In 2017 I wrote this article about Metta. At that time, there had been studies done about the value and benefit of this Buddhist practice of LovingKindness. One example was reported in the academic Journal of Conflict Resolution in 1988. It was found that during days of high attendance at a peace meditation in Jerusalem, war deaths in Lebanon decreased by 76 percent (!) and crime and traffic violations in the near vicinity went down as well. In 2005, the same study was done with even stricter controls and produced the same results as reported in the academic Journal of Social Behavior and Personality.
It’s now 2020 and we are faced with challenges and possibilities in our individual lives and in our society. We can be better. We can be more loving. We can heed the words of Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
I think that now in 2020 (regardless of your religious, political or tribal beliefs) everyone would benefit from doing this process.
Buddhism teaches us about LovingKindness through a practice called Metta, meaning unconditional, inclusive love; friendliness, empathy or kindness. Metta recognizes that all sentient beings (i.e., all beings that are capable of feeling) can feel good or feel bad; and that when given the choice, all will choose to feel good rather than bad. It does not depend on whether one “deserves” it or not. There are no expectations of reciprocity. The process is one of breaking down barriers and judgments that we feel toward ourselves, and then those that we feel toward others. Although this is a Buddhist practice, Metta is a practice which can help anyone to cultivate or develop a positive emotion…a good feeling in your heart.
To begin the practice, you must first focus on yourself. You must love and accept yourself first! It all begins with you. And you receive the benefits. You deserve LovingKindness towards yourself. Recognize your gifts and talents. Look at your skills and abilities. Remind yourself of the qualities of you. And as you do this, you will have feelings of strength and confidence. You love yourself for who you are. You acknowledge your mistakes and forgive yourself. And as you see yourself through loving eyes, say, “May I be well and happy.”
Next think of a good friend or a family member. Visualize them and think of their good qualities. Feel your love for them. Connect with them and say, “May they be well and happy.” As you experience this connection, notice how you feel in your heart.
Now think of a person that you don’t know well. You don’t particularly like or dislike them; you feel neutral. Visualize them and reflect on their humanity. Connect with them as another human being; someone who loves and is loved by others. A person with hopes and fears just like you. And say, “May they be well and happy.”
The next step may be difficult or challenging. That just means it will help you to grow to be better; stronger. Think of someone you actually dislike – an enemy or opponent. This is someone who may be creating problems for you, such as an ex-spouse or a difficult boss. It may be a political figure. Do not get caught up in negative feelings of anger or hatred because you are the one who will feel the ill effects in your heart. You will suffer. Instead, recognize their humanity. Think of them in a positive manner and even if it is very, very difficult, say, “May they be well and happy.” Remember, if they are well and happy, they will be more loving and kind. And everyone will benefit.
And lastly, think of yourself, the friend, the neutral person, and the enemy. Bring everyone together. Then further extend your feelings of love and acceptance. Say, “May they all be well and happy” to everyone in your neighborhood, your town, your country and on and on throughout the world. Sense waves of LovingKindness flowing from your heart to everyone, to all sentient beings everywhere, known and unknown. “May all be happy, be peaceful, be free from suffering.”
“If I see you as different and I view you with suspicion, or at the best with cold neutrality, it is unlikely that I will feel kindly disposed toward you. If instead I look at you knowing we both belong to the human race, both have a similar nature, different experiences but the same roots and a common destiny, then it is probable I will feel openness, solidarity, empathy toward you. In another word, Kindness.” ~ Pierro Ferucci, author of The Power of Kindness