Sending metta (loving kindness) to ourselves and others has value whether or not you believe that it is effective! If you feel resistant to the idea of ‘transmitting loving energy,’ rest assured that this practice doesn’t rely on beliefs of any kind to be valuable.
The practice itself shifts our relationships with people in our lives, and it changes the way we think and feel about ourselves. It can release the tight patterns of self-loathing that may have rendered us poorly equipped to function in the world. So if you feel at odds with the world and even with yourself, neither ever being quite up to your critical standards, then this is a great practice for you!
Metta is a conscious focus, so even if it were only that it would be a benefit, keeping us present, training our minds to be able to concentrate. For those who have difficulty simply paying attention to the breath in meditation, metta practice feels more active, providing something to DO.
But it provides much more than that: Metta offers a tonal shift, a warm loving attitude that has the capacity to open our hearts, creating spaciousness in our thoughts, and developing the deep innate caring that may have been dormant.
Everyone is different, of course, but for many of us this may be a huge shift – especially in relationship to ourselves. Wishing ourselves well may be a totally new concept for us. “May I be well. May I be happy. May I be free from harm.” These words hardly seem unreasonable, but it is surprising how few of us allow ourselves to feel worthy of such simple blessings. We may be more inclined to put ourselves down, scold ourselves for our ineptitudes, our thoughtlessness, our forgetfulness, our lack of skill, generosity or guts.
As we practice, we begin to hear how we talk to ourselves, the names we call ourselves, the anger we feel toward ourselves. Now these habitual thoughts are seen in such contrast to our metta practice that we see them more clearly. We may never have even noticed the harsh tone of our thoughts. Without any real effort except the ongoing practice of metta, our awareness begins the shift. We may begin to sense a softening and an opening in the tangled knot of our inner lives.
We may find that our metta practice makes us more patient, less irritated with others as well. When driving we may be less likely to curse out other drivers, remembering that there are many, often painful, reasons that people drive badly, that we ourselves have driven mindlessly perhaps. A little metta sent to them and to ourselves eases our experience, and allows us to return more readily to our focus: driving the car!
At first glance, these simple blessings don’t seem to pack a lot of punch, but if you send metta to yourself and others with any regularity, you may be surprised how powerful this practice can be.