Inspired by Elizabeth’s recent post, Eight Ways to Practice Mindfulness in Daily Life, I thought I would share some tips about cultivating metta in daily life. Metta is an important practice that has changed my relationships with others and myself, and it isn’t only cultivated in sitting meditation. We can cultivate metta with these simple methods of opening the heart. If you aren’t familiar with loving-kindness, you may check out our page on metta here.
1. Stealth Metta
Metta really can be practiced anytime, anywhere. I have a teacher that encourages the practice of “stealth metta,” which is the practice of offering metta phrases to random people we come across. We don’t need to say anything out loud or even show that we are offering loving-kindness. Whether you’re driving, walking down the street, watching TV, or at work, you can offer others some phrases of well-wishing. You may try phrases like may you be happy, may you be at ease, or may you be healthy. When we begin offering these phrases to strangers, we connect with others and begin breaking down the illusion of separateness. Practicing like this is simple and can help us cultivate a friendliness without conditions.
2. Listen to Others
This seems like an obvious suggestion, and maybe not even related to Buddhism or metta. However, listening is a serious practice in friendliness and generosity. When somebody else is speaking, we often are waiting for our turn to talk, relating what they’re saying to our own experience, or letting the mind wander completely. Truly listening to someone when they are speaking is a practice in loving-kindness. We are subtly cultivating the quality of care and friendliness simply by being present with someone. You can do this whether you’re in person or on the phone with someone. Listen with the intention of listening.
3. Listen to Yourself
We may also make it a practice to listen to the body. When we listen to and are present with the body, we are offering ourselves a deep level of kindness. The body is full of sensations that we can investigate and learn from. When we stop and listen to the body with metta, we are not rejecting or denying what is present. Just as we may stop and listen to another with the intention of just being present, we may stop and listen to the body with the same intention. We do so with kindness, curiosity, and acceptance. Maybe the body is tired, sore, relaxed, or pretty neutral. It doesn’t really matter. The simple act of bringing the awareness to the body with some gentleness is what is important.
4. Eat Well
We’re not experts in nutrition, but eating well is an important practice. Simply put, it is a way to be kind to your body. What you eat nourishes the body physically. You can cultivate a quality of self-kindness by nourishing the body with healthy food. This goes with listening to the body. Practice recognizing when you are hungry, when you are thirsty, and what your body is telling you it needs. When you eat, eat in a way that is kind to the body. This may mean something different to everyone, as different people need different things. You may also investigate eating in a way that is healthy to other beings. This could mean eating only free-range meat, stopping eating meat, or possibly making the decision to not eat any products made from animals. This is an amazing practice in looking out for the safety and wellbeing of other sentient beings.
Yes, smile. Both literally and figuratively. Smiling can both bring out our own joy, and give rise to happiness in others. You don’t need to smile every moment all day, but you can start by trying to smile when you interact with somebody. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Sometimes joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile is the source of joy.” We can help create comfort and safety in others with a simple smile. You may also figuratively smile to yourself. When you make a mistake, think something silly, or are simply enjoying yourself, don’t be afraid to stop and give yourself a mental smile, recognizing the happiness that is present.
6. Connect with People
We often pass up the opportunity to interact with others, especially the neutral people in our lives. Whether we are at the grocery store, sitting on the bus, or walking down the street, we tend to ignore the people around us for the most part. We sometimes forget they are people just like us, with joys and sorrows, dreams and goals, and a whole life full of experience. Try asking somebody how they are doing and see them as a three dimensional person. Yes, this person works at a coffee shop or rides the bus, but he or she is much more than that. Recognize the humanity in another. Bring a friendliness to every person you come across. You don’t need to stop and talk to every single person you see. There are plenty of easy opportunities to practice metta by interacting with somebody. This is a favorite of mine! I know my mailperson, everyone that works at my local coffee shop, my neighbors, and the people at the farmer’s market by name, and they know me. Simply by setting the intention to bring metta to the conversations I have with people, I now feel connected out in the world.
7. Practice Wise Effort
This made Elizabeth’s list of ways to bring mindfulness into daily life, but it is an important piece of the path that isn’t always given its due attention. When looking at wise effort through the lens of metta, we can see how we sometimes overwork or underwork. We go until we are exhausted, or we don’t put the appropriate amount of effort forth in our lives. We often aren’t kind to ourselves with when and how we use our energy throughout the day. You can bring awareness to your effort and find the right balance for you. For some, this may mean making time to take a break. For others, it may mean putting forth a little extra effort toward something. Check out how you’re spending your time, and bring the intention of kindness to how you exert energy.
8. Enjoy Yourself
My final tip for practicing metta in your daily life is to take some time to enjoy yourself. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or go very far to find the time to enjoy yourself. You can build the ability to open the heart toward yourself by just taking a few minutes to do something that brings you happiness or some ease. Go for a walk, read a book, call a friend, or take a bath. Don’t just do these things blindly; recognize the intention of caring for yourself while doing this. For extra metta credit, you may try allowing others to have time to enjoy themselves and even help someone do something that brings them joy!
I hope these tips help someone! I’d love to hear from all of you about ways you practice metta in your life, or if one of these practices resonates with you. May all of us be at ease.