emotion in the future when its needed, and also to heal some of your more difficult feelings that emerge during your regular meditation time.
May you know peace. May you know love. May you know kindness, and compassion, and understanding. May you love yourself.
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