Metta for Beginners

Metta is unconditional loving kindness. Metta is an attitude, not a fluffy feeling. Metta practice is not about trying to create a fluffy feeling. Metta practice is about intending to have an unconditionally kind attitude.

Whatever a person has done, whoever they are, however much they have worked to be a good person, however easy their life has been, they will suffer, and I can wish them to be happy. This leads me to act more kindly towards them even when it’s hard to do so.

Many formulations of metta are very complicated. This is to integrate them more fully into concentration and insight practice. This can make them very confusing though. To begin with, you can isolate the core of the practice, which is to develop the intention to be kind.

While the practice might seem very flimsy, anyone who knows the power of consciously setting intentions will know how this will alter your thoughts, feelings and behaviour with consistent practice.

 

Instructions:

To perform metta practice, choose a specific person. Then wish them unconditional happiness.

It is likely to feel more natural to begin with to choose a specific person who is important to you, a person you care about, or a person having a hard time.

Don’t strain in any way. If it doesn’t feel genuine, then simply reflect on your intentions: you want to be genuinely kind, and that is enough.

Do this for five minutes at a time, starting again if your attention wanders.

 

Bonus points:

Notice any thoughts, feelings or behaviours that come up when you do metta. Do you resent doing metta for a person you don’t like? Do you crave to feel warm feelings during metta but just feel bored? Do you feel so strongly affectionate for the person that it surprises you? Acknowledge with curiosity and move on.

Let everything but that one wish to fall away. Forget any results, your senses, any sense of doing it right.

 

Prayerful versions:

  • God, please help me to be kind.
  • Kindness only comes from you, Lord, please bestow this upon me for the good of others.
  • I humbly ask you to make me an instrument of your infinite kindness.

 

Advanced practice:

Do this in real time. When you are having a difficult time with someone, be humble and wish them happiness in your mind. Act from that unconditional kindness. Notice how this becomes second nature.

Perform metta for people who you are indifferent about or actively dislike.

 

Discussion:

Metta is not really ‘aimed at’ anyone but is a form of being-with. The whole interaction with another changes when you change a single element, in this case your attitude.

Metta is often seen as a supporting practice but is extremely powerful. This is borne out by de-escalation techniques that reduce aggression by refusing to fight, the personal and blameless happiness that comes from being a kind person, and the mindfulness required to notice your own attitude and be willing to work on it even when it is difficult.

As metta has such a strong ability to affect the world, it is considered a psychic power in Buddhist commentaries. One Buddhist leader described it as the only psychic power worth  cultivating.

 

Thank you to a friend for asking the question leading to this post. I hope it helps!