Lovingkindness (Metta) practice is a tool or a support that we can use to cultivate a deeper sense of love and acceptance for ourselves no matter what is going on in and around us.
As we become more mindful, we become more aware of what’s happening in our minds. We ‘pay attention’ to our thoughts, feelings and our reactions to our inner and outer world.
With the Lovingkindness practice we take mindfulness a little further and make it a conscious and active practice whereby we pay attention to others and ourselves with a sense of interest and care. This word ‘care’ means we direct a sense of friendliness, kindness, tenderness, warmth, benevolence, comfort, concern and courtesy to others and ourselves. Sometimes you may even hear of this practice being called ‘Loving Friendliness.’
You may notice through mindfulness practice that challenging emotions and thoughts arise like anger, irritation, fear, or anxiety. When we practice ‘being with’ these difficult emotions and recognize ‘this is an emotion that I am experiencing right now’ we work at not getting tangled up in it.
Lovingkindness practice is a tool or a support that we can use to cultivate a deeper sense of love and acceptance for ourselves no matter what is going on in and around us. We also develop lovingkindness for people we are close to, people we may not know well, like casual acquaintances, and even a deeper level of care for strangers we encounter along the way.
Here’s a quote by Leo Buscaglia that expresses this sentiment beautifully, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
According to Jack Kornfield, “When Lovingkindness meets pain, it transforms into compassion. When Lovingkindness meets happiness it becomes joy. When we combine these qualities they create an open and peaceful heart and this is natural equanimity. Developing these characteristics creates the balance that we need to face the challenging and difficult times in our lives.” Lovingkindness, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity.
Through our meditation practice we train the mind to become aware and appreciate the qualities of lovingkindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. Think of your mind as a computer that has been programmed through the collective consciousness of your family of origin, your community and our culture. Essentially through our meditation practice we are reprogramming our mind. We are training ourselves to open the heart and mind to a deeper sense of connection and kindness. This gives us the freedom to be happier through these wholesome and universal heart qualities.
In western society we have been trained and conditioned to be intellectual, analytical, calculating. Because of our westernized way of organizing or thinking, we tend to classify, judge or categorize people. Our responses to people are conditioned and many of us tend to see people as ‘others’ rather than recognize that we are connected to one another, no matter one’s color, sexual orientation or political views.
For example, when we see a friend or someone we know we are generally open, happy. When we see a neutral person we may have no feelings, as if they are unseen. When we come in contact with an irritating person we may have a sense of avoidance or withdrawal.
We use this practice to begin to develop a natural inclination of Loving Kindness to ourselves first — then to all people. In a sense we are cleansing the programming of the critical, judgmental and comparing mind. This was demonstrated in a study conducted by psychologists Kang, Gray and Dovido in 2014 that showed that after six weeks of Loving Kindness Meditation training implicit bias against minorities decreased!
I invite you to take inspiration from Mother Teresa who said:
“The poverty of the West is loneliness and indifference. There is hunger for ordinary bread, and there is hunger for love, for kindness, and for thoughtfulness — and this is the great poverty that makes people suffer so much.”
The way this practice works is we start with our sitting practice and say and repeat phrases to ourselves. Traditionally there are four phrases that are very changeable and can be organic. Simply, the phrases are: May I be filled with loving kindness, May I be safe, May I be well, May I be happy. Many teachers change the phrases to their liking or what resonates most deeply for them while keeping the same general sentiment. I do this and I invite you to do the same. This is not a rigid practice and the phrases can be creative as you will see during the guided meditation.
It’s important to know that Lovingkindness is NOT ‘positive thinking’ or affirmations. It’s not about ‘creating or ‘making’ loving kindness. It’s not passion or romantic love or sappy sentimentality. It’s simply inviting in a natural inclination to respond with kindness to whatever is happening in the moment.
Lovingkindness practice is not narcissism or selfishness. As westerners, we tend to look outside of ourselves for the love we need. This practice invites us to find it within. Once we establish this new way of being or relating to ourselves and our minds from within, it tends to flow outwards naturally, like sunlight, shining outward everywhere. It really is transformative. I have seen it in my own life.
Sometimes when we say the phrases they might seem a little contrived or rote and sometimes we have a little doubt thinking this is ‘hokey.’ These are normal responses and we go ahead and practice them anyway . . . The change in our response to our life happens deeply . . . on a heart level.
Traditionally we practice by saying these phrases for ourselves first and then moving on to a Benefactor (someone who has been kind to you or helped you or someone you’ve never met and admire in some way), a neutral person (someone who is not personally known to you, but you see on occasion in your life), then we go on to practice Lovingkindness with someone with whom you have difficulty, or find irritating or someone you may consider an enemy.
I invite you to explore Lovingkindness practice through a guided meditation. As I’ve mentioned in my talks and writings many times before, we can read and learn about mindfulness and lovingkindness, but to really know it and understand it we need to practice it and embody it to truly experience how it can change us.