Gratitude for Others – The Loving Kindness Meditation
The other day, one of the yogis from class gave me a business card. The card simply said, “YOU MATTER.” She explained that there is a “You Matter Marathon” every November where the goal is to hand out 30 of the “YOU MATTER” cards to people. She said, “You matter to me, so I want you to have this.”
I felt so special and honored. It totally made my day.
I had never heard of the “You Matter Marathon”, so I had to look it up.
The You Matter Marathon website says, “We’re living in a world where people crave connection, yet feel more isolated than ever. Every one of us is here for a reason. We are all essential. We need, and are needed by, each other. Especially now. The purpose of the You Matter Marathon is to create and enrich positive connections between people and within communities by sharing You Matter cards during November.”
However, participation in the marathon has a side effect: Your happiness. The website says, “61% of participants report that they achieve a greater sense of gratitude and enhanced connection with others. 51% report enhanced compassion for others; and 50% achieve enhanced levels of personal happiness. The lesson? One small gesture and two small words can help forge connections and spread kindness, compassion, and happiness.”
I think this is a splendid idea and a worthwhile campaign. We could all benefit from spreading some kindness, compassion, and happiness.
Unfortunately, November is more than half over and it is too late to join the You Matter Marathon. Luckily, I have another tool to share for spreading kindness, compassion and happiness.
Metta Meditation. It is one of my all time favorite meditations.
“Metta” means love and kindness. So this meditation is also known as the Loving Kindness Meditation. This meditation is used to cultivate compassion for others through loving kindness. The practice is done in 5 stages. In each stage you bring to mind a type of person in your life. For example, the first person you bring into your mind is a “neutral person.” A neighbor, co-worker – it just needs to be someone you do not have strong feelings of like or dislike toward. The important part is to not over think it. Just pick the first person who comes to mind. The idea is to practice loving kindness, so it doesn’t matter, really, who the person is specifically.
I found this well written description of the five stages of the meditation on a Buddhist website.
- In the first stage, think of someone you do not particularly like or dislike. Your feelings are ‘neutral’. This may be someone you do not know well but see around. Reflect on their humanity. Imagine them in your mind’s eye as you say, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you have joy. May you have peace. May you be free of suffering.”
- In the second stage think of someone you love, perhaps a good friend or family member. Bring them to mind as vividly as you can, and think of their good qualities. Feel your connection with them, and your liking for them. Reflect on their humanity. Imagine them in your mind’s eye as you say, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you have joy. May you have peace. May you be free of suffering.”
- Then think of someone you actually dislike. Trying not to get caught up in any feelings of hatred or blame. Try not to get caught up in the story involved with that person. Instead, reflect on their humanity. Imagine what may have happened in their lives to mold the person they have become. Then, imagine them in your mind’s eye as you say, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you have joy. May you have peace. May you be free from suffering.”
- In the final stage, you feel metta for yourself. You start by becoming aware of yourself, and focusing on feelings of peace, calm, and tranquility. Then you let these grow in to feelings of strength and confidence, and then develop into love within your heart. The whole time you say to yourself, “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I find joy. May I find peace. May I be free from suffering.”
- In the final stage, first of all you think of all four people together — yourself, the friend, the neutral person, and the enemy. Then extend your feelings further — to everyone around you, to everyone in your neighbourhood; in your town, your country, and so on throughout the world. Have a sense of waves of loving-kindness spreading from your heart to everyone, to all beings everywhere.
In the description above, each stage says, “Reflect on their humanity.” What the hell does that mean? When I’m guiding this meditation, the “reflection” part is to first think about what you like about this person, then what you don’t like. Then think about the life this person has led up to this point. Thinking of the successes and failures they have had; The times of hardship and the times of ease. Think about the family they come from. The idea is to realize that they have led a life, just like you and me. And this life has helped shape who they are today. This helps create compassion for the person. It helps to know they aren’t just the label you put on them. They aren’t who they are just “because.” And hopefully, with that compassion, you realize that you shouldn’t take interactions with them personally. They have their own story, a lens they look at life through. They have a path they have walked. It has made them a mosaic of a human being with good parts and bad parts and, just like a mosaic, that is what makes them beautiful.
But what if you don’t know this history of the person you are thinking of? Maybe you chose the owner of your favorite restaurant as your neutral person. Maybe for the person you dislike, you chose a co-worker whose personal life you know nothing about. In these cases, I imagine the life they have led up until this point. I know that they have gone through the same things all of us have. There are rites of passage all us humans experience. For example, the first day of school. Good Christmas mornings and bad Christmas mornings. Learning to drive. Having our hearts broken. Moments of success. Moments of failure. Families that can be difficult. We all experience these things. When we remember these things we have in common, it becomes very clear that the person you are thinking about is much more complex than “my neighbor” or “the co-worker I avoid”. It is easier to relate to them and have some compassion for their humanity.
Another helpful tip: When it comes to choosing the person you dislike, don’t go for your archenemy. Remember you are PRACTICING loving kindness. You are learning to disconnect from the actions of the person and, instead, see them with compassion. The first time I did this meditation at a Buddhist retreat, I chose a difficult family member whose behavior had always been hurtful and had recently had a negative encounter with. The conflict I had with this person was still pretty raw. It was impossible for me to have loving kindness toward this person. All I could think was what a f’ing bitch she was and how she had no right to do what she was doing and…well, you get the idea. I couldn’t let go of the story to see her as a person.
After the meditation, I told teacher what happened and asked what I should do. He said, literally, “You don’t start with Hitler.” He explained how his Hitler was his mother, and it took a lot of practice before he could start meditating on his mother. He said he still uses her in the metta meditation because forgiveness is a practice. It is not an event or a goal. And then he explained that when you harbor anger toward someone, it is like holding a burning stone and trying to throw it at them. You may or may not hit them with the burning stone, but you will definitely burn yourself in the process.
To practice this meditation, you will want to begin as you would any other meditation. Find a comfortable seat, take a moment to relax the body, then focus on the breath to calm the mind. If this is your first time meditating, take a moment to check out my blog, Demystifying Meditation.
Once you have calmed the mind and body a bit, begin the loving kindness meditation by bringing to mind a person you are neutral toward. Take a moment to “Reflect on their humanity.” Then begin the metta saying. I like to imagine that I’m holding that person in my mind and, as I say the words in my mind, I am actually sending this loving kindness energy toward them. Maybe start by saying the metta phrase to the person in your mind 3 – 5 times. Then move on to the next person, a person you love. Once you have completed all 5 stages of the meditation, gradually relax out of meditation and bring the practice to an end.
the loving kindness saying isn’t written in stone. You can modify it if you want. Maybe you want to take out “May you be happy.” Maybe you want to add “May you feel safe.” It is your saying. I would just keep a couple of things: “May you find peace,” and “May you be free from suffering.” But again, this is your meditation of loving kindness. Send the loving kindness you feel good about.
I’ve found that the saying in the metta meditation can be used outside of the meditation as well. It can be said at any time, anywhere: while driving, walking, just before making a difficult phone call, etc. It is a great tool for developing compassion for yourself as well as others. It is also a good tool for finding resolution to difficult feelings you may have toward someone.
I end every yoga class I teach with my metta meditation phrase. And so now, I end this blog the same way.
To each and every one of you:
May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you find joy,
May you find peace,
May you be free from suffering.
Namaste, Dear Friends. And Happy Thanksgiving.
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