[Self-Care Sunday Series: wellness experts worldwide are sharing their self-care expertise, practices, routines and personal stories.Today’s guest post is by self-care revolutionary Christy Tennery-Spalding]
This piece is a continuation of a series on the Brahma Viharas, the 4 Heavenly Abodes, and how they can support us in finding greater joy and freedom during and through our meditation practice.
This is part four in a five part series on meditation and how it can help us to cultivate greater feelings of love for ourselves, each other, and the planet. In this series, I’m examining the Brahma Viharas (or the Four Divine Abodes), a Buddhist concept that refers to the sublime states we cultivate through meditation: compassion (karuna), lovingkindness (metta), sympathetic joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha).
Today, we’ll dive deep into lovingkindness (metta) and how we can ally ourselves with this outlook to experience more of the love in the world.
Lovingkindness meditation (or Metta Bhavana) is a mantra meditation practiced by repeating a set of well-wishes and aiming those well-wishes at a particular person or group. Common phrases include: may you be happy, may you be safe, may you be free, may you be filled with lovingkindness. They are repeated silently during meditation and the practitioner imagines the person or people standing in front of them. It is a concentration practice, a mindfulness practice, and a mantra practice.
It is also a shockingly powerful practice. One works through a set list of beings, beginning with yourself, then beloved people or mentors, then neutral people, and then difficult people. In many traditions, the practice closes by aiming wishes of lovingkindness toward all beings everywhere.
Lovingkindness is a unique form of prayer. By beginning with yourself and repeating those phrases on your own behalf, you begin to create an interior attitude that may be different from your everyday inner narrative. Through consistent practice, we can create a loving attitude toward ourselves. Over time, this replaces the (often negative) baseline chatter that may dominate your inner realm. Instead, you’re left with loving and beautiful feelings toward yourself.
As we move outward in our sphere of experience, we can offer these same phrases and wishes for love to others. Even if we are not physically present, we can offer up love and freedom from suffering for beloved people in our lives.
We can do this even for people we’ve never met. This experience allows us to feel interconnected, even from a long distance, and to melt away feelings of powerlessness we might feel, watching oppression or suffering from half a world away. This works well for long-distance family or even sending lovingkindness to places we’ve never been, where war or other suffering may be taking place.
Lovingkindness practice creates space for us to meet the suffering of others with kind attention — without needing to fix anything. Often people simply want someone to bear witness. Lovingkindness is a profound way to offer that witnessing. We don’t need to fix or challenge or make things different. We can, instead, be present in a loving way with people who might otherwise feel alone. (And, yes, sometimes this means us!)
in my change-making and healing work, I find that lovingkindness is an essential ingredient to my mission. Through lovingkindness, I can stay present with what is, without falling into despair, rage or grief as easily. Sometimes, those feelings arise, but my predominant motivation is love. Metta keeps me grounded in that.
Metta is also useful in dissolving the illusion of “us vs. them.” In my work with people who have experienced burnout through change-making, this attitude can be the most difficult to sustain, without falling apart.
Instead of maintaining that facade, lovingkindness gives us the permission to experience our interconnection. It reminds us that we work to make change so that all beings everywhere may be happy and free. Not just the ones who agree with us. This is a more holistic approach to change, that honors our humanity, vulnerability and what we do share.
Even if we feel that we may be diametrically opposed to another person or group (and perhaps our values are polar opposite), there are things we do share. Through practicing lovingkindness, we reach a fascinating conclusion about the condition of sentient beings. We all crave the same thing. What we share is what we’re seeking.
By practicing the same set of phrases for each person in your sphere, whether beloved or difficult (or both!), we realize our similarities. Through this repetition, regardless of the object of our well-wishes, we can honor our shared desire for love, joy, freedom, and safety.
This is how we heal: internally, interpersonally, and globally. By calling all beings everywhere into our realm of witnessing, in the spirit of lovingkindness.
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Christy Tennery-Spalding is a self-care mentor, healer, activist, and writer. She works with world-changing individuals to help them craft amazing self-care practices. She is the creator of
She is the creator of Hella Metta, a 10-day meditation e-course to cultivate fierce lovingkindness. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and their feral cats, Dorothy & Harriet.
Christy has made you a lovely Lovingkindness Mini-Toolkit that you can download here.
What is your experience of lovingkindness? Let us know in the comments.
P.S You might also enjoy top 5 mindfulness meditation challenges transformed and ASMR guided meditation for chronic pain.