Loving kindness meditation focuses on self-care, empathy, and kindness to oneself and other people. The aim is to reach a state of emotional purity devoid of hostility against self or another. It is also called Metta meditation. Metta is a Pali word for benevolence and kindness.
Life hits us with so many tasks and challenges that are sometimes beyond our control. From the moment you wake up in the morning till the time you go to bed at night, you get to encounter lots of chaos, noise, and stress. And this makes it increasingly challenging to maintain stable mental health.
Due to the changing daily challenges and stress, more and more people are beginning to resort to meditation to seek stability. A few use it to maintain individual or collective sanity, preserve their sense of meaning, deal with stress and insecurity. While others use it to preserve their humanity, the chaotic world does not erode the emotional values they hold dear.
According to Dhammapada, “Hatred cannot coexist with love and kindness. It dissipates when supplanted with thoughts of love and compassion.”
People who practice loving kindness meditation can forgo self-judgment and forgive more easily. They also reach a stage of self-acceptance and connect with other people with less rigor. In this article, we will discuss the practice of metta meditation or loving kindness meditation and how it can benefit you and the people around you.
At the moment, you may not understand how other people can benefit from you sitting in isolation and focusing on breathing. But in actuality, what this act does is that it trains your heart to be kinder, more compassionate, and less judgmental of yourself and the people around you.
Ideally, the human heart is naturally compassionate. Due to worries, frustration, mental chatter, anger, resentment from the past, and many other factors, this kind of kindness becomes obscure and almost inexistent. You may even, at some point, forget that you have these qualities due to the overwhelming effect of the greater forces beyond your control.
Loving kindness meditation aims to return us to that default state of love and compassion, to that state of emotional purity devoid of hatred against anyone.
How to Practice Metta or Loving Kindness Meditation
The core principle of loving kindness meditation is to generate kind feelings and compassion for yourself and then extend it to other people. According to different Buddhist traditions, there are various ways to practice loving kindness meditation. Still, each method depends on the same core principle.
Feel the Inner Love - Try this Guided Loving Kindness Meditation - 15 min
Here are simplified steps of practicing loving kindness meditation:
First, find a quiet place to meditate, and choose a comfortable style of posture. You can practice loving kindness meditation while sitting, standing, reclining, or even while walking. It’s best to choose whatever position works best for you. But for most people, sitting is the default choice of posture for meditation. Unlike walking around, for instance, which requires pacing and being alert of your environment, sitting is more relaxing. However, you can practice metta meditation anytime, anywhere. You do not have to pace around or pay attention to your immediate environment.
Close you eyes
After you have settled into a comfortable position, you have to close your eyes. Within the next few minutes, clear your thoughts and relax any tight spot or disturbing thoughts running through your mind. By relieving yourself of these thoughts, your mind begins to relax and open up. If your body or mind is tired, you may need to rest for a while, do some gentle stretches, look at some serene images like gardens, waterfalls, or stay in a quiet room to relax.
After clearing your mind, the next step is to choose words that resonate with you and the state of mind you want to achieve. For instance, you may start thus:
- Wish yourself all the good things you desire – happiness, love, good health, success, and prosperity. And the ability to handle stress and not have it overwhelm you. Say words like: “May I find happiness; may I live in good health, and not have any injury; may I become prosperous.”
- Wish yourself a life devoid of stress, anger, resentment, and envy. Affirm this by saying: “May I not allow anyone to get me angry today—May I not overthink things and become frustrated.
- Wish yourself compassion, joy, and kindness. Say: “May I be thankful for everything I have. May I not have reasons to dwell in regret but rejoice over the little things.”
- Wish yourself growth and progress. Say things like: “May I become more kind to myself. May I grow in wisdom and become more skillful. May I become more patient and in control when I’m busy.”
Understand why you wish yourself these kind wishes first before anyone else
Many people do not easily say kind words to themselves. In some cases, people prefer to say these kinds of wishes to others. Sometimes, they hold some resentment against themselves. Simultaneously, in other cases, they don’t think it is necessary to personalize kind wishes.
If you fall into this category, you need to change that mindset and begin to wish yourself well. As the saying goes, charity begins at home. If you can’t show yourself kindness, it is almost impossible to show others loving-kindness with sincerity.
Loving kindness is like a burning lamp. If you remove the fuel or energy source, the light will go off. Similarly, if you don’t show yourself love, you won’t have any affection to give to others. Even when you try to show others love, it won’t seem genuine. Also, only a heart filled with love and compassion for self can show kindness to others because you can’t give what you don’t have.
Extend your kind wishes to your loved ones
After you have wished yourself well, it is time to extend the kind wishes to your family, friends, loved ones, and people you admire. Spend the next few minutes repeating the same wishes you have for yourself, but this time, bearing these people in mind. Ensure that you only send loving-kindness to the living. Sending it to the deceased may evoke some sad emotions that would ruin the purpose of the practice.
Check your posture and relax any tight spots
In between sending good wishes to different people, take a moment to observe your posture, and check your mind for any tight spots. Relax, and allow the tightness to go away. If a distraction or unpleasant thought creeps in, don’t fight it. Instead, appreciate the fact that these thoughts are real, and consider if these thoughts are beneficial to you at the moment. If they’re stressful or non-benevolent thoughts, let them go, and learn to recognize them in the future. Now return to focus by wishing yourself a peaceful mind free from all resentment. Try saying: “May I be peaceful. May I not hold on to hurt and resentment.”
