Meditation in Sanskrit is “Bhavana,” meaning “cultivation.”Through meditation; you are cultivating your spirit and learning about yourself. Meditation offers a connection to the world and an understanding of your connection to others. There are many different types of meditation, each with a specific focus. With the world in its current state of unrest, mostly due to fear-based ideologies, I would like to talk about a type of meditation that teaches loving-kindness to eliminate fear.
Tradition has it that the Buddha first taught Metta meditation as an antidote to fear. The story goes that he sent a group of monks off to meditate in a forest. The monks, according to the story, soon learned that the trees were inhabited by terrifying spirits. The monks quickly fled from the forest. They begged the Buddha to send them to meditate somewhere else – anywhere but that forest. Buddha told them that he was going to send them right back into the same forest. “But this time,” he said, “I’m going to give you protection.” And then he taught the Metta meditation for the first time. He encouraged the monks to recite certain phrases, which I will soon teach you. But, he told them, it was not enough to merely recite the phrases, they had to acquire a heartfelt feeling for loving-kindness.
The rest of the story says that the tree spirits were so moved by the feelings of loving-kindness generated by the monks, that they decided to serve and protect the monks. Legend or not, the moral and meaning of the story is what
matters: We can penetrate fear with loving-kindness. If fear arises, it need not overpower your mind.
Metta is unconditional. It is simply a gift, with no expectations and presented with loving-kindness, if a person does something that might disappoint, the feeling of loving-kindness still remains.
Metta is not about putting on a happy face and always pretending that everything is great. It is not about simply accepting abuse and repressing our feelings of pain or anger. Having a loving heart is not about living behind a mask.
Loving-kindness attempts to open our minds – it teaches us to embrace both the pleasures and the pains of everyday life – and to be completely authentic.
Metta is designed to cultivate our desire to be happy, but it teaches us to embrace ourselves first – both the good and the not-so-good parts of ourselves. The practice of Metta cultivates an inner generosity that gives us the ability to embrace all aspects of our world. Metta is also designed to help us overcome the illusion of separateness. And so Metta cultivates the positive forces, and it begins with being kind and loving to yourself.
Buddha said: “You can search the entire universe for someone more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, but that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, more than anybody in the universe, deserve your own love and affection.”
All good meditation starts with relaxation, so sit comfortably and relax. Close your eyes and breathe. As the Buddha would say, “be at ease.” Imagine that you are out in a field planting seeds – good seeds of intention. Feel the warm sun on your face and shoulders. Open your heart to the idea that you are going to be directing a sense of loving care, of kindness, and friendship to yourself. Think of at least one thing that you really like about yourself and spend just a few moments thinking about the good that is within you. (Pause).
Start by saying to yourself mentally:
May I be free from danger. (By danger, we mean all kinds of danger, internal as well as external).
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease.
May I live with ease refers to all the ordinary experiences of daily life. Imagine that your daily life will go easily, and not be a struggle. Each phrase should come from your heart, using the power of intention.
As you say these phrases, develop a rhythm for yourself:
May I be free from danger.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease.
If you find your attention wandering, don’t fret about it, don’t analyze it, just bring your attention gently back to the task at hand. Next, we expand these wishes to other beings. Traditionally, the first person we expand this to is called “the benefactor.” This is someone who has been good to you; someone who has taken care of you; someone who has been generous to you. Someone who inspires you to develop your own capacity as a human being to be loving.
Remember the good that this person has done for you or his or her good qualities, and then begin offering him or her loving-kindness through the phrases:
“May you be free from danger. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.” (Pause).
Next we direct the intentions to a really good friend. So, think of a good friend, say their name and use your power of good intention on them. “May you be free from danger. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.” (Pause).
The next person is the one we call the neutral person. Somebody you know, but you have neutral feelings for them (no strong likes or dislikes). “May you be free from danger. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.” (Pause).
Now it’s time for us to move on to a difficult person. Somebody who is mildly difficult, annoying or irritating to you. Picture this person in your mind and say: “May you be free from danger. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.” (Pause).
Gradually we work to incorporate more and more difficult people. I am not saying that you need to forgive this person right now or to feel deep love for them. It’s about recognizing oneness – the fact that we are not really separate. Offering kindness to someone like this does not make you weak – it makes you a human being who has magnificent capacity to love – and love is our greatest strength. (Not a weakness).
So you say to this person: “May you be free from danger. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.”
And finally, we extend our wishes to all living beings. “May all beings be free from danger. May they be happy. May they be healthy. May they live with ease.”
And we always end our practice by directing the force of loving-kindness, of friendship, of loving-care, to all beings everywhere without distinction, without exclusion, and without separation.
Try to take your meditation experience back with you into the world of your daily life. Remember to wish all beings loving-kindness, and always, remember to love, honor and respect yourself. “May you be free from danger. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.”
And now with your eyes closed or slightly open – listen to our sacred monks as they chant a blessing of loving kindness, peace and healing.