One of my most favorite mindfulness practices is lovingkindness practice. In traditional Buddhist practice, this is called metta. It is the practice of extending well-wishes and thoughts of kindness to others. When thinking about sending out love, you might only think about the people you care about. But in fact, the deepest nature of this practice is sending out love and well-wishes to all beings, including those you don’t know, or even don’t like.
The meditation is done by visualizing someone who you’d like to send these positive, heart-filled messages to, and when you say the words, imagine that wherever that person is, they are receiving your message. It’s also part of the practice to then notice how you feel just by extending these warm thoughts.
The mediation (in its most basic form) is as follows:
- May you be healthy and strong
- May you be happy
- May you be peaceful
There are variations, of course, and I also like to add a specific message to the person you are sending it to, but the main intention is to send compassionate thoughts to others in the hope they become free of all suffering.
There are many layers of beings to which you can extend lovingkindness:
- Your loved ones (family and friends)
- Your acquaintances
- People you do not know
- People you do not like or experience strife with (this can be one of the hardest to send to!)
- All sentient beings in the world
Sending messages of lovingkindness is easy when you send it to someone you love and care for. It becomes a deeper practice when extending metta to people you don’t like or are struggling with. When that’s the case, you are not only wishing them to be free from suffering, but you are also allowing yourself to be the free from your own suffering you are experiencing as a result of being in conflict. While anger is an emotion many people react with when struggling with others, it doesn’t (usually!) ever serve to resolve the conflict, shift their behaviors, or actually make you feel more at peace. But when you can adopt a compassionate mindset towards those you dislike, you have the opportunity to create more peace in your mind and body, which is ultimately the only thing you have control over anyways. It offers you a freedom and the hope for the other person to find peace and to be free of pain, which is likely a root cause behind them being difficult.
I have found that when guiding people in this practice, it can be quite hard to extend metta towards oneself! We are often not conditioned for self-compassion, and it can sometimes be a difficult message for us to receive. It’s not uncommon for people to be stuck in a negative mindset or belief system in which they feel they are not worthy or capable of feeling at peace, happy, or content. And since mindfulness is a practice, we therefore have to practice this idea that we are deserving and it’s a birthright to have joy and happiness in our lives. I don’t believe that anyone on this planet is unworthy of experiencing and receiving life’s pleasures. But when we’ve been conditioned that we aren’t worthy (either through direct message of a parent or a partner or employer) it can be challenging to undo those negative beliefs. It’s challenging, but not impossible. That’s why it’s a practice.
So, when extending lovingkindness towards yourself, close your eyes, and say the words:
- May I be healthy and strong
- May I be happy
- May I be peaceful
Add at least one more “wish” that you really need in this moment. Something that only you can give yourself. Breathe into the words. Believe them. Honor that you are worthy of receiving them. Make it a daily practice when you wake up in the morning. Start with these words, and then over time, change it up to what you need the most. And then believe it. Breathe into it. Continue to practice.
Your future self will thank you for it!