I was first introduced to the Loving-Kindness Meditation during the Yoga Teacher Training I did in Varkala (India) in January 2020.
The original name in Pāli for this Buddhist practice is metta bhavana.
What is the Loving-Kindness Meditation about?
According to The Buddhist Center, “Metta means ‘love’ (in a non-romantic sense), friendliness, or kindness: hence ‘loving-kindness’ for short. It is an emotion, something you feel in your heart. Bhavana means development or cultivation.”
Back in our peaceful shala, our meditation teacher Ania Olszewska had us prepare our minds and bodies to receive love and kindness. We sat comfortably with our spine tall and our eyes closed, and began connecting to our breaths. After guiding us through a visualization, she had us whisper the following sentences:
May I be happy and content,
May I be healthy and strong,
May I give love and be loved,
May I be peaceful and at ease,
May I be free from suffering
The next step was to visualize the face of a person we cared about very much; somebody from our past or present, and imagine them sitting to our right. As we felt their warmth and love, the sense of safety they provided us with, we were invited to dedicate them the words we’d just dedicated to ourselves:
May you be happy and content,
May you be healthy and strong,
May you give love and be loved,
May you be peaceful and at ease,
May you be free from suffering
So far, so good. It may not come to us spontaneously to share words of love and kindness with ourselves and/or with a loved one, but – when placed in the right context and with the help of the meditation practice – it probably feels relatively OK to do so for most of us.
The challenging part of this exercise – at least for me – came when we had to imagine a person with whom we had a difficult relationship; somebody who’d hurt us and/or we’d hurt in return. We were asked to visualize their faces and expressions in their happiest place.
We had to imagine them sitting to our left this time, and the invitation was to dedicate them the loving and kind sentences we’d dedicated to ourselves and to the person we loved – with just as much intention. I felt the tension in my body, the smile on my face quickly turned into a frown.
Ania then gently guided our focus onto a stranger. Somebody whose face we could picture in our heads, but whom we’d never really spoken to and whose existence we were quite indifferent to: another commuter whom we’d often met on the bus, a vendor from the marketplace, a neighbor etc. We had to imagine that person sitting opposite us, and dedicate the sentences of love and kindness to them with intention.
The last part of the metta bhavana was to look at ourselves from above; see the loved one sitting to our right, the person with whom we had a difficult relationship sitting to our left, and the stranger sitting before us. When we were able to clearly see that picture, we had to imagine all of us holding hands and whispering together:
May we be happy and content,
May we be healthy and strong,
May we give love and be loved,
May we be peaceful and at ease,
May we be free from suffering
That was when I was able to let go of my resistance. Tears started streaming down my face, I could feel an opening in my heart, my body finally loosened.
Why should we practice the Loving-Kindness Meditation?
Throughout the first lockdown, Ania was generous enough to lead this meditation online, three times a week. People from all over the world hopped on zoom to receive and spread their loving intentions and kind words, hopeful that it would help us heal.
As weeks went by and we continued to practice, we tweaked the sentences, extended them to people we even disliked in the attempt to cultivate our compassion. The purpose was not to start loving everybody unconditionally, but simply to create enough openness, build bridges between us, strengthen our connections.
Mindfulness is not just important for our individual wellbeing. It is essential to our collective liberation and for the respect of our environment. It is a practice that can make us more aware, more curious. And when we are able to listen – to ourselves, to our loved ones, to those who wounded us, and to the strangers that surround us – we can hold each other and start working together towards common purposes.
Emergent Strategy has become my go to book these days, so as I did in most of my previous articles, I will once again quote adrienne maree brown:
“As part of our liberation, the Earth teaches us that everything – E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G – is connected. The soil needs rain, organic matter, air, worms and life in order to do what it needs to do to give and receive life. Each element is an essential component.”
If you have a meditation practice:
- What role does meditation play in your life?
- How did/does it contribute to your growth and transformation?
- What are the impacts of your practice on your surrounding world?
- If you do not have a meditation practice:
- What narratives prevent you from practicing meditation?
- What other practices/rituals help you feel grounded, find clarity and feel nourished?
- How can you extend them onto your relationship with your surroundings?
How about trying to practice the Loving-Kindness Meditation for the next two weeks?
Here is a guided version of this meditation. Keep track of your observations after the practice!