Our previous discussion on metta, or lovingkindness meditation, introduced the concept of metta, the metta phrases, and the first steps of metta practice. In this article we examine ways to deepen metta practice, and the benefits you can experience.
Metta meditation traditionally begins with the meditator directing the phrases toward him- or herself. By doing this, we establish a foundation from which the desire for security, happiness, and health can be extended to others. This step is important, though not always easy. To quote the Buddha:
“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the universe, deserve your love and affection.”
(For more on cultivating compassion and love for yourself, check out Tara Brach’s book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha.)
Extending the Practice
Once we establish wishes of lovingkindness for ourselves, we are ready to move on through a sequence of wishes for others, commonly beginning with a “benefactor”– someone who has helped us and taken an interest in our well-being. This person can be a teacher, a friend, or a mentor, for example.
When you practice, first spend some time saying the metta phrases for yourself, and then allow your benefactor to come to mind. Try not to analyze your choice too much; just go with the first person who comes to mind. Picture him or her in your mind’s eye, and begin repeating the metta phrases, this time substituting the word “you” for “I.”
Continue meditating on your benefactor for the remainder of your session. If a different benefactor begins to dominate your awareness, it’s ok to switch your focus. (However, if this happens over and over again it can become a distraction. See if you can settle your mind on a single person for an extended period of time.)
As your practice develops, add the following recipients to your metta list:
- The “neutral” person: Someone you see with some frequency but have little interaction with—a grocery clerk, crossing guard, postal worker, etc.
- The “difficult” person: That person who pushes your buttons, you have trouble understanding, or you just can’t seem to get along with. (It’s often said that such people are our greatest teachers; send them lovingkindness!)
- All people, everywhere: No exceptions. Whether you know them or not.
- All beings, anywhere in the universe: Yes, that includes dogs, slugs, bacteria, and space aliens.
Benefits of Metta
As with most forms of meditation, the benefits of metta practice can be subtle and may even go unrecognized until you’re tested with real-life situations. For example, you may find you’re more accepting of a person who previously worked your last nerve. Or maybe you no longer beat yourself up when you make a mistake. Perhaps you even choose to let a bug exit through the kitchen window instead of reaching for the flyswatter. These small, initial things will attain greater significance as you continue to practice.
You can also bring metta to the yoga mat, infusing your practice with lovingkindness through muscles, bones, and breath. Click on this Yoga Journal article for more details on the complementary relationship between metta and asana.
And quite poetically, Buddhist tradition recognizes the following benefits:
- “You will sleep easily,
- Wake easily.
- You will have peaceful dreams.
- People will love you.
- Angels will love you.
- Angels will protect you.
- Poisons and weapons and fire will not harm you.
- Your face will be radiant.
- Your mind will be serene.
- You will die unconfused.
And when you die, you will be reborn in heavenly realms.”
Which of these benefits resonates most with you? How does metta impact your life, and the lives of those around you? Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts.