Metta meditation is a foundation practice in many Buddhist schools, and is in fact a beautiful heart-opening practice that anyone can engage in, Buddhist or no. The Pali word ‘metta’ is usually translated as ‘lovingkindness’, but metta represents more than a feeling of love or kindness towards others. Metta is our ability to care for others as we would ourselves, or in fact, to put aside self-interest and extend love to all equally. Metta meditation helps us make the shift from our ego and self-based concerns, so that we can feel ourselves as part of all beings. The energy of metta is of inclusiveness, rather than of dividing the world into ‘us’ and ‘them.’ It is generous and openhearted.
In traditional metta meditation practice, we first offer this feeling of openheartedness and lovingkindness to ourselves, wishing for our own peace and happiness. From here we extend it out to our closest family and friends, and then to individuals who perhaps challenge us or we find difficult to interact with. We conclude by emanating metta to all beings.
To practice metta yourself, begin by sitting quietly and taking a few deep breaths. Then focus on cultivating a feeling of lovingkindness towards yourself. Recite the following out loud as you do this:
May I be safe and protected.
May I be peaceful and happy.
May I be healthy and strong.
May I feel loved and cared for.
There are many variations on this sequence, and you can vary it as you wish. After sitting with this feeling of lovingkindness towards yourself for awhile, shift your focus to cultivating lovingkindness towards someone or a group of people in your life that supports you. This may be a close friend or family member, or your friends or family in general. The important thing is that you feel he/she/they benefit you in your life. Emanate out your feelings of lovingkindness towards he, she or them, and recite:
May he/she/they be safe and protected.
May he/she/they be peaceful and happy.
May he/she/they be healthy and strong.
May he/she/they feel loved and cared for.
After sitting with this feeling for awhile, shift your practice to cultivating lovingkindness towards someone you have difficulty with or dislike. It doesn’t have to be someone you have strong feelings of dislike for, just someone who challenges or triggers you in some way. Recite the same set of statements for this person, as you emanate lovingkindness towards he/she/them.
You can do as many individuals or groups of people that you like, but when you are ready to end your meditation, complete it by extending your lovingkindness out to all beings, in this world and any others, on all planes of existence. Recite the metta statements and substitute ‘all beings’ for ‘he/she/they.’
Sit quietly for a moment and bask in the feelings of warmheartedness this has engendered in you. Feel how expansive you have become. You may want to contemplate any resistance that you felt in offering metta to individuals you dislike or have difficulties with, or with extending your metta out to all beings. Thank yourself and the universe for your practice, and dedicate it to the benefit of all beings.
For more on metta practice, try: