Why I do loving kindness meditation, and how it can save the world

Loving Kindness Meditation – or Metta – has a profound, measurable impact on your physiology and your mental health. But I believe it can also change the world. Keep reading to find out why.

Loving Kindness Meditation is a Buddhist meditation. It has become one of my favourite practices. But I believe that if everyone did it, the world would change – fast. Let’s look at what it is, why I love it so much, the effects it has on practitioners and others. Then, because you’re curious, I’m going to run you through my practice so you can start to play with it yourself.

What loving kindness meditation is all about

The Loving Kindness Meditation is known as the practice of Metta in Buddhist traditions. It is a combination of particular phrases, visualisation and physical feelings. Practiced mindfully, at the same time, this practice can have the remarkable effect of reconditioning your mind, and quickly.

It is a practice along the lines of what Gregg Braden describes as the lost method – and most powerful – method of prayer: Praying with the feeling, not the words. It is the words, the visualisation, the feelings – physical, emotional, spiritual – in combination.

The practice of Metta is really about compassion rather than kindness. So that you and I both understand this the same way, I’m going to define them for us.

Compassion. This is a noun with a long history. It means ‘sympathy’, literally ‘to suffer with another’, to ‘undergo, experience’ the passion. Compassion is from very early Latin, about the 12th Century; but its stem – passion – from the Old French about 200 years earlier. Compassion is much more than pity. It’s feeling the same feelings. The stem of the word – passion  – itself isn’t just about suffering, but about strong emotions. Its meaning of being sexual didn’t come about until the 16th Century.

Kindness. This noun is wildly different from compassion, even though in the 21st Century people use it interchangeably. It is not interchangeable. It is from about the 14th Century – much later than compassion – and actually means ‘courtesy’ or ‘noble deeds’. Its meaning of kind feelings came later. The Old English, kyndnes meant ‘nation’ or ‘produce an increase’. Hence the roots of kindness in communities. Hence why, in being kind to others, you are engaging in nation-building.

Ok, so are we all on the same page now? Right. Now that you are aware of the real meanings of these two words, we can look at what loving kindness meditation is.

It is the practice of a noble deed, in a meditation state. That noble deed is being compassionate: To yourself, to those around you, to the world at large. There are two types of Metta practice that I am aware of, and I’ll explain both of them.

The first one is a practice in which you target yourself, then those you live with and love, then your neighbourhood, and your city, and the world, and the universe, and all beings in the known and unknown realms.

The second one is a more traditional practice in which you target yourself, then someone you love, then someone who gives you difficulty, and then someone you don’t know.

The practice plants the seeds of compassion, equanimity and joyful appreciation. If you know anything about Buddhist practice, you’ll recognise this as part of their practices of Right Thinking. Right Thinking is the second point on the the noble eightfold path. You can learn more about that here.

The Loving Kindness Meditation is recognised by science as being effective

While I find it totally absurd that many people will only engage in a ‘spiritual’ practice because science designates it to be ok, it’s true that the Metta practice has measurable effects. It is commonly used in therapies of all kinds – from mindfulness to PTSD, from counselling to rehab.

A pilot study by Carson et al on the effects of loving kindness meditation on sufferers of chronic back pain found that it reduced the negative outcomes of pain. It ‘reduced pain, anger, and psychological distress to a greater degree than standard care at post-test and follow-up’. More importantly, the Metta practice didn’t just reduce pain on that day, but also in the days that followed.

Hoffman, Grossman and Hinton found that the loving kindness meditation has been found to be especially powerful in combination with other treatments, like CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). It is useful for ‘targeting a variety of different psychological problems that involve interpersonal processes, such as social anxiety, marital conflict, anger, and coping with the strains of long-term caregiving.’

Many studies exist that demonstrate Metta’s value in a range of areas. According to this article by anxiety treatment specialist Steve Reed, Loving Kindness Meditation ‘enhances wellbeing, improves physical and mental health, reduces physiological stress, improves emotional intelligence, improves our social connections, reduces destructive self-critique, improves care for others.’.

And while I could present to you page after page of studies proving its effects, they’re not so powerful as the people who actually suffer from it.

Tessa Clare, who was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, found herself completely resistant to the concept of Metta practice. She acknowledges that this may be common among PTSD sufferers: That there is no way you can be compassionate to the people who harm you, because (my words, not hers) fuck them. Yet, when she started doing the practice, she found that it was Metta that gave her freedom for the first time. It’s a good story – you can read it here.

