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Loving-Kindness as a Practice in Attitude

Loving Puppy and KittenMetta is a Pali word and Buddhist concept generally translated into English as loving or friendly. Unsurprisingly, Metta is often referred to as Loving-Kindness in the West. A classic Metta practice consists of repeating four well-wishes over five rounds. Common phrases are: May {I/she/he/they/we} be safe, happy, healthy, at peace. Each round focuses on a different audience: oneself, benefactor, neutral person, “difficult” person, and finally all beings.

More than simply repeating phrases though, Metta is an attitude. It’s a way of inviting, cultivating and sharing kind and warm attention. As such, it’s boundless.  Like compassion, from a Buddhist perspective it’s not contingent upon deservingness or a sense of worth. Rather it’s about attuning into and harnessing an innate human capacity to be friendly and loving. When we steep ourselves in such an attitude, we feel more connected to sweetness in ourselves and to the compassionate presence within others. Responding from this quality of connectivity tends to lend itself to healthy choices, wise responses and greater happiness.

Below is a Metta practice adapted from the classic version to help ground oneself in this attitude. If you’re interested in further exploring Metta as an attitude, head to the classes page. I’m co-teaching a daylong retreat as well as workshop early 2018 centering on the spirit of Metta  – Awakening Kindness: A Daylong Retreat for the New Year, January 6th in Tacoma; and Love the One You’re With February 2 and/or 3 in Seattle. You may also want to check out Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg.

Loving-Kindness Attitude Practice

  • Find a comfortable posture for meditation, one where you can feel both alert and relaxed.
  • Spend a few moments resting awareness with your natural breath cycles as a way to arrive in present moment. Feel sensations of inhalations and exhalations.
  • Then bring to mind’s eye the image of a puppy, kitten or baby gently sleeping. Notice physical signs of their inhalations and exhalations as their bellies rise and fall. You might also notice a sense of sweetness or peace across their face. Take your time to attune with the presence of this sweet being gently breathing. Notice too sensations that arise in your body.
  • Next in mind’s eye imagine that moment when a baby or a puppy is utterly delighted to see you, or a kitten scampers over to purr against your leg. Take a few moments to soak in this presence of palpable delight, again noticing corresponding sensations in your body.
  • While continuing to hold in awareness these sensations of delight and sweetness, now imagine someone dear to you. This could be someone you know, or someone you know of. Begin to silently and slowly repeat the following phrases to this person, still connecting to kind attitude:
    • May you be safe.
    • May you be happy.
    • May you be healthy.
    • May you be at peace.
  • After a couple of minutes or more let this go and begin to offer these intentions for yourself, with this same kind attention and this kind being still with you. Or, if that doesn’t feel authentic, you might imagine that person offering you the wishes. Silently and slowing repeating these phrases, continuing to embody an attitude of warmth and friendliness for a couple of minutes or more.
  • For the final minutes of your practice imagine, alongside your dear one, the two of you together offering these phrases to your full community, family or to everyone on the planet.
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