While strolling down the hospital corridor, you pass a grieving spouse, an angry coworker, an anxious new parent. You can avert your gaze or look on with judgment. Or, you can offer a smile (now done with the eyes, in the era of COVID-19), and see how it positively affects both you and the other person. That’s loving-kindness meditation, and it’s a great way to wish others—and yourself—health, happiness and safety.
What is loving-kindness meditation
Loving-kindness, or “metta,” meditation is a series of repeated phrases that offer happiness and health or other well-wishes to your intended recipients. Because it fosters compassion and understanding, incorporating this practice into your routine can completely change your day for the better. In fact, it’s been found to produce positive emotions. I know it’s my go-to mindfulness exercise when times are toughest.
Quick start your way to loving-kindness
It’s customary to start in a comfortable seated position. I like to place a hand over my heart and the other just below my belly button. It feels like you’re giving yourself a hug.
Choose four phrases that are meaningful to you. Some examples are “May you be strong, may you be healthy, may you live with ease, may you be happy.” The meditation is simply to repeat these words to yourself silently, finding a soothing rhythm as you breathe. Here’s an infographic explaining how it works.
First, you offer these well wishes to yourself, like putting on your own oxygen mask on an airplane before helping others. “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be strong, may I live with ease.” The silent repetition of these words helps to keep the mind focused. Repeat these phrases to yourself at a comfortable pace. Take your time.
Traditionally, there’s an order that moves from self to a benefactor or a teacher—someone for whom you have gratitude. Offer this person the same wishes of peace, health and ease. This is followed by someone you love. This can be a person, dead or alive, or even a pet. Then, share these offerings with someone with whom you’re having difficulty. If there’s time, you can widen the scope to friends, community, country, world, and ultimately, all beings everywhere. This practice has a way of opening your heart and making it possible to feel compassion for everyone, even a crabby boss or demanding patient.
You might be thinking, “Who has time for all these well wishes?” If so, then simplify. Pick one person. Try starting with you. Breathe in the phrases of loving-kindness toward yourself on the way to work. There’s no rule book and no way that offering compassion, peace and love can be wrong.
As you continue to practice, experiment with loving-kindness by incorporating and sharing wishes of kindness anywhere, anytime. If you pass a sourpuss on the street, toss them a silent wish for happiness. While standing at the bedside of a sick person, offer wishes for strength, good health and courage. Instead of wishing a bout of food poisoning on a cantankerous comrade, send that person hope for peace and happiness.
Loving-kindness meditation is a way to keep an open heart toward others. Yet, we start with finding compassion and understanding for ourselves—as the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron describes, “Just like me.”
We all have similar concerns and struggles. Loving-kindness meditation can bring us together, helping us to feel connected, not separate. You are human, in your experience, striving for happiness, health, strength and ease. Just like me.