The global pandemic has an upside: I’ve decreased my monthly bar tab budget to $0 and, instead, focused my time and energy on meditations. (Okay, and sleeping, impulse-buying candles, and filling my Kindle up with anti-racist books.)
Not everyone is ready to hop on the meditation train when I tell them that I teach meditation (and yoga!) – I get it. Meditation can be frustrating. It can be hard. We often have high expectations for ourselves and our meditation practice, even though these expectations are largely self-imposed.
Fortunately, there is not just one “type” of meditation; you don’t have to sit with your eyes closed, in complete silence to properly meditate. Thoughts are going to pop in and out of your mind. By using a mantra, listening to a guided meditation, or focusing on different parts of your body, you can direct your attention away from distractions and continue with your practice.
One of these “types” of meditation is a Mettā, Maitrī, or “loving-kindness” meditation.
What Is Mettā Meditation?
Mettā is the Pali word for “loving-kindness” or “benevolence.” Pali is a language used by the ancient Buddhists, where the tradition of Mettā meditations first began. (You may also hear this meditation referred to as a Maitrī meditation, using the Sanskrit word for Mettā.)
The goal of a Mettā meditation is to cultivate kindness, or to cultivate a freedom from suffering. This sounds like a tall order, but it’s a simple process. During a Mettā meditation, practitioners simply repeat a mantra. And they repeat it over and over again.
Repetition of any phrase is extremely powerful. The more you tell yourself that you are worthy of love, the more you are likely to believe it. The more you direct love toward another person, the deeper your love grows. Although it may seem like a tedious or tiresome task, you will be surprised at how emotional and energized you feel sending this compassion out into the world.
Who Do You Direct Compassion To?
In some traditions, you visualize a person while you repeat mantras of loving-kindness. You direct these wishes to them. In other traditions, the mantra is simply repeated without the visualization. Either way, you are practicing Mettā meditation!
I have personally found that the visualization makes the meditation more powerful.
Traditionally, Mettā meditations start with directing compassion toward yourself, as it’s seen as the “easiest” person to direct your loving-kindness.
(I don’t always feel as if this is the easiest option. It’s not easy to unabashedly love yourself, and it’s okay if you don’t feel that love right away! If you are practicing on your own, feel free to direct your meditation toward someone who you love, and then center back on yourself later in the meditation.)
As the meditation progresses, an instructor may make things “harder.” First, they ask you to direct the meditation toward yourself. Then, someone you love. Then, a “neutral” person. Next up is someone that you don’t love so much. Finally, you are instructed to direct your compassion to all sentient beings.
Stay with me here – directing my loving-kindness toward someone I’m not feeling so compassionate about has always been the most powerful part of this meditation. By repeating these mantras and cultivating this compassion, you might find yourself feeling more gentle or loving toward the person. After all, we’re each human.
These mantras may vary based on the teacher or your personal preference. Here are a few examples of what you may be instructed to repeat during a loving-kindness meditation:
- May you be happy.
- May you be safe.
- May you be free.
- May you be filled with loving-kindness.
- May you be well.
- May you live with ease.
“You” may be replaced with “I,” “they,” or “all beings.” This is the beauty of Mettā meditation; it can be directed toward anyone you choose. It can be directed toward one person, a group of people, or everyone and everything.
In a world full of Facebook arguments, frustrations, and an actual global pandemic, it’s important to reduce our anger to a simmer and send some loving-kindness into the world.
Take just a few minutes out of your day to pause, refocus, and direct some compassion toward yourself and others. You deserve it, just for being you. While meditation cannot solve the world’s problems, it can give you the energy, perspective, or focus to get back to work or feel motivated to do anything at all!
If you are interested in learning more about this practice, I recommend trying out my seven-minute Introduction to Loving-Kindness meditation on the Insight Timer app. Headspace, Calm, and other platforms also have a handful of loving-kindness meditations that you can try out today. There is no need to sit in complete silence in order to “successfully meditate.” So give this a try.
May you be happy.
May you be safe.
May you be free.
May you be filled with loving-kindness.