by Liza Bertini
Metta, a Pali word translating to "loving-kindness" or "benevolence," lies at the heart of this ancient Buddhist practice. The practice originates from the historical Buddha’s early discourse on immeasurable friendliness, the Metta Sutta. At its core, Metta meditation involves intentionally cultivating positive emotions and wishes for the well-being and happiness of oneself and others. It's about generating and radiating unconditional love, acceptance, and goodwill towards all beings, without discrimination or exclusion.
On The Thread this month (February, of course), we are exploring all things heart-centered and Metta is the most powerful practice I know to help one soften the armor of the heart, cultivate good feelings towards others and themselves, and open the mind and the heart when we have the impulse to do the opposite. This meditation can be practiced anywhere, anytime, be it on a meditation cushion, driving in traffic, or shopping at the grocery store (Sharon Salzberg calls this Shopping Cart Metta!).
In the most common version of Metta practice, we offer these feelings of goodwill through the use of simple phrases first to ourselves, and in succession to someone we care about, someone we’re indifferent towards, or a neutral person, someone we consider a “difficult person,” and finally to all beings, everywhere. This allows us to begin our loving-kindness practice with feelings most accessible to us, and work up to more difficult feelings. This becomes a practice of relaxing, noticing a reaction (thoughts, emotions, sensations), and then softening more.
The phrases used can be as simple as:
“May I (you; all beings) be happy.”
“May I (you; all beings) be healthy.”
“May I (you; all beings) be safe.”
“May I (you; all beings) live with ease.”
Metta is an offering. It is a practice of gift-giving love and compassion and it helps us pay attention and place attention on connecting to ourselves, to others in our lives, and all beings. We realize the interconnectedness of all beings and that the awareness of suffering and care generated for others can uplift us all.
In our modern-day society, we see compassion, kindness, and unity surge in the face of tragedy. We have witnessed this time and again after natural disasters, mass shootings, and terrorist attacks. Through collective action and empathy, communities demonstrate their capacity for resilience and compassion, and to come together and support one another in times of crisis.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if this attention and kindness were given to each other all the time? Imagine how different the world would be. So let’s keep making the world a better place, one student and one class at a time!
Introducing Metta meditation to our students goes beyond just offering another technique; it's about nurturing the seeds of compassion and empathy within each individual. By incorporating this practice into our classes, we empower our students to cultivate a heart full of love and kindness, both on and off the mat. In a world often characterized by division and strife, Metta meditation offers a potent antidote, reminding us of our shared humanity and the transformative power of love and compassion. As yoga teachers, let us continue to inspire and uplift our students, guiding them on a journey of self-discovery, healing, and awakening.
When we incorporate Metta meditation into our classes the collective energy of this practice is quite powerful. Additionally, it offers our students a variety of benefits including:
Cultivating Compassion: Metta meditation helps soften the heart and develop greater empathy and compassion towards oneself and others, fostering a sense of interconnectedness and unity.
Improved Relationships: Regularly offering loving-kindness to others, especially those who challenge us or whom we may need to forgive, has a profound effect on our feelings towards another. It helps to foster greater understanding, patience, and kindness, and a way to have a softer approach with this other person.
Reduced Stress and Anxiety: By promoting positive emotions like love and kindness, Metta meditation can alleviate stress, anxiety, and negative mental states, creating a sense of inner calm and tranquility.
Enhanced Self-Esteem: By cultivating self-love and self-compassion, Metta meditation enhances self-esteem and self-confidence, empowering students to embrace their worthiness and uniqueness.
Increased Mindfulness: Metta meditation serves as a form of mindfulness practice that encourages present-moment awareness and non-judgmental acceptance of oneself and others, deepening the yoga experience.
Emotional Healing: The practice of sending loving-kindness to oneself and others can facilitate emotional healing and forgiveness, releasing resentment and past wounds, and cultivating inner peace and wholeness.
My first yoga teacher and dear friend Jillian Pransky says that “our hearts have boundless capacity for love and when we find it in ourselves, it’s not only good for us, for our health and our happiness, but it’s good for everyone we are in relationship with and everyone we come into contact with.”
We invite you to practice Metta in community with us on The Thread every Wednesday at 7:30am EST. Not a member? Join HERE!