Metta is a Pali word that is usually translated as ‘Lovingkindness’. Strictly speaking it can also be translated more simply as ‘love’, but in the West we are so hung up about the passionate or sentimental aspects of love that it is not so useful. Thus we use the rather cumbersome ‘lovingkindness’ when introducing the concept of Metta. In reality, part of the value of Metta meditation practice is that you will explore and learn your own meaning for ‘Metta’. We develop feelings of Metta by unconditionally wishing that people are well, happy and free from danger – no matter who they are.
A pearl goes up for auction. No one has enough, so the pearl buys itself – Rumi
Love exists in itself, not relying on owning or being owned. Like the pearl, love can only buy itself, because love is not a matter of currency or exchange. No one has enough to buy it, but everyone has enough to cultivate it. Metta re-unites us with what it means to be alive and unbound – From ‘Lovingkindness, the Revolutionary Art of Happiness’ Sharon Salzberg
The Sublime Abodes:
Metta is part of what is known as the four ‘Brahma-Viharas’, which translates as the ‘Sublime Abodes’. The reason they are called this is based on the belief that our emotions are states of mind that we choose – not things that happen to us. So, instead of saying ‘Fred made me angry’, we should say ‘Fred did this, and I chose to be angry’. This is not how we normally behave, but if we can make this shift in our approach, then we ourselves can be much happier by choosing that our mind dwell in positive mind-states, or the ‘heavenly abodes’. The four abodes are:
• Metta – Lovingkindness
• Karuna – Compassion
• Mudita – Joy in others’ success
• Upekka – Equanimity
Traditionally, the practice we will be learning is called the ‘Metta Bahavana’ – ‘Making Lovingkindness Happen’. Again, this is based on the understanding that our emotions are our own choices.
Metta for Ourselves:
In the full Metta practice we progress through developing feelings for ourselves, our friends, people we don’t know well, our enemies and finally all sentient beings. Metta meditation is truly a life-long practice! We start, though, with the foundation, which is to generate feelings of Metta for ourselves. Many people find this the hardest part. The most important thing to remember is that Metta is unconditional. Regardless of how you feel about yourself, we need to root ourselves in the belief that we deserve to be well, happy, free of danger and free of fear. So, thoughts about our issues and inadequacies have no place in this meditation – you deserve to be well and happy, unconditionally.
Practice: Metta for Myself:
This meditation is designed to allow us to start to feel what Metta really means, by directing feelings of lovingkindness to ourselves.
Start by settling into your meditation position and gaining focus through mindfulness of the breath. Now bring to mind a time, place or situation where you were truly happy, comfortable with your place in the world and what you were doing. Work with that image and notice the feeling you get. Now, maintaining that feeling as best you can, tell yourself that you deserve that feeling of happiness in all of your life, regardless of the mistakes you make or situations you find yourself in. Repeat the mantram ‘May I be well, May I be happy’ and try to let go of any negative feelings, realizing that you deserve to feel well and happy – unconditionally.