Metta is an important part of my personal practice, and an important part of the dharma. We can practice it in formal sitting meditation of course, but we can also bring it to our life and other practices. The Buddha advised we should extend metta in all directions, toward all beings equally. If we are to do so, we must bring our practice to life outside formal sitting metta practice!
What is Metta?
You may not be familiar with metta practice. Most simply, it is the cultivation of a heart inclined toward caring, gentleness, and wishing well for others. Metta is a Pali word, and there are many translations people use in the English language. Some common translations are loving-kindness, gentle friendliness, goodwill, and unconditional friendliness. Whatever translation you use, it remains the same. It’s a foundational Buddhist teaching, and an important practice to incorporate in our lives.
It’s important with metta to recognize that the cultivation is different than the quality. In metta meditation, you may not feel loving and kind. The meditation practice is a method of cultivating this quality, and a method of samatha. As we practice more consistently, we begin to find ourselves inclined toward kindness and goodwill more easily. You can check out our page What is Metta? – Metta Practice, Meditations, and Explanation to learn more about what metta is and how we cultivate it in sitting practice.
Metta in Meditation
We can of course sit in a metta meditation, but we can also make an effort to bring this quality of gentleness to other meditation practices. We can bring kindness to a body scan, to general awareness practices, or to walking meditation. By making a dedicated effort to incorporate metta into our other practices, we’re cultivating the ability to respond with goodwill in new ways. If we can only cultivate metta in formal metta meditation practice, that isn’t of use in the rest of our lives!
We can do so by going about our normal practice, but making some effort to remember our practice of metta. If you’re sitting in an open awareness meditation, you may try beginning with a few minutes of metta for yourself. As you go through your practice, remember your intention of cultivating kindness. Notice when you’re tending toward judgement or ill-will. Try to respond to your experience with some gentleness and patience. Treat the mind and experience with friendliness.
Here is a kind awareness guided meditation you can try. This is a nice twenty minute practice you can use to begin investigating what it means to bring kindness to your mindfulness and awareness practices.
Metta Toward Ourselves
We can bring metta to our daily life, cultivating this quality for ourselves and our experience. Metta for ourselves can help us to respond to the mind, body, and emotional experience with less reactivity and more friendliness. We can cultivate this quality in meditation, but we can also carry it with us into daily life.
One of my favorite practices to help cultivate metta for myself in daily life is the practice of offering metta phrases as I walk. When I walk from my car into my office, I offer myself rhythmic metta phrases. You can do this any time you are walking throughout your days, whether it’s a short walk from one place to another or a longer walk you take to get some exercise.
You can also use the practice of returning to your deeper intentions. As we discuss in our post Eight Ways to Bring Mindfulness to Daily Life, there are many ways you can remind yourself of your intentions of metta. You can set a reminder on your computer or phone, use the sound of a phone ringing, or an action you do daily like brushing your teeth. When one of these awareness triggers occurs, return to your intention to be kind to yourself. By reminding ourselves of our intentions of metta daily, we’re able to find continuity with practice and bring it off the cushion.
Interactions and Relationships
Many of us spend much of our days interacting with other people and beings. Whether it is family, friends, pets, people in service positions, coworkers, or strangers, we’re constantly interacting and social creatures. It’s important that we train the mind to respond with kindness and friendliness with other people. The Buddha did recommend in the Karinaya Metta Sutta that we:
As a mother would risk her life
to protect her child, her only child,
even so should one cultivate a limitless heart
with regard to all beings.
One practice I love is that of stealth metta. This is simply the practice of bringing the metta phrases to our daily lives with other people. You can extend phrases of metta silently in your head as you walk, drive, or see other people. I like to offer a single phrase like, “May you be at ease.” When I notice somebody else, I simply offer this phrase gently in my head, trying to connect with the natural inclination the heart has toward caring.
Another way to practice is to simply bring to mind the humanity in another being. You can reflect on the whole being in front of you. Often, we objectify people or see them with a fixed view. Instead, try to see the three dimensional being in front of you. Recognize that this person has hopes, dreams, joys, sorrows, grief, worries, people they love, people who love them, and all of the things and experiences you may have. This can help us connect more deeply and recognize the human experience of someone else.
We’ve talked about this before in our post on Engaging with Metta, but it is worth repeating. We must work on cultivating metta toward ALL beings, not just those we like, see, or care about. But what does this mean? We don’t know most of the 7.4 billion people on the planet, and we certainly don’t know most of the 20 quintillion other living beings on the planet (an estimate, source: http://animals.mom.me/number-animals-earth-3994.html).
Instead, we can recognize the karma of our actions. We can care for all beings in simple ways, remembering that the Buddha suggested we care for those “born and to be born.” For example, make an effort to recycle or compost. Care for the planet and those beings living here and to be living here. You can connect with your inner intention to care for the wellbeing of all in order to help you take action. As you take action, you fortify the loving and kind heart.
Here are another few examples you may try to practice metta for all beings:
- Tune into eating habits, and the suffering of animals in regards to your food
- Watch your use of plastic and petroleum-based products
- Drive safely and with patience
- Purchase clothing, food, and other goods that cause minimal harm or support workers
- Partake in social justice, political, or non-profit organizations
- Watch energy consumption
There are of course many ways you can cultivate metta and bring it to your daily life. If you have some way you cultivate metta in your daily life that you think we should add here, let us know! Email us at [email protected] and we will add it in!
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