The Healing Power of Loving Kindness

One of my favorite pictures by Wojtek Kalka

One of my favorite pictures by Wojtek Kalka

Hello dear friends!

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that the mindfulness movement has really taken off as of late. It’s showing up in advertisements, in classrooms, in boardrooms…not just in yoga studios and zen centers anymore. There is finally solid research being published about the benefits of meditation to our moods, our social interactions, and even the structure of our brains. Personally, I think this is an awesome little seed being planted in our collective consciousness- the more people practicing mindfulness, the better off this world will be. We all just need to water and fertilize that little seed and watch it grow.

And honestly, it’s the action part that is the hardest, right? Many of us already know about meditation or mindfulness activities and the awesome things they can bring to our lives, but actually halting the busy-busy of everyday to just sit can seem like a Herculean task. I was lucky enough to see the opportunity to start a meditation practice when I experienced my relapse a couple of years ago. I set aside time each and every day to listen to a guided meditation, to do some pranayama, some gentle yoga…whatever else could make me feel a little better. Looking back on that time, I mainly tuned into basic breath-oriented meditations or ones that were focused on physical health and healing. And that was just what I needed at the time.

But I didn’t really start to experience peace and healing until I discovered metta, or loving-kindness, meditation.

If you’ve never heard of this before, it’s okay- you’re not alone! The word metta translates to a feeling of benevolence, friendship, and boundless compassion, and the premise of a metta meditation is to both cultivate those feelings towards yourself and to radiate them out into the world. Sounds pretty warm and fuzzy, right? And it is…

However, this doesn’t mean that this type of meditation is easy or a quick way to get some feel-good in your life. Honestly, it’s sometimes revealing, sometimes challenging, and sometimes uncomfortable. But always always worth it.

Metta is structured around four wishes, and the wording varies from each tradition or person. You may find your very own unique phrases of compassion to use here, or you can follow those used in a guided session- the wonderful thing is, it doesn’t matter all that much which words you choose. The lifeblood of this practice is the glorious, tender, non-judging, interconnected equanimity that comes from an open heart.

The most common four wishes are: to be happy, to be well, to be safe and protected, and to be free from suffering. And there are three states of intention: towards yourself, towards (specific) others, and lastly, toward the entire world/universe. Many people find that this structure is extremely helpful in making metta a regular practice- it’s easy to remember and can be applied to any moment in your life, no matter where you are!

So let’s adventure through a little metta practice right now! Let’s start with a bit of centering first:

Sit comfortably, preferably somewhere quiet. Gently close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath, just as it is. Focus on bringing your breath into the area around your heart, and feel the energy there. You may even place your hand over your heart or imagine it radiating with light. Take several breaths here to stir up feelings of warmth and compassion.

--> This is a great practice to incorporate heart-opening implements like: 

Essential oils: Rose, lemon, neroli, bergamot, rosewood, chamomile, ylang ylang

Healing stones: amazonite, adventurine, rose quartz, emerald, malachite, moss agate

* Now bring the feeling of unconditional love to yourself and say silently or out loud:

May I be happy
May I be well
May I be safe and protected
May I be free from suffering

Take your time to rest in this feeling and let it radiate throughout your body. Maybe a smile will come to your face. Maybe some tears. Just allow them.

* Next, bring to mind someone who has been a sort of benefactor to you. Perhaps a mentor, guide, friend, or caregiver who has shown you compassion and understanding. Imagine them right in front of you, and extend the four wishes to them:

May you be happy
May you be well
May you be safe and protected
May you be free from suffering

* Then gently bring to mind someone who is a friend of yours. Someone who brings you joy and laughter, or has supported you through tough times. Picture them clearly, and extend the same four wishes to them.

* Next, you’ll think of someone who is a neutral figure in your life. Maybe this is a coworker, an acquaintance, or even the person sitting next to you on the bus, or bagging your groceries. This is a person that you feel neither like nor dislike for. And again, say the four phrases towards them.

* Then allow your mind to settle on someone who has been challenging to you (this usually isn’t too hard!). Maybe they’ve hurt you in some way, betrayed you, or disagreed with you about something important. Try not to get swept away in negative thoughts or feelings of pain here (it’s suggested that for a while, you start with only people that are mildly irritating and “work up” from there). If it helps, take a few extra breaths here, or again bring your hand to your heart (or to prayer pose) before you extend the same four well-wishes towards this person.

* Lastly, let go of your thoughts of a singular individual, and relax your mind to include the entirety of the world. Gently wrap your thoughts around the planet or universe; all living beings everywhere. Then say silently or out loud:

May we be happy
May we be well
May we be safe and protected
May we be free from suffering

Take a few more breaths into this space of unconditional kindness, and gently open your eyes.

Another of my favorites, from Gregory Colbert

Another of my favorites, from Gregory Colbert

It can be all too easy, especially for those of us living with chronic health issues, to stay focused on ourselves even during our meditation practice. After all, we want to relieve our suffering. We want to feel better, to be cured, to be free. I cannot tell you how many hours I spent visualizing myself being healed, training my thoughts and energy on improving myself and my own physical state. And I’m sure there was a time when I wouldn’t have been open to “using” my daily meditation minutes on metta or anything that invited an outward intent rather than an inward one.

Maybe you’re in that place right now? Psst- it’s totally okay if you are! But I’m going to call on you to try and integrate a loving-kindness exercise into your days. And I’m not saying you have to stop your other work: your healing visualizations, prayers for a cure, or practicing your radical self-care. All of those things are awesome! But just maybe you’ll find a different perspective when you sprinkle in a little metta, so let’s try it together.

I invite you all, through the month of June, to do a little metta every day. I genuinely hope this “Month of Metta” will allow a new kind of healing to come into your life. Maybe your relationships are suffering, maybe you’ve been feeling more irritable than usual, or maybe you’ve been faced with a difficult situation involving people you love. Our environments and social interactions can have tremendous effects on our physical health, so with that in mind, think of metta as another way to spread health and happiness to yourself and those around you.

So, will you join me on this adventure? I’ll post on Facebook and Instagram, and check in with you as we go along, and I can’t wait to hear how this practice will change our lives!

If you would like to listen to a guided metta meditation (no shame here- I almost always listen and follow along), there are several places you can start.

Some good podcast episodes I’ve listened to are from:

Tara Brach

Dharma Richards

Sharon Salzberg

You can also search iTunes for “metta meditation” or “loving kindness meditation” and there are albums, tracks, and podcasts that you can try out for yourself!

I can’t wait to see how this goes! And as always…

~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~