On a Meditation Monday long ago (July 13), I shared the Buddhist practice of Metta—Lovingkindness practice. This very simple practice is so profound that spiritual seekers across many traditions are now taking it to heart. In a world in need of much healing, Metta can facilitate that.
Metta involves sending lovingkindness to a series of individuals—our self, benefactors, loved ones, neutral others, and difficult others, then to all beings everywhere—in that order. We do Metta in steps so our hearts gradually open if they are closed or are blocked in some way. Done in stages, this practice opens us; softens and gentles us ... And by the time we get to the end of the prayer*, our heart is as wide as the world.
Of course, it takes time, commitment, and practice for this to transform us, as does any new spiritual practice.
When I first posted about Metta, I explained the 4 lines we say prayerfully, holding in thought and heart the person whom we wish to enfold in lovingkindness. We begin with ourselves first, because without an attitude of lovingkindness toward ourselves, we cannot be genuinely openhearted toward others. So we begin where we are. Here are the 4 lines:
May I be happy.
May I be well.
May I be safe.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
We offer the stanzas in a gentle rhythm, paired with our breath, taking all the time we need to feel happy, well, safe, and at ease.
Today, I would like to invite you to widen that circle of love.
The next step in Metta practice is to think of your benefactors—those individuals (human or divine, here or gone) to whom you are most grateful for guiding your life, for sharing their wise selves with you, and helping you along the way.
Name one, and hold them in your mind's eye, as if they are standing right in front of you.
Now, say the 4 line prayer for them:
May you be happy.
May you be well.
May you be safe.
May your be peaceful and at ease.
You may do this for just one individual and proceed on to the next step, or offer Metta to a number of individuals. There is no one way to do this; just follow your heart and do what feels right.
Now we bring our attention to loved ones: people who are "easy to love." Dear others. Friends, family members, respected acquaintances, anyone who comes to mind that you love.
As before, select one person and offer the 4 line prayer toward them. Name them, breathe evenly, and imagine this dear one receiving your blessing. As before, with benefactors, you may pray for just one or go through a list.
Now, notice how you are feeling, how your heart may be warming and opening to those around you.
Stay with this feeling. Let lovingkindness fill you, wash over you, carry you throughout your day.
Do you feel different now?
I would love to hear ...
And I would love to hear who you sent Metta to ...
I'll go first.
In future posts, we will explore Metta with neutral people and difficult others ... then all beings.
(For a wonderful, concise article on Metta and its benefits, click here. And thank you to Sharon Salzberg and Sylvia Boorstein for first exposing me to this beautiful practice. It has changed my life...You are always in my prayers.)