And as for its effects in rehabilitation, Paul Garrigan explains in his blog at the Hope Rehab Centre in Thailand, that Metta breaks the cycle of self-loathing.

Most of us who end up in rehab will have developed a bad attitude towards ourselves along the way (it may have been why we turned to alcohol and drugs in the first place), and this tendency towards self-loathing means we are at high-risk of sabotaging our future happiness. Metta meditation teaches us to begin valuing ourselves more highly so we are far less likely to settle for the sad existence of addiction.

At Hope Rehab Centre, they also practice Tonglen, which is a companion Metta practice, but more about focused giving of compassion – to yourself, and to someone right in front of you.

He goes on to explain how it has impacted his own life:

It took me many years to figure out that the problem was never really my emotions but the thoughts triggered by these emotions. In particular, it was the simple yet toxic ideas that ‘it shouldn’t be this way’ or ‘I shouldn’t be feeling like this’. What we are feeling is what we are feeling and to think otherwise is the road to madness – it is what it is.

The reason I struggled so hard to be with my feelings was a lack of self-compassion. I am using the word ‘compassion’ here in a precise way to mean ‘a willingness to be with discomfort’. I didn’t want to experience any ‘yucky’ feelings because they triggered patterns of thinking telling me there was something terribly wrong with me.

It works because it’s about reorienting and reconditioning your mind.

We know that meditation practice is helpful for reducing stress, finding relaxation, and generally quieting the mind. But Metta practice – as a focused concentration – works because it isn’t just about acceptance or letting go, or finding peace.

It’s about reconditioning.

You can spend your time reading about cognitive behavioural therapy, working with coaches, noticing your thoughts, and those kinds of things, all of them valuable. Or you can start with a practice that feels incredibly foreign to you, forces your mind to rebel – oh and how it rebels and resists! – until you break the pattern.

In explaining the impact of Metta practice, Venerable Pannyaro, an Australian Buddhist monk, tells us that it’s by achieving deep concentration, or one-pointed mind, while focusing and feeling during this practice, that your mind will be reconditioned. It will cause old patterns and habits to fall away more easily – and your negative constructions of the world simply stop.

He writes:

Loving-kindness is a meditation practice, which brings about positive attitudinal changes as it systematically develops the quality of ‘loving-acceptance’. It acts, as it were, as a form of self-psychotherapy, a way of healing the troubled mind to free it from its pain and confusion. Of all Buddhist meditations, loving-kindness has the immediate benefit of sweetening and changing old habituated negative patterns of mind.

The deep work of Metta means that it can take time

When first approaching a practice like Loving Kindness Meditation, you might find that you don’t really feel anything. You might not feel anything for ages.

You’re not alone.

But when you recognise that your patterns are changing, it is a remarkable moment. Sharon Salzberg writes about this in some detail here. Reflecting on her experience on a Buddhist retreat, she found herself repeating the phrases over and over, and nothing much happening. And then, she dropped something, which shattered into a thousand pieces. And her first thought was, ‘you’re a klutz but I love you’. That was the moment at which she realised that the deep practice was actually was working.

Why Metta will save the world

Many of the articles you will read about Loving Kindness Meditation, or Metta, are people-centric, human-centric. This is because it is used as an applied practice, often for known and impactful healing purposes.

Yet, that wasn’t the original intention of the Metta practice. The original intention of the Metta practice was to teach people how to be in the world. How to coexist with other beings in the world. How to recognise that you are part of something greater, that you are them and they are you. That when it comes down to quantum vibration, everything is the same thing.

We are all energy.

This is why, in my own practice, I go beyond humanity and send love, compassion, and well-wishes to all beings known and unknown. I do this because everything is the same thing. If you are vibration, so are the plants in your house and the birds in your yard. So are the bacteria and the amoeba, the fish and the snakes. If you only focus on people, then you will still kill everything else, right?

Humanity is already on a path of self-centred destruction. Disrupting this pathway is the responsibility of every individual. I don’t mean that you should give your money to non-profit organisations and drink out of cardboard cups. No, no. I mean that you are responsible for shifting how you relate to the world. You are responsible for your thinking. You are responsible for changing your relationship to all things: Grasses, trees, bodies of water, rain, storms, roses, bees, insects, arachnids… whatever they are.

