February 1, 2016
What is Lovingkindness?
Maybe you’ve heard of lovingkindness before…
But what is lovingkindness meditation, exactly?
Lovingkindness, or metta, meditation is the practicing of well-wishes for yourself and others. It is a concentration or mindfulness practice that uses silent mantra in order to create the felt experience of love by sending love to ourselves and others.
By repeating phrases wishing for ourselves and others to experience wellbeing, safety, ease or love, we cultivate a sense of lovingkindness.
This is a silent meditation, so the wishes are offered without speech, and the meditation may be done anywhere. You don’t need to tell people that you are doing this for them. It is simple a respectful offering for strength, protection, empathy and compassion.
I have offered lovingkindness to people with just a smile.
Or by writing the phrases down and putting the slip of paper somewhere I’m likely to see it. I like to practice metta for strangers I see around me on public transit.
The flow of lovingkindness:
We work through a particular order of offering lovingkindness outward – easiest to more difficult.
We begin with the people for whom we feel the most ease in making this offering, such as ourselves or a beloved person. We want to start with the least resistance or baggage. Slowly, we work our way to people with whom we have difficulty. Eventually, we offer lovingkindness to all beings everywhere.
- We might begin with ourselves. (If this feels difficult, begin with the next person on the list, returning to yourself later.)
Another common person with whom to begin is a mentor, guardian or benefactor – someone with whom we have uncomplicated feelings of love and respect.
Then we move to other loved ones (like those in our family).
- After that, we address neutral people (such as strangers on the street or people we encounter in daily life but with whom we don’t have relationship).
We then work this same set of well-wishes for people with whom we have conflict.
- Finally, we extend our wishes of lovingkindness to all beings everywhere, shining the light of our compassionate attention to all.
Over time, you’ll cultivate your own personal phrases for lovingkindness. (The traditional form uses four phrases.) In my experience, the phrases we use are very personal.
You may use phrases passed down from a teacher. Regardless of where you find them, over time, you’ll hone phrases that feel right to you.
Use the same phrases, regardless of whom you are directing your lovingkindness.
By using the same four phrases for each person, you’ll cultivate equanimity as well as lovingkindness. The words should feel natural to you, consistent with what you want to offer the world.
Here are some sample phrases to try in your practice:
- May you be happy
- May you be free from harm
- May you have ease
- May you experience lovingkindness
What does this have to do with self-care?
When we offer this meditation to ourselves, it is a high form of self-care. Even if we are not offering the wishes to ourselves, it is still self-care.
[bctt tweet=”Offering ourselves wishes of lovingkindness is a high form of self-care. We acknowledge that we are profoundly deserving: of love, of well-being.”]
Each repetition brings us closer to understanding how interconnected and precious we ourselves are, with all that is.
We learn to offer ourselves wishes of wellbeing without reservation. Lovingkindness does not come with contingency.
It is a pure offering of love. Some experience it as forgiveness. Others as a sense of being one with everything – an experience of deep interconnection with all that is.
It’s very gentle.
This form of meditation is fairly forgiving, all things considered, and a great place for beginners to dive in.
First, there are phrases to repeat, giving our minds something to grasp onto. They are less likely to be distracted by our thoughts that way. But even when we do drift away, those phrases of complete kindness are waiting when we return.
Best of all, we see ourselves and each other in a whole new light:
with wonder, acceptance, familiarity, and delight.