At the end of every meditation I lead, I offer some guided metta (loving kindness) practice, usually just to ourselves and then to all beings. In this week’s class I led a series of metta exercises to more fully explore and experience the power of metta.
Traditional metta practice is to first send metta to ourselves with well-wishing phrases like: May I be well. May I be happy. May I be at ease. May I be at peace.
Then we send out metta to a person it is very easy to send such well-wishing to: a small child, a beloved elder, someone we wish all good things without any undertow of grumbly qualifications.
Then we send metta to what is called a neutral person. This is someone we know only through brief interactions, such as the grocery store checker, a neighbor, a mail deliverer, etc. May you be well, etc.
Then we send metta to ‘a difficult person’. This could be someone close to us with whom we have challenges. For whatever reason, they push our buttons. We just don’t get along. Interactions are frustrating, unsatisfactory and unsettling. This is probably a person whom we don’t like to think about too much because we get agitated.
If there is no such person that comes to mind, we can focus on a high-profile person whose beliefs, choices or actions we find reprehensible.
Of course, we can always send metta to someone we know whom we feel especially needs some extra blessings right now.
We always end by sending out metta to all beings. May all beings be well, etc. This is not just a nicety, but a reminder of the infinite nature of metta, and a reminder that we, as part of the circle of beings, are worthy of metta too.
Sometimes people have a difficult time sending metta to themselves, but we cannot skip this part or the rest will not work. In order to demonstrate this, I did an exercise where we skipped the metta to ourselves and just did the easy, neutral and difficult person. We checked in to see how that felt after each one.
If you would like to demonstrate this to yourself, try sending metta out to a ‘difficult person’. Then do a round of sending metta to yourself. Then try sending metta to the difficult person again, and see what shifts.
After the practice, I gave a dharma talk on metta, but because I have talked and written so much about metta, I think here I will provide a little Metta index with links to the various metta talks as they answer a variety of questions you might have.
Can Metta help us be better drivers? Can Metta help with social anxiety and feeling alone? What if the idea of loving-kindness is just too gooey and treacle-sweet for me? Metta Cake, a poem, Can Metta help with my Inner Critic?
Is it possible to cure the world with metta? Is it possible to stay present with what’s going on and not get caught up in wishing things were different if we are sending metta — Isn’t that just a form of wanting things to be different?
Is there something I could read that would ease my overwhelming concerns about the world and the future? How can metta deal with that? (Poem: Metta at Midnight)
As you can see there are lots of posts on metta. Why? Because it is SO central to the cessation of creating suffering for ourselves and others. It can also help us be more present to savor and engage in this moment. So give yourself some metta and then share it far and wide.