If every individual practiced their own variation of Loving Kindness Meditation, and became a caring, kind, compassionate individual, then the world would change almost immediately.

Many of us are mislead into believing that big change takes big moments, big things, big actions. When, actually, the reverse is true. Big, external change comes from deep, hidden, internal change. Change in every single person. Because, whether you want to believe it or not, your energy is in the world and is part of the world, and it’s up to you to change it.

My own experience of Loving Kindness Meditation is intense and physical

The first time I did a Loving Kindness Meditation, I found myself in an ocean of peaceful happiness. As I have continued to practice Metta, the effects of it have changed. I now feel it intensely in my physical body.

As I begin and open up into Metta, I feel the beginnings of joy deep in my belly. As it continues and I expands, I begin to tingle. My heart centre gets warmer and warmer, I find myself smiling, breathing deeply, and being one hundred per cent in a state of intense pleasure.

The after effects are remarkable. I am calm, not just immediately, but in many, many situations throughout the day and the day that follows. I am settled. Other people’s foibles don’t really bother me. I’m happier doing things for other people, and I send them love while I do it. My approach to my day is focused and steady, and I am happier outside with my feet in the dirt than I am on social media. In fact, I find that when I practice Loving Kindness Meditation, all desire for reading through my social media feeds completely stops. I’m better at interrupting myself, at noticing my decision-points throughout my day. (A decision-point is that moment when you finish something and then go on to something else; my tendency is to just jump straight into social media without thinking.)

I’m not alone.

Janet Lundy, at Lion’s Roar explains her own practice of Metta. She says that it lets her lead with love. It’s a great way to put it.

How I practice Metta: Loving Kindness Meditation, and what I recommend to you

The first time I encountered the Metta practice, which I think was in a video by a monk, I thought to myself holy hell, there is no fucking way I’m going to remember all of this, what the actual fuck.

I believe that was my exact thought. Ha!

So I avoided it until I happened upon an alternative. That alternative is this: You write it down. First thing in the morning, you grab a notebook, and you write out the entire practice, from start to finish.

Start by writing it down, every morning

Writing out the Metta practice is almost as good as actually doing the practice. It’s the most sensible doorway for non-Buddhist practitioners. I believe this because it allows you to become comfortable with it. When you write it down, you are still thinking about it. You are still doing the work. In the practice of writing by hand, you are also embedding it inside yourself: You are doing, while thinking.

After a week of doing this, you will notice profound effects in your daily life. You will be less ruffled, less hurried, much calmer. You’ll be nicer to others and nicer to be around.

And you will have started to memorise it.

Continuing to write it by hand, you will eventually memorise the entire practice.

Once you have memorised it (it will just happen), you can say it aloud

If you’re anything like me, then after putting in the work to write it out every day for two weeks, you will have the phrases of the Metta practice firmly embedded in your memory.

Once you have, then sit for a few minutes after writing out the phrases. Close your eyes. Say them aloud (or whisper them softly to yourself if nobody else is up yet), and just allow yourself to feel the feelings. You’ll probably notice that you start to feel the joy inside you.

Now, a word of caution. If you’re like many people, you will immediately want to go back to the thinking. Start training yourself to sit inside the feeling. Allow it. Don’t interrupt yourself. Just notice it, smile, stay inside the noticing. That’s pretty advanced work, but with diligence, you will achieve it.

Move on to the visualisation now you have the feelings

The feelings are the most critical part of this work, in my opinion. It’s more important to cultivate feeling (as opposed to thought or calmness) and to be able to stay inside that feeling. Why? It’s fleeting. So many people that I know also run away from their feelings. They medicate, they get busy, they put up any barriers they can find so that they don’t have to feel.

Feeling is where life is. So learn to sit inside it.

Anyway! Move on to the visualisations. With every phrase, feel the feeling and see the outcome. Feel all of the feelings, see the actions, see yourself feeding these beautiful feelings to those at the centre of your focus.

Do it for yourself, for the people in your life, for the difficult people in your life, for your neighbourhood, your city, your country, the world.

My Loving Kindness Meditation script. Please take it, use it, and enjoy it

This is my Metta practice. It is not a traditional Buddhist practice. It’s been put together by me over a period of time, and I really really love it. The full text of it is below.

