Loving-kindness is an active interest in others, a genuine care for their wellbeing, and wishing for the best for them. In our practice, we recognize that everyone experiences a range of thoughts and emotions. We know most people tend to wish for the happier, more serene of these, and we wish for the same in them.
Metta is loving-kindness toward ourselves and the world around us. Wishing for the best for ourselves is often easier for us at first than wanting the best for ourselves. We tend to drift into low self-worth, or the other way into ego and pride. With others, we sometimes forget that they are beings just like us, and deserve liberation as much as the rest of the world.
Practicing metta, we treat all sentient beings with loving-kindness. Through meditation and active practice, we begin to feel the benefits of loving-kindness in our daily lives. Rather than judge, act maliciously, or treat ourselves harshly, we live in more peace with the world around us, and with ourselves.
The Far Enemy and Near Enemy of Metta
Each Brahma Vihara has both a near enemy and a far enemy. The far enemy is the opposite mental state that stands in the way of our practice. The near enemy is a mental state that closely resembles the Brahma Vihara, but is ultimately negative.
The near enemy of metta is attachment. Attachment is the near enemy of metta because we sometimes are attempting to practice a deep affection for others, and we end up becoming attached to them or to the results. Attachment is not a desirable quality, but is sometimes near to our metta practice.
The far enemy of metta is hatred. This is fairly obvious. Hatred is the opposite of loving-kindness, and it is the quality that we are trying to move away from.
Metta meditation is a very common form of meditation. Metta meditations may be found all across the web and in books. Noah Levine gives great metta meditation instructions in his book The Heart of Revolution.
Metta meditation is very simple, with the focus on sending loving-kindness to the world. As with any meditation, begin your metta meditation by finding a comfortable position. Sitting on a meditation cushion on the ground with legs crossed is ideal, but any position will do. You may sit cross-legged on the floor or in a chair with a straight back. Do not judge the position you are sitting in, for everyone is different. It is most important to keep a straight back.
Begin by taking a few deep breaths to center yourself. You may focus on the air on the tip of your nose, the air in the back of your throat, or your abdomen rising and falling. Do not feel the need to label what you are feeling; just notice it, be aware of it, and feel how it feels.
After sitting for a few minutes, you may start the metta meditation toward yourself. Although it may feel generic or forced at first, we tell ourselves loving phrases. Jack Kornfield offers these phrases for a metta meditaiton,
“May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May I be well in body and mind.
May I be at ease and happy.”
Spring Washam includes, “May I be safe and secure.” I include the simple phrase, “I love you.” Whatever your metta prayer is, stick with a few phrases. You may make up metta mantras that feel more natural, or take ideas from other sources. Starting with yourself, repeat these phrases to yourself. You eventually will find a rhythm, and although you may not feel these words, continue saying them. It may help to picture yourself as a young child, or in a time of pain, forgiving and loving yourself unconditionally. We start with ourselves because we cannot truly love others if we do not love ourselves.
After a few minutes, return to your breath as before. Center yourself, feeling your lungs working to breath, the air traveling through your body, and your body sitting still.
With the same phrases, extend the metta to a loved one. Choosing one friend or family member, tell them you love them, wish them ease and happiness, and that they be well in body and mind. Extend to them all the love and happiness you would wish upon yourself. Find a rhythm, and do not judge. Although it may feel forced, the seeds of metta are being planted firmly with each repetition.
Again, return to your breath. Feel your body being supported firmly by the earth. Notice your breath on the tip of your nose, going down your throat and into your lungs and abdomen. Sit like this for a few minutes.
We then extend our metta prayers to someone we perceive as “an enemy” or somebody toward whom we feel resentment. We extend our loving-kindness, unconditionally, toward this person. We wish for them everything we would wish for ourselves or a loved one.
We return to our breath once more, concentrating on our current experience of breathing.
Finally, we extend our metta chants to everyone. We may think of individuals or of groups of people, and send our loving-kindness out. We forgot no one, and let our love be unconditional. Some people like to imagine themselves inhaling a dark cloud representing the world’s suffering, and exhaling a white light, which symbolizes our loving-kindness. This kind of visualization may help you keep focused.
This is just one suggestion for a metta meditation. The words may be changed, and you may find something that better fits your practice! Again, relax and do not judge!
On November 19, 2012 in Burma, United States President Barack Obama said, “I have seen just earlier today the golden stupa of Shwedagon, and have been moved by the timeless idea of metta — the belief that our time on this Earth can be defined by tolerance and by love.”