Extend your kind wishes to people who aren't so close to you
After blessing your loved ones with your kind wishes, extend the same kindness to your acquaintances and people with whom you do not have a close relationship. It may be a random neighbor, the newspaper vendor down the street, a coworker, or even the pizza delivery boy. After wishing these people well one after the other, recheck yourself and allow any area of tension to relax- just like you did in step 5 above.
Send kind wishes to strangers
Now it’s time to send loving-kindness to people you don’t know. You don’t need to know where these people are. Send them kind wishes to them all the same. The secret behind sending strangers loving kindness is to make your kindness universal. Your compassion doesn’t need to have a boundary, so go ahead and wish everyone well.
Send kindness to your enemies and haters
The last group of people you have to wish well are those that you do not like. These may be your enemies, adversaries, people who have hurt you, and those against whom you hold a grudge. Wishing this group well helps you break the barrier of Hatred, prejudice, and rejection.
- You find it challenging to wish some certain persons well. In that case, you need to go back to yourself and expect yourself forgiveness, compassion, and kindness. Say words like: “May I let go of the hurt. I will learn to forgive the people who have hurt me. May I let go of this anger.”
- Now you have to genuinely let go of all ill-wills and sadness that may hinder you from extending kindness to others. Counter unpleasant feelings with good thoughts, and allow yourself to bask in the mindset of happiness so much that it drowns resentment.
Send good wishes and happiness in a variety of styles
Extend loving kindness to people in the northeast, people in war zones, people in prison, and those living off the street. Remember the people in the different cardinal points- north, south, east, and west- and wish them happiness.
Now also consider the animals – pets, birds of the field, creeping insects, and wild animals. You may also need to wish them safety, happiness, and lots of provisions.
Display loving kindness in real life
Apply metta or loving kindness in your daily life. This act may be difficult and unrealistic in today’s world, but it is achievable. All you need to do is treat everyone fairly. Try to put yourself in other people’s shoes and treat them the way you would like others to treat you.
Be wise and tactful when practicing metta. Ensure that your practice isn’t one-sided or discriminatory. If it is, then your actions may be superficial. Treat every one you know as equal beneficiary of your love. It is also essential to ensure that you do not open your heart too excessively in this dog-eat-dog world. This will help you to avoid people who might take undue advantage of your kindness. By guarding your heart while practicing metta, you would be able to achieve that balance of caring for people and not neglecting yourself at the same time.
Benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation
As you would already imagine, loving kindness meditation has a myriad of benefits for self and others. They include:
1. Loving kindness meditation shuts up inner criticism
Some people suffer from a high level of self-criticism. These people live with voices in their head which keep chattering unpleasant words that make them feel like their efforts are not good enough. Research has shown that loving kindness meditation reduces self-criticism and self-hate. It makes you appreciative of even the littlest efforts you make.
2. It reduces negative emotions and increases positivity
Apart from decreasing anxiety and depression, studies have shown that loving-kindness meditation increases positive feelings like cheerfulness, love, happiness, joy, appreciation, and satisfaction. You will begin to find contentment in small things and appreciate the world within you.
3. It increases compassion and strengthens empathy
As you already know, the goal of loving kindness meditation is to increase compassion and empathy for self and others. According to experts, loving kindness meditation or metta can strengthen your sympathy for others and cause you to respond quickly to other people’s plight. It makes you more compassionate to the point where you’ll see other people’s problems like yours.
4. It connects you to nature and other humans
Some people who practiced loving kindness mediation have reported increased emotion and also an increased feeling of social connectedness. According to them, this practice made them start feeling closely-associated with other people. It gave them a sense of belonging and increased their social interaction. Another study reported that the participants experienced an increased connectedness to nature.
5. Loving kindness meditation relieves chronic pain
Researchers studied the effect of metta or loving kindness meditation on chronic lower back pain. Using an 8-weeks meditation program, the researchers reported that loving kindness meditation eased the pain more effectively than conventional therapy. It also reduced the feeling of frustration, anger, and psychological stress in the patients.
6. Loving kindness meditation reduces migraine pain and tension
Loving-kindness meditation may be the ultimate remedy that people living with migraine pain and tension have been looking to find. A study shows that just one session of loving kindness meditation can reduce migraine pain and stress. This study reports relief of up to 33% and 43% of pain, respectively. Metta is like a medicine to some.
7. Loving kindness meditation slows down aging
Scientifically, aging depends on the length of telomeres- a small section of chromosomes. Long telomeres represent young age and slowing of the aging process. A shorter telomere, on the other hand, means increased aging. A study shows that women who practiced loving kindness meditation have longer telomeres than those who do not. This finding entails that metta or loving kindness meditation can slow down again and bring out the youthfulness in you!
With the tremendous amount of benefits that we have listed above, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t practice metta or loving kindness meditation. Some practitioners believe that loving-kindness meditation is what the entire world needs because it would heal the world and increase love and understanding. It can also make the world a better place for all of us. But then, while hoping that this bigger picture manifests someday, it would be best that you embed the habit of metta yourself. Show yourself and others kindness by practicing loving kindness meditation. After all, the change you desire should start with you!