“Reaching a state of compassion is the ultimate gift we give ourselves as human beings. It is knowing and feeling that all power is within us and that none is vested outside of us – neither in material things nor in the circumstance of our lives. Compassion comes from loving ourselves so completely that we see and feel others only through that love. In a state of compassion, Oneness is our reality.” ~ Arnold Patent
Wow! We did it. How does it feel to have devoted 31 Days of your life to cultivating loving-kindness and compassion for ourselves, others and the world? And, even if you didn’t participate every day, know that each moment you practiced has been a heart-opening experience. Devotion to our practice has allowed us to expand in many ways. What does this mean? According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word “Devotee” connotes:
a person who is very interested in and enthusiastic about someone or something: a devotee of Lewis Carroll
a strong believer in a particular religion or god: devotees of Krishna
We sometimes hear the term used when someone follows a particular guru, teacher or religion, but what if we choose to follow loving-kindness and compassion as our guide? I have often heard the Dalai Lama quoted as saying, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” This is not to say that we cannot have our structured religions or beliefs, but the heart of our human experience is about the essence of who we are and not the structure. As Arnold Patent touches on above, it’s not about the material, the circumstances or even the way we live our lives, it’s about knowing and feeling what lies within and connecting with the Oneness that is our true nature. And, it is by practicing that we can develop the “muscles” to experience Oneness.
I was excited to come across an article during our practice time which shares about research at the University Of Wisconsin on loving-kindness practice and how it transforms us. This research has been going on for some time and what has been found is that as we practice loving-kindness, we are actually retraining our brain. I love it when science comes on board and show us what spirituality has known for so long. More recent research has focused on assessing loving-kindness practice by evaluating a shift to more altruistic tendencies as an indicator. Researcher Helen Weng says this,
“Our fundamental question was, ‘Can compassion be trained and learned in adults? Can we become more caring if we practice that mindset? Our evidence points to yes… It’s kind of like weight training. Using this systematic approach, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.”
One of the aspects that was noted was that loving-kindness practice actually helps people to regulate their emotions in a new way. In the research, this was reflected by certain changes in the brain and in the ability to respond in a more compassionate way. Part of this has to do with what we have learned from our practice alone, that as we deepen in our ability to experience loving-kindness and compassion, we become more able to hold the space for other’s suffering as well as for the uncomfortable feelings that arise within ourselves. This is often where might have had the tendency to turn away or close our hearts. Thanks to Metta, we have the ability to open and to transform in each moment. How beautiful!
If you’d like to learn more about research loving-kindness and other explorations in meditation, visit UW’s Center For Investigating Healthy Minds.
Do your foundational practices. As you begin your practice today, take a few moments to reflect on any changes you may have experienced since you began May is for Metta. How has your ability to connect with and generate the qualities of loving-kindness and compassion evolved? Spend some time in your circle of loving beings or imagining a time you were held in unconditional love. Really allow yourself to feel those energies enveloping you. When you feel ready, repeat the phrases for yourself:
- May I be happy.
- May I be peaceful.
- May I be free of suffering.
- May I have ease of well-being.
As we conclude our practice, choose someone from each of the individual categories whom you have already practiced for during May is for Metta and offer Metta again for this being: Benefactor, Beloved, Neutral Being, and Difficult Person. Acknowledge that in practicing for this being, you have benefitted by becoming more open-hearted and loving. As you begin each category, say, “Just as I wish to be peaceful and happy, so does this being wish to have inner peace and joy.” Repeat the phrases for each category you are working with remembering to come back to your own heart center for a few moments between each category:
- May you be happy.
- May you be peaceful.
- May you be free from suffering.
- May you have ease of well-being.
If you become distracted or difficult feelings arise, use the Switchback, returning the practice to yourself until a sense of calm returns. When you feel ready, return the practice to where you left off or move on to the next category. When you are ready move on to the category of All Beings. To conclude our practice, let’s take a few moments to practice for our virtual sangha; our community of May is for Metta practitioners is spread out all over the world. For the last 31 days, we have been coming together with our hearts and the intention of creating more loving-kindness and compassion in ourselves, others and the world. Offer the phrases for our community, including yourself:
- May we be happy.
- May we be peaceful.
- May we be free of suffering.
- May we have ease of well-being.
When you feel complete, move on to the broader category of All Beings. As we extend out our practice today, let us remember that it is this state of compassion that opens us to the experience of Oneness. Let us dedicate our practice for the benefit of all beings without exception:
- May All Beings be happy.
- May All Beings be peaceful.
- May All Beings be free of suffering.
- May All Beings have ease of well-being.
To complete your practice, return yourself to your circle of loving beings or envision yourself enveloped in the energy of loving-kindness and compassion. Let every atom and cell of your being be filled with the energy of loving-kindness and compassion. Feel these qualities filling you and surrounding you. Know that you have created a strong foundation of loving-kindness and compassion within yourself and you can now carry that wherever you go. You are a beacon of loving-kindness and compassion.
Today is a day to celebrate your journey with May Is For Metta. Take some time to reflect on your practice and to explore how you would like to continue. Find something fun or joyful to celebrate you!
Daily Journal Reflection:
Take some time to reflect and journal about any experiences, feelings or awareness that arose during your practice or throughout the day today. How does it feel to have made it through 31 Days Of Loving-kindness Exploration? What have you noticed about yourself and your practice since you began? How will you work with Metta going forward? What other practices would you like to explore? Have you taken time to honor yourself for your efforts?
Some Suggestions For Continued Practice:
- Repeat the practice or select specific posts to work with. Remember your practice is your own, so find a way that works for you. I will be indexing the all of the daily practice posts on the May is for Metta page so they will be easily accessible by day and topic; this will be available early next week. Also, feel free to continue to share your experiences as you continue.
- Find a meditation group in your area or start your own Metta meditation practice group.
- Sign Up For The May is for Metta Audