Many years ago, a friend from work invited me along to a Transcendental Meditation (TM) evening. It was a sunny Auckland evening & frankly, back then, I’d usually be in the pub after work. But I’d recently gone through a break-up & was not keen on old habits & old haunts. So I thought why the heck. I had no idea what to expect. Even now years later, that evening is a blur. I’d love to say that from that evening onwards, my lifestyle was ‘transformed’, that I ‘saw the light’ & that I never hit the pub again! Not quite.
One thing did remain with me though; it was the first time I’d heard of what the TM people in their overview on different kinds of meditation called a ‘Metta' Meditation practice. I remembered thinking, wow, if this is meditation, then maybe it’s not so esoteric & tricky after all.
According to metta.org.uk,
“Mettá is a Pali word which translates into English as Loving-Kindness or unconditional positive regard. Metta Meditation is a form of meditation which encourages connecting with pure loving kindness in a non attached way.”
Fast forward to today; what is also known as Compassion Meditation is now a firm favourite of mine; a simple but powerful practice that is both easy to learn & practice yet so powerful & even quite enjoyable. I share this practice very often in different classes I teach & people respond to it so keenly, particularly those who think meditation must mean ‘emptying your mind’ or something equally difficult.
What is it?
Very simply, we learn to recognise or indeed remember that in order to be able to show empathy, love & understanding for others, we must first be able to show ourselves these same feelings. It’s a bit like that announcement we hear just before flight take-off
‘be sure to adjust your own oxygen mask, before helping others.’
Loving-Kindness Meditation also encourages non-attachment; much like what is referred to in Yoga as 'Aparigraha'; this ‘non-grasping’ can literally refer to ‘stuff’ as in material objects in our ‘external’ lives, such as possessions, material success, wealth & so on, but also very much to our ‘interior’ lives. Not clinging to people, thoughts, habits or patterns.
We learn to wish ourselves well so that we can genuinely wish others well with no expectation of reward, benefit or even reciprocity. We learn to forgive both ourselves & others while realising that this may very well not mean forgetting & being ok with that outcome. We learn to find space for our feelings about & for ourselves & then for others. We learn to reduce or even drop our need to change ourselves or others or to even expect change.
What else will it ‘do’ for me?
There has been much research into the actual physiological & psychological benefits of a Loving Kindness Meditation practice. Some of the many demonstrated benefits include:
increased feeling of joy, contentment, love & hope
higher life satisfaction
ability of savour the small daily joys
increase in telomere length (a measure of our DNA ‘aging')
increase in ability to regulate emotional clarity
increase in optimism about life in general which helps boosts resilience
increase in resilience helps boost our immune-system
increase in feelings of gratitude
decrease in negative rumination
decrease in distress, anger & pain
decrease in depression & PTSD
decrease in migraine severity
How do I do it?
Like with any meditation practice, our Loving Kindness Meditation is best done in a quiet, calm space; however, once you are adept with the practice, this really can be done anywhere, any time - I’ve done it while waiting for a bus, sitting on a train, even standing in line at a supermarket!
To begin, sit comfortably, with your spine long, your shoulders relaxed & your eyes closed. The words we say can vary (there are many options you can find online if you like); these particular ones are some of the simplest & therefore I find, are the easiest to remember & so are the easiest to then practice.
‘May I be healthy, May I be happy, May I be at ease.’
You say this silently, slowly & with full awareness & intention 4 times.
You then move on as follows, sending those intentions to others, again silently, slowly & with full awareness & intention 4 times.
A good little rule of thumb to remember is ‘4x4’. What does that mean?
Yourself - say the words as above 4 times.
Someone you love, like or feel neutral about - say the same words 4 times.
Someone who is a source of challenge to you (either right now or in general) - say the same words 4 times.
The whole world (or another phrase that makes personal sense to you like ‘all people everywhere’, ‘all sentient beings', ‘all God’s creatures’) - say the same words 4 times.
Once you’re finished, just sit quietly for a few moments longer, letting the effect of your practice reside within you. Notice any sensations. Learning to tune into ourselves after our practice is great way to develop the habit & to stick with it. When I first began, I was quite amazed to notice that my shoulders had eased down greatly, that my breath of its own accord had become more even & slow & very often, I ended up with a little smile on my face.
See what happens for you; we’re all different so release any pre-judgements or expectations & just try it. I’d love to hear from you after you give it a go so send me an e-mail or leave a comment below.
Finally, if you’d like to learn more about Loving-Kindness Meditation, there’s a marvellous woman called Sharon Salzburg who has written extensively on this practice; check her work out here.