Metta Meditation: Master the Art of Loving-Kindness for Personal Growth
I’m gonna let you into a secret. I’d never felt more uncomfortable than when I first tried loving-kindness meditation. I’ve had self-criticism ingrained into my DNA from a young age, so wishing for happiness for myself wasn’t going to be easy.
I was cynical about projecting loving thoughts, not only to myself, but to others, and even sending positive thoughts to those that I do not like as much (hate). But numerous studies and respected meditation researchers like Jon Kabat-Zinn were writing about the life-changing benefits, so I gave it a try.
Loving-kindness meditation (also called Metta meditation) is the focus of goodwill on yourself and others by silently repeating affirmations or mantras and being mindful of the emotion. In this post, we explore what loving-kindness meditation is, how to practice it, and why it actually works.
What is loving kindness metta meditation?
When we meditate, we need to be fully present. Emotions such as anger, jealousy, and hate, can all take away from enjoying the full benefits of meditation.
Loving-kindness meditation has its roots in Buddhist practice. It’s also called ‘metta’ meditation – a Pali word for affection, benevolence, friendship, and kindness.
While the principles are based on spiritual foundations, the practice is making news in scientific communities and is showing measurable changes to participants’ mental health.
Typical practices involve silently repeating words of care towards yourself, then to those that you care about, then those that you don’t care for as much, and then to all beings.
The psychology behind loving-kindness
Research is showing that loving-kindness meditation has both physical and mental health benefits.
A study by Kok et al (2013) used the vagal tone – a physiological marker of well-being, to study individuals that had a Loving-Kindness Meditation intervention.
When they compared the study individuals to a control group, they found a measurable increase in positive emotions.
RELATED: 11 Best Meditation Techniques for Beginners
The 7 benefits of loving-kindness meditation
Including loving kindness meditation as part of your regular practice can promote positive psychology and happiness.
1. Loving kindness helps to reduce pain and heal
Loving-kindness meditation has been shown to help patients with migraines, and chronic back pain What’s amazing is that the participants only had to practice for as little as 2-5 minutes per day.
A 12-week course for veterans suffering from PTSD saw a significant reduction in depression and PTSD symptoms. The participants were given loving-kindness meditation scripts to practice and were able to return to work sooner than other participants who received other forms of therapy.
2. Loving Kindness improves mental resilience to anxiety and depression
Nearly all studies of meditation are shown to have positive psychological impacts on the way we deal with thoughts and emotions and loving-kindness meditation is no different.
By exercising self-compassion, and focusing our attention on positive emotions we are able to quickly have a positive impact on our mental health.
Especially with anxiety, we don’t always have a recognizable stressor causing the condition, so much of our thoughts are focused on worrying and not really knowing why. So when we practice self-compassion, and feelings of happiness, feelings of love, then we take away the energy spent on negative emotions.
3. Loving kindness improves self-image
The first stage of loving-kindness meditation is self-compassion. We all are victims of self-criticism, so practicing compassion toward ourselves helps us to have a more positive view of ourselves.
These feelings of happiness also have a knock-on effect on the rest of our lives.
A study showed that not only did participants have a better mental image of themselves, but they also had decreased illness, were generally more mindful, and felt they had more of a purpose in life.
4. Loving kindness improves emotional intelligence
The more time you spend sending positive emotions and thoughts to others has a direct effect on the part of the brain that’s responsible for empathy and emotional intelligence. There’s actually evidence that it increases the density of the brain that deals with how we process emotions.
A true loving kindness story
After practicing loving-kindness meditation towards myself, to those that I liked, and to society in general, I tried the practice with someone I felt a lot of anger towards.
A new line manager I was working with was asking for difficult projects to be completed, with very little instruction, and usually at the end of the day. This had been going on for several weeks now and I was considering escalating it to their line manager.
Before I potentially made things worse for everyone, I thought I’d give loving kindness meditation a go. The practice of sending positive emotions to someone who is making your life difficult isn’t easy.
But I followed the practice, repeating positive words, may they be safe, may they be happy, may they be healthy. And the more I did it, the more I saw my manager as a human being, and not as an official making my life hell. Maybe they had problems at home, or maybe their manager was making life difficult for them.
I’m confident that it was my tone of voice, or my body language, when we next spoke there was more of a connection between me and my manager. She had been going through some health problems and the stress was making it difficult to think about work.
We are now good friends.
5. Loving kindness improves social connections, relationships, and empathy
As with most meditations, we practice focus and awareness. Both these skills help us to be better at listening, and also have more empathy toward the other person.
It also helps us to create space when we are faced with strong emotions. Often when we’re angry, we might say something regretful. But loving-kindness provides us with empathy, and patience to respond with mindfulness and compassion.
RELATED: 3 Simple Ways to Improve Your Relationship Using Meditation
6. Loving kindness meditation slows biological aging of the brain
We all want to stay younger, so forget about your youth serums and try loving-kindness meditation.
Something called telomeres gets shorter as we age, and stress speeds up this process. In a study, they looked at fifteen loving-kindness practitioners and compared them to a non-practicing control group. The fifteen who practiced loving-kindness had longer telomeres showing a slowing of the aging process in the brain.
This can reduce the risk of age-related brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
7. Loving-kindness meditation helps recovery
A 2011 study, introduced loving-kindness meditation practice to eighteen participants with schizophrenia. They saw an improvement in positive emotions toward others and fewer negative symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions.
Read next: Mindful Walking Meditation
How I practice loving-kindness meditation and my scripts
There are four generally used stages of loving-kindness meditation practices, let’s look at those now.
As with all meditations, I like to take a few deep breaths to settle into the moment, and ground the mind, breathing in through the nose, and out of the mouth.
To create some mindfulness and positive emotions, I visualize a calming setting (mine is usually on the bank of a tropical river – cliché, I know – but it works for me).
Then I begin repeating positive phrases to myself such as: may I be happy, may I be healthy, and may I be safe. The key in this practice is not just to say the words, but to be mindful of the positive emotions that it brings.
Give your full awareness to these feelings. It’s the time we spend with positive emotions that are making a difference in our brains.
Sending loving kindness to someone we know
Hopefully, our mind is now more receptive to giving positive emotions. Try to imagine someone that could benefit from the positive emotions that you are focusing on them. This could be a friend or family.
Similar to the above phrases, repeat them and try to be mindful of the feelings that surface: May they be happy, may they be healthy, and may they be safe.
Try not to get led away by any stories or thoughts about this person and their life, just focus on the words and the positive emotions you are sending them.
Sending loving kindness to all beings
Similar to before, but now we are going to practice sending positive emotions to people we may not know as well, such as neighbors, or the barista at the coffee shop.
I heard a wonderful suggestion not to restrict this moment to humans, but to include all creatures and life (my mind often wanders to whales – I love those beautiful animals).
Try to have as much compassion as you do towards those that you don’t know as you do toward those that you do.
Sending loving kindness to those that have upset you.
Everyone deserves happiness. And if someone has upset you, a loving kindness intervention is needed.
Use the same phrases we’ve used before: may you be happy, may you be healthy, and may you be safe.
Try to give as much compassion and wishes for happiness to this person as you have for others.
It may feel difficult to feel any positive emotions towards this person, but try not to stress about it. Part of this meditation is training to feel genuine happiness to others – including people we don’t like.
Practicing loving-kindness meditation every day for as little as two weeks should see results.
Having a better connection with ourselves and others is a huge step towards improved emotional and psychological well-being. Regular practice of loving-kindness meditation can reduce negative thoughts and feelings, and have long-term benefits for our mind and body.
Have you tried loving-kindness or metta meditation? Let me know in the comments.