When most people think of meditation, they think of sitting quietly for an extended period of time while they try not to think. Actually, the goal of meditation is not to stop thinking. After all, our brains are made for thinking, and they do their jobs very well. The goal of meditation is to slow down our thinking so we can see what thoughts are there. This allows us greater choice in what we think or don’t think about. Meditation allows us to become less reactive, more responsive, and experience greater, more sustainable periods of peace.
Metta Meditation: What are the benefits? How does it help?
There are many different meditation techniques. One form of meditation is Metta meditation. Metta means “loving-kindness” or “good will”. When practicing meditation, it helps to give our minds something to focus on. Popular focal points for meditation are the breath, a mantra, or the image of a deity. In Metta meditation our focus is extending good will, beginning with ourselves and working our way up to the whole world.
There are many benefits of practicing Metta meditation. A 2015 study found that participants who practiced loving-kindness meditation experienced reduced stress and more positive emotions. Metta meditation has also shown to promote self-acceptance, improved relationships, greater capacity for empathy, and higher levels of compassion.
Practicing any form of meditation changes our brains. When we practice Metta meditation, we are training our brains to become kinder and more loving. Metta meditation opens our hearts and allows us to realize our interconnectedness with all sentient beings and the Earth herself.
Metta meditation and taking loving action.
Although many forms of meditation help us to calm our minds so we can make wise decisions, Metta meditation has the added benefit of allowing us to realize our capacity to love. We are navigating deeply divided times. Our leaders are in conflict, there is conflict in our communities, and, indeed, we are most likely experiencing a great deal of conflict within ourselves. It is all too easy to throw up our hands in frustration and say, “I don’t know what to do!”
Metta meditation is a practice for our times. When we quiet the part of our minds that thinks it has to have all of the answers, we create space for new, insightful, collaborative possibilities to arise. We don’t have to “figure out” what to do! Metta meditation allows us to take loving action. When we act from this place, we act with courage, wisdom, and compassion.
Metta meditation is a helpful practice for informing service, activism, and doing good work that benefits movement towards, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it, the Beloved Community. Not only do we approach our work with a clearer, fresher mind, but the practice also helps us to sustain our energy and maintain health. After all, the work we do towards justice and equality is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. However, we are not alone. When we practice Metta meditation, we identify with something greater than ourselves and experience greater connection to others working toward creating a just, loving, peaceful world.
Practicing Metta Meditation.
- Decide how long you are going to practice the meditation. Five to ten minutes is a good place to start.
- Take a comfortable seat for meditation. Try to sit with torso aligned shoulders over hips and top of the head extending upward.
- Close your eyes or allow your eyes to settle on something like a flower, statue, image of a spiritual figure who is meaningful to you.
- Notice your breath. Allow your inhales and exhales to be about the same length.
- Recall a time when you felt happy or at peace. If you cannot recall such a time, mentally place yourself in a location where happiness and peace arise. Allow the image to fade, but maintain the positive feelings you established.
- Mentally say to yourself, “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be at peace.” Sit with this intention for a moment.
- When you are ready to move on, consider a person you love very much and who loves you in return. Mentally say to yourself, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be at peace.” Sit with this intention for a moment.
- When you are ready to move on, consider a person you don’t know very well. You don’t have strong negative or positive feelings toward this person. Mentally say to yourself, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be at peace.” Sit with this intention for a moment.
- Now bring to mind someone with whom you have difficulty. It could be an individual, a group of individuals, or even institutions and organizations that have wronged you. When we are new to this practice, it can be helpful to start with someone who annoys you, bothers you, or otherwise gets on your nerves. If you feel resistance, that is okay. If you feel too overwhelmed, don’t judge yourself harshly. Send loving kindness to a difficult person who does not overwhelm you. Mentally say to yourself, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be at peace.” Sit with this intention for a moment.
- Finally, extend loving kindness to all beings everywhere. You might even visualize the Earth or the cosmos. Say to yourself, “May all beings be happy, healthy, and at peace.” Sit with this intention for a moment.
- For the last few moments of your Metta meditation practice, simply sit and return your awareness to your breath. Notice how you feel.
- You may wish to record your meditation experiences in a journal or notebook.