What is Metta Meditation?
Find out why Metta meditation
> cultivates good intentions & good moods
> using the power of language
> is “dose dependent”
Several years ago I was searching new meditation transcripts for my guided meditations in Niyagama House. As English is not my mother language, I was looking for a new meditation that would work for me and offered a script (in perfect English ;-) that I could use for my classes. How lucky I was, that I landed on the page of my future Mindful Self-Compassion Teachers, with a special form of Metta Meditation included in their MSC program.
Metta (in Pali, the sacred language of the Therevada Buddhism) means benevolence, loving-kindness, friendliness, amity, good will, and active interest in others. It is the first of the four sublime states (Brahmaviharas and one of the ten paramis of the Theravada school of Buddhism.
The cultivation of benevolence (metta bhavana) is a popular form of Buddhist meditation. It is a part of the four immeasurables in Brahmavihara (divine abidings) meditation. Metta as 'compassion meditation' is often practiced in Asia by broadcast chanting, wherein monks chant for the laity. The compassion and universal loving-kindness concept of Metta is discussed in the Metta Sutta of Buddhism, and is also found in the ancient and medieval texts of Hinduism and Jainism.
Metta meditation, or often loving-kindness meditation, is the practice concerned with the cultivation of Metta, i.e. benevolence, kindness, and amity. The practice generally consists of silent repetitions of phrases such as "may you be happy" or "may you be free from suffering". The practice gradually increases in difficulty with respect to the targets that receive the practitioner’s compassion or loving-kindness. At first the practitioner is targeting "oneself, then loved ones, neutral ones, difficult ones and finally all beings, with variations across traditions".
Kindness is the actions to alleviate suffering. Taking actions to improve the subjective experience of someone suffering, having experienced the instinct to help someone suffering (compassion). Imagine the pain, hatred, evil, terrible, annoying, stressful person, and consider how he/she feels all the time. Empathy may be feeling the entirety of his/her subjective experience, and understanding their thoughts or feelings.
What happened in my yoga class
The day after I downloaded the Metta meditation script, I guided five ladies in my morning yoga class into this meditation, while they were relaxing in Shavasana, comfortable lying on their backs with their eyes closed. All of them were mums of one or two young kids, some of them raising them alone, all of them having a job.
When we came to the last part of the meditation, in which you are supposed to silently repeat the sentences “May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.”, I almost got worried: all five of them had certain movements of their face muscles and the first silent tears ran out of the corners of their eyes!
What did I do wrong? Absolutely nothing!
The special approach of MSC (Mindful Self-Compassion) in Metta meditation is, that you are twisting the traditional sequence. First you begin to repeat wishes for a loved one. This is easy. We are all much better in speaking friendly to another person than to ourselves, right?
Then you add yourself to the picture of your loved one, sending both of you good wishes. So there is still the option of distraction, as you can focus a little bit more on the other person while repeating “may we be happy”.
In the third round, you gently say “good bye” to your loved one and focus directly on yourself – here we go: “May I be happy. May I be peaceful…..”. Hold on a second – who is talking there? Is it really me, wishing something good to myself? If you are new to this kind of meditation, it can feel almost wired to do this. But that was exactly the time, when my yoga ladies secretly shed some tear. Tears of relief, of happiness, while feeling the calming sensation by comforting and soothing themselves.
The power of words
Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) harnesses the power of language, imagery (helpful for visual people), concentration, connection and relaxation. Technically, LKM uses word phrases – language – as the primary object of meditation.
To illustrate the power of language and words, you can ask yourself:
· Did I have a broken bone in my life? Has it healed?
· Have I been hurt with words? Am I still suffering from harsh words that were said to me years ago?
· There is a saying, “Be careful what you say to yourself because you are listening!”.
The more the better
Research shows that meditation is “dose dependent” – the more you do, the more reliable the effects. Meditation can develop a compassionate mind state into a personal trait. It may help to give a person an example of the power of sustained practice.
Notes & gratitude
The definition above is a shortened version from Wikipedia, where you can find more interesting facts about Metta mediation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maitr%C4%ABB). The Wikipedia page will open the word “Maitri”, which is the Sanskrit word for loving kindness.
I like to send a big THANK YOU to Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer, my MSC teachers. I learned a lot and will hopefully meet them soon again for the next step.
Photo Credits: “Buddhist Monk” image by Sasin Tipchai on Pixabay
Thanks to all of you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you liked it. Give Metta meditation a try and begin to feel its power.
Namaste and take care,
May be we open to suffering, with compassion and wisdom. May we accept ourselves and others, just as we are. May all beings be free.