Metta (loving-kindness) is a well known practice in Buddhism in which we intentionally send forth love and compassion to our Self and to others. Historically, Metta actually dates back to some of the early Upanishads but in Sanskrit is known as the word ‘maitri.’ The pre-Buddha Indian sages who were practicing these virtues of loving-kindness were thought to be earlier incarnations of Buddha. Maitri, derived from the ancient root ‘Mid’ (love), can be thought of as a mother’s profound, unconditional love for her child that is cultivated towards all living beings.
To some, it might be hard to replicate the feeling of unconditional love towards others especially those that we may not feel on a surface level are ‘deserving’ of this love. Likewise, many people are easily able to cultivate compassion towards others but struggle to send that same loving-kindness back to themselves. Sadly, there is a huge lack of self-empathy and compassion in today’s world. With so much emphasis on social media and trying to fit into the binary mold of societal standards, we live in a judgement-based world. Most of that judgement is reserved for ourselves and if not, our actions towards others are certainly mirrored back to how we truly feel about ourselves. But if we can start to turn inwards and embody love, our true nature, then we can start to shift our mindset and realize that this is what connects us all.
Luckily, there are so many loving-kindness (metta) meditations and practices in which we can send love to others and to ourselves. The idea of these practices is that compassion is like a muscle that can strengthened over time. It can be as simple as repeating a mantra such as, “May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.” You can repeat this mantra for yourself, for your loved ones, for a specific person or persons (maybe someone you have trouble with), and for all living beings. Repetition is key to overcoming the habitual judgmental thoughts and imprints on the mind (samskaras) so it’s recommended to do this practice every day for 40 days. Practice looking at all parts of yourself in meditation. The things that come up that you routinely suppress must be acknowledged and accepted. They must be looked at and not judged or labeled as painful or embarrassing. Embrace that self-love and compassion as if you are looking at a beloved friend and simply focus on the feelings of peace, calm and tranquility. It may not be easy and it won’t happen overnight, but you’ll start to recognize when you aren’t being so kind to yourself.
When we practice metta especially when we send love to others, something truly amazing happens. Scientifically we can reduce stress, increase brain matter, reduce chronic pain, reduce migraines, increase empathy and have a greater social connection. Think of someone that you have conflict with, dislike, or who has hurt you. I challenge you to sit in meditation and cultivate the intense feelings of love and compassion and genuinely send it to and surround that person with it. Bathe them in the pure, white light of boundless love that connects your souls. We all have the power to transform negative energy into something positive and beautiful and essentially return home to our true nature.
A well-known sanskrit mantra that you can chant is:
“lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu”, which means,
“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”
“The simplest acts of kindness,” said Mahatma Gandhi, “are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.”
Written by: Tara Marie Hoxha and Monica Ott