Meditation: Loving Kindness (Metta Bhavana)

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In the second session of our 4-week Introduction to Meditation we explored another technique drawn from Buddhist tradition called the Loving Kindness Meditation, or Metta Bhavana. Last week we looked at a different meditation called Mindfulness of Breathing, or Anapanasati, also drawn from Buddhist tradition.

As I mentioned in my previous post, you don’t have to be Buddhist to either practise or experience the benefits of this meditation, it is open to Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike and the benefits are there for all to discover and enjoy.

The Metta Bhavana is a meditation to help the practitioner to develop “loving kindness”. “Metta” means “love,” “friendliness,” or “loving kindness” and “Bhavana” means “cultivation” or “development. It is a meditation practice where we work towards cultivating positive emotional states towards ourselves as well as towards others in an endeavour to help us to bring more harmony into our relationships with others as well as making peace with ourselves. In so doing the idea is that we experience less conflicts, resolve existing difficulties, as well as deepen our connections with people we already get on with.

The Loving Kindness Meditation is made up of five separate stages; we cultivate loving kindness for:

  • Ourselves
  • A good friend
  • A “neutral” person
  • A “difficult” person
  • All sentient beings/everyone in the world

So coming to the practice itself: to begin, find a comfortable seat, trying to keep the spine erect, where possible head, neck and torso straight. Experiment with seated postures to find the one that suits your body – suggestions include Easy Pose (a comfortable cross-legged position or Sukhasana), Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana), Hero Pose (Virasana) or possibly Half or Full Lotus (Ardha Padmasana, Padmasana). Blocks or cushions can be used to make the position more comfortable. Alternatively you could sit on a chair, feet flat on the floor. Some of my ladies this morning sat with their backs against the wall to aid comfort so just experiment to find what works for you.

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Once you have found a comfortable seat take a few long, deep breaths, preferably deep abdominal breaths to encourage the body and mind to slow down. Take your awareness around the body briefly, feeling the earth connection with the mat/seat/cushion beneath you, sitting up tall, relaxing the shoulders and drawing up through the crown of the head.

Stage 1 – Loving kindness towards the Self

Start by offering yourself loving kindness, thinking of a time when you were happy, repeating the following affirmation, either out loud or in your mind:

“May I be well,

May I be free from pain and suffering

May I be happy.”

The words can vary slightly as long as the key message is the same. In class we stayed with this stage for about 5 minutes before moving onto the next. You might prefer to stay just with this stage to begin with and practice the other stages at different times. It is completely up to you.

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Stage 2 – Loving kindness towards a friend

Now think of a (good) friend, not a family member or a sexual partner, and wish them well. The first person that pops into your mind is always a good place to start. Repeat the same affirmations as in Stage 1 but just changing slightly to offer to someone else:

“May he/she be well,

May he/she be free from pain or discomfort

May he/she be happy.”

Again you can stay with Stage 2 for 5 minutes or longer, or dedicate a whole meditation just to this stage.

Stage 3 – Loving kindness towards somebody neutral

When you feel ready to, move onto Stage 3. A “neutral” person is somebody who is in your life but who doesn’t add or change anything, someone you do not have strong feelings for, who you may see regularly but who isn’t a feature as such. Someone you have little or no emotional connection with. Perhaps this is someone you see working in a shop, or someone who you pass on the street. The main thing is that you neither really like nor really dislike this person. Repeating these affirmations again:

“May he/she be well,

May he/she be free from pain and suffering

May he/she be happy.”

Stage 4 – Loving kindness to a “difficult” person

In this next stage we cultivate Metta for someone we don’t get on with, somebody who causes you difficulty, who irritates you, challenges you,  someone we have conflicts with or feelings of ill will towards . It may be someone that we have long-standing difficulties with, or it may be someone who is normally a friend, but with whom we have difficulties at the moment.

Call the difficult person to mind, and be honest about what you feel. There may well be feelings of discomfort. Notice any tendency you may have to think badly of that person, or to deepen the conflict you have with them (for example, by getting into imagined arguments with them), and let go of those tendencies.

Instead, wish them well:

“May he/she be well,

May he/she be free from pain or discomfort

May he/she be happy.”

Stage 5 – Loving kindness to all sentient beings

In the last stage of the practice we spread our wishes of loving kindness out in wider and wider circles to eventually include the whole world and all sentient beings. It is important not to try to exclude anyone as this just reflects back at you.

You can start with yourself, your friend, the neutral person, and the difficult person and then spread your wishes out in wider and wider circles, until you are wishing that all sentient beings are well and happy.

“May they be well,

May they be free from pain and suffering

May they be happy.”

If you are meditating on all five stages in one sitting it can be helpful to set a gentle timer to let you know when to move to the next stage, i.e. to sound or chime at 5 minute intervals, for example. This will help you to resist the urge to keep opening your eyes to check the time and in so doing interrupting your practice.

When you have reached the end of your meditation, just take a moment to allow the mind to settle, to start to reconnect with sensations in the body and with the breath and then gradually opening the eyes when ready.

Image result for “We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama

2 Comments

  1. Thank you very much for writing them all down, I have been doing the Loving Kindness meditation during the week, but couldn’t remember the actual words for the affirmation. Thanks again xx

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