May I be safe and protected. May I be healthy and strong. May I be free from physical, mental, emotional and spiritual suffering and distress. May I be free from harm or danger. May I take care of my own happiness. May I be happy and joyful. May I overcome all challenges on my path and always meet with success. May I be caring, kind, compassionate and gentle in my ways. May I be diligent in my meditation practice and help others along their spiritual paths. May my True Nature shine through and onto all beings I encounter.

May all people and beings in my home be safe and protected. May they be healthy and strong. May they be free from physical, mental, emotional and spiritual suffering and distress. May they be free from harm or danger. May they take care of their own happinesses. May they be happy and joyful. May they overcome all challenges on their paths and always meet with success. May they be caring, kind, compassionate and gentle in their ways. May they be diligent in their meditation practice, and help others along their spiritual paths. May their Truth Natures shine through and onto all beings they encounter.

May [person with whom I am having difficulties, or at whom I am angry or upset] be safe and protected. May [he/she] be healthy and strong. May [he/she] be free from physical, mental, emotional and spiritual suffering and distress. May [he/she] be free from harm or danger. May [he/she] take care of their own happinesses. May [he/she] be happy and joyful. May [he/she] overcome all challenges on their paths and always meet with success. May [he/she] be caring, kind, compassionate and gentle in their ways. May [he/she] be diligent in their meditation practice, and help others along their spiritual paths. May [he/she] Truth Natures shine through and onto all beings they encounter.

May all beings in my neighbourhood be safe and protected. May they be healthy and strong. May they be free from physical, mental, emotional and spiritual suffering and distress. May they be free from harm or danger. May they take care of their own happinesses. May they be happy and joyful. May they overcome all challenges on their paths and always meet with success. May they be caring, kind, compassionate and gentle in their ways. May they be diligent in their meditation practice, and help others along their spiritual paths. May their Truth Natures shine through and onto all beings they encounter.

May all beings in my city be safe and protected. May they be healthy and strong. May they be free from physical, mental, emotional and spiritual suffering and distress. May they be free from harm or danger. May they take care of their own happinesses. May they be happy and joyful. May they overcome all challenges on their paths and always meet with success. May they be caring, kind, compassionate and gentle in their ways. May they be diligent in their meditation practice, and help others along their spiritual paths. May their Truth Natures shine through and onto all beings they encounter.

May all beings in my country be safe and protected. May they be healthy and strong. May they be free from physical, mental, emotional and spiritual suffering and distress. May they be free from harm or danger. May they take care of their own happinesses. May they be happy and joyful. May they overcome all challenges on their paths and always meet with success. May they be caring, kind, compassionate and gentle in their ways. May they be diligent in their meditation practice, and help others along their spiritual paths. May their Truth Natures shine through and onto all beings they encounter.

May all beings in the world be safe and protected. May they be healthy and strong. May they be free from physical, mental, emotional and spiritual suffering and distress. May they be free from harm or danger. May they take care of their own happinesses. May they be happy and joyful. May they overcome all challenges on their paths and always meet with success. May they be caring, kind, compassionate and gentle in their ways. May they be diligent in their meditation practice, and help others along their spiritual paths. May their Truth Natures shine through and onto all beings they encounter.

May all beings in the universe be safe and protected. May they be healthy and strong. May they be free from physical, mental, emotional and spiritual suffering and distress. May they be free from harm or danger. May they take care of their own happinesses. May they be happy and joyful. May they overcome all challenges on their paths and always meet with success. May they be caring, kind, compassionate and gentle in their ways. May they be diligent in their meditation practice, and help others along their spiritual paths. May their Truth Natures shine through and onto all beings they encounter.

May all beings in the known and unknown realms be safe and protected. May they be healthy and strong. May they be free from physical, mental, emotional and spiritual suffering and distress. May they be free from harm or danger. May they take care of their own happinesses. May they be happy and joyful. May they overcome all challenges on their paths and always meet with success. May they be caring, kind, compassionate and gentle in their ways. May they be diligent in their meditation practice, and help others along their spiritual paths. May their Truth Natures shine through and onto all beings they encounter.

About the author

I am a writer and mentor by destiny, a Reiki practitioner by choice, and a long-time meditator and person of spirit and joy. You can contact me here for information on working with me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.