Lovingkindness meditation (maitri in Sanskrit and metta in Pali) is a very powerful type of meditation in which we focus our attention on ourselves and on others with a sense of interest, caring and compassion. The traditional practice of lovingkindness meditation is done by repeating to yourself: May I Be safe, May I Be happy, May I Be Healthy, May I Live with Ease. You can direct these phrases to yourself, to someone you love, to someone you have difficulty with, to a neutral person or to everyone.
In a world in which there is often a feeling of "us" versus "them" or "me" versus "the world," this practice can be transformative. It offers us the ability to open our hearts to ourselves and to feel a greater connection to others. In our daily lives, we are often more accustomed to being critical of ourselves and judgmental of others. We take stock of our days by listing all that we did wrong, what we could have done better, what we didn't get done at all, and how we let ourselves down. We tend to look at others through that same lens. Instead, lovingkindness teaches us to look at all that we did right each day, and to focus on the goodness in others.
One challenging lovingkindness practice is to offer kind thoughts to those in our lives that we find most difficult. The practice helps us to recognize that everyone deserves to be loved and everyone wants to be happy. By opening our hearts even to those that cause us pain, we can create a new perspective from which we view those difficult people. It helps us focus on the good that each person possesses, and focus less on the negative aspects of their behavior. As Sharon Salzberg explains in her book Real Happiness, "Sending lovingkindness to a difficult person is a process of relaxing the heart and freeing yourself from fear and corrosive resentment - a profound, challenging, and liberating process . . ."
This type of meditation also offers us the opportunity to recognize that we are all part of something much larger than ourselves and that we are all inextricably connected to one another. By focusing on the good in others and sending love and caring to the world, we begin to see ourselves in others and to see others in ourselves, no longer the "us" versus "them" mindset. Ultimately, this practice will help us live a more peaceful, loving and compassionate life.
When I first learned lovingkindness meditation, I must admit that I thought the whole idea was a little hokey. Could I really feel such love for myself, for others and for the world? I decided to give it a try. For the past couple of weeks, I have been ending my meditation practice with some lovingkindness meditation. Also, during the day, when I am waiting (which I do a lot of), I decided to do some lovingkindness meditation. In the grocery store line, in the carpool line, in the school pick up line, I have decided that I would much prefer to share some lovingindness than some of the other thoughts that often pervade my brain - - annoyance, impatience, judgment, planning, etc.
At first, the practice may seem a bit awkward, but I must admit that I have found it to be transformative. First, I am much less critical of myself. Next, I have found it to be an incredibly positive and powerful parenting perspective to take note of what each child does well each day, rather than focusing on his or her shortcomings. I have noticed that the way I act and react to others, both familiar faces and total strangers, is with much more kindness and patience. I have had many meaningful moments, usually with people I would have never taken the time to acknowledge in the past because I was in too much of a hurry, that have meant a lot to me. A shared smile with the Starbucks barista, a kind wave to the person who helped me back up in the CVS parking lot, and a short conversation with the parking attendant in a New York city parking garage, all seemed to brighten my day a bit. My hope is that is also brightened theirs.
So try practicing a little lovingkindness. Instead of looking at all that we did wrong each day, let's choose to look at all that we did right. What a rare and beautiful new way to look at ourselves and the world! So, in the spirit of lovingkindness,
May you be safe, May you be happy, May you be healthy and May you live with ease.
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