The Buddha taught that the cultivation of a kind and loving heart, and ultimately of a “Boundless Love” for all creation, was the most important dimension of our spiritual work. Sustaining a loving heart, he taught, even for the duration of a snap of a finger, makes one a truly spiritual being. This quality of love is called “Metta” in Buddhist teachings.
Metta is likened to a gentle rain that falls upon the earth. This rain does not select and choose - ‘I’ll rain here, and I’ll avoid that place over there.’ Rather, it simply falls without discrimination.
Metta Meditation Practice
In working with the meditation practice of metta, we gently repeat phrases that are meaningful in terms of what we wish, for our own happiness and wellbeing and that of others. Classically there are four phrases that are used: “May I be free from danger. May I have mental happiness. May I have physical happiness. May I have ease of wellbeing.”
Preliminary Practice: Reflecting on the Good Within You
In metta practice, we begin by allowing a feeling of love to converge in our hearts. Traditionally, we begin by spending several minutes reflecting on our own goodness. We call to mind a time that we did or said something that was loving, generous, caring, or kind. If nothing comes easily to mind, we gently turn our attention to a quality in ourselves that we like - a strength or ability we can recognize and admire. If still nothing comes to mind, we can simply reflect on the basic “rightness” and beauty of our primal wish to be happy.
Basic Instructions: Metta Practice
Sit comfortably. Begin with five minutes of reflection on the good within you. Begin to repeat the phrases you have chosen, that express what you most deeply wish for yourself. You can coordinate the phrases with your breathing or not, as you prefer. Let the pacing and tone be gentle, offering yourself a gift with each phrase. If your mind wanders or difficult feelings or memories arise, simply notice that in a spirit of kindness and gently come back to repeating the phrases.
There are times in doing this practice when feelings of unworthiness come up strongly, and you can see clearly the conditions and limits you place on loving yourself. When this occurs, breathe gently, accept that these feelings are there, remember that you, like all beings, want to be happy and free from suffering, and come back to the metta phrases.