How to Practice Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta)

Meditate tree sunsetThe practice of loving kindness or goodwill meditation is an excellent tool for breaking down barriers as well as restoring humanity and kindness when your mind feels like a battlefield. The benefits are also that you re-train your mind to let go of stress far more easily when the mind is more calm and happy and come up with mutually beneficial solutions to challenges you may be facing.  The relevance of the practice of goodwill meditation is simply that it can tame our emotions and develop the mind to being more humane and more wise.  

1.     Firstly select your posture once you have found a quiet and peaceful place to meditate. Loving kindness can be practiced in any posture such as reclining, sitting, standing and walking, although sitting is the default choice. Its best to do what works for you, be it sitting on a chair or a cushion, although pacing back and forth is more challenging as you need to stay alert in your walking and at the same time practice the meditation.

2.     Settle in comfortably and close your eyes. Spend a few minutes relaxing any tight spots as tension can be a distraction and obstacle to loving kindness. Let go of distractions and thoughts about the day. Being kind to yourself in this way can prepare the mind to relax and be more open. It is very difficult to practice this meditation when the mind or body is tired. You can practice some gentle stretches, looking a peaceful scene such as a garden, enjoying the peace and quiet of the room or other ways you relax. The method is actually flexible so you may choose words that are relevant to you and in fact the results are better if you tailor it to be not only all encompassing, but relevant to your mind. A suggested format is as follows:

Firstly, wish yourself happiness, good health, good success, harmony, the ability to understand stress and let it go and the strength to overcome problems. You might think to yourself: “May I be happy, may I be free of illness and injury… ” etc

Wish yourself freedom of stress, anger, greed, ill-will and envy. “May I practice to let go of stress, may I practice to let go of anger…” etc.

Wish yourself joy, equanimity, compassion and kindness, such as “May I appreciate what I have experienced. May I be kind to myself, may I let go of my regrets” etc.

Also wish yourself good progress in your life journey such as: “May I grow wiser and gain more skills, may I be more kind to myself more often, may I be more patient and less hasty when I am busy” and so on.

3.     Take a moment now to understand the reason why you wish yourself happiness first. Many have difficulty wishing themselves happiness. In some cases the practitioner may feel it is better to start with others first, or there are cases where the practitioner still holds some resentment towards themselves. Like a flower, sometimes you have to open up, or allow the heart to open up to see what’s inside.

If you cannot be kind to yourself, you are more or less setting yourself up with a new problem, as loving kindness works both ways. If we cannot give it to ourselves, how can we give it to others with sincerity?

It’s also much like a candle flame, if you take away the air or the fuel, it simply goes out. Being kind to yourself makes yourself able to continue the meditation without feeling stingy as it acts like fuel. If it is one-sided, it can eventually feel as though the love you send to others is not genuine because you cannot give it everywhere without conditions. It also serves to calm the mind and to be more generous with loving kindness to others.

4.     Next, wish the people closest to you, your family, your mentors, friends and those you admire the same. You can spend time on each individual person, or as a group if easier and wish them happiness and the same as above. These people you send loving kindness to should be alive, as it can stir up issues in the mind if you send it to the deceased. Much like the previous format directed to ourselves, we then continue by directing the same feelings to others.

“May my relatives be happy.  May my relatives have good health, freedom from illness and injury…” etc.
“May the people I have learned from be happy, may they have good health…” etc
“May my friends be happy…” etc

5.     After each person type, check again your posture and relax any tight spots. Keep checking your posture between each group and continue as a practical way to practice kindness to yourself. If a distraction or a resentful thought arises, give yourself time to consider the benefits of such a thought if there are any, as well as observing any potential stressful and non-benevolent characteristics as that way you can learn to recognise them in future. Let go of the thought and if necessary return to your focus with the wish “May I be peaceful… may I let go of resentment”.

6.     Next, move on to the people you are acquainted with but don’t count as a close friend or member of the previous group. It might be your neighbours, your local grocer, doctor, co-workers, customers or suppliers of your work etc. Wish them the same happiness that you wished yourself.

Take every opportunity to let go of tension that arises, both in the body and the mind, be gently aware should there be a hardening of the heart if a thought of someone you don’t like arises, so you can directly address the issue.

7.     Next wish strangers and people you don’t know the same happiness as you wished for the above groups. You don’t have to know them or where they are, but just wish all people happiness. The purpose with this group is to be universal, you may never know who the people you pass in the street or see at the markets are, but if you can remember them, they are ideal subjects to direct feelings of goodwill towards.The practice of metta breaks down a lot of boundaries in the mind so we can be more humane.

8.     Move on to next group, which is sometimes the most challenging – those you don’t like. It can be those who have been unkind to you or those you a feel a grudge against. This is hard but breaks down the walls of hatred, rejection and prejudice.

If you try and cannot do it with a certain person (it may even be yourself), then go back and practice compassion by wishing yourself forgiveness, kindness etc because you did try, for that is the point. You can always wish “may I let go of this resentment, may I be free of this anger” or whatever feels relevant to you.

Gently work to overcome all individual bias or ill-wills you may experience as they offer no benefit to you or others. This may be to counter the ill-feelings with goodwill, to let them go as they arise, or use them as a basis of understanding, by examining the way the ill-will can overpower goodwill or even insinuate itself into feelings that can appear to be goodwill.

9.     After you have wished yourself happiness as well as towards those you know, you can send it in a variety of styles elsewhere, such as:

To all people and beings across the world in the north direction, then the northeast, east etc then those above you such as birds in the sky or worms and insects below in the earth, as well if you live in an apartment complex to send it to your neighbours above and below you. You can simplify this by sending loving kindness in the forward direction, then to your right hand side, then behind you etc.

After this, you can wish animals and other living things the same happiness and freedom from any suffering.

Wish for people in other countries and continents, wishing for peoples’ present and future happiness.

10.    Find practical applications for metta in daily life. While it may sound unrealistic in the dog-eat-dog world, but when coupled with common sense and understanding, metta is a very powerful and useful tool.

It is very important to use wisdom in metta, both in its development and its expression as there are aspects where it can make life harder. If you are one sided in your practice, then it will be superficial, but oppositely if you open your heart too much, you can end up feeling like a doormat or exhausted. Metta has to work both ways and in a balanced way.

In all our relationships, such as our relationship with ourselves, with our family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers and our intimate-other, metta can help us gain more patience and insight into our interactions, as well as understand how best to live.


RELATED: How to Practice Metta (short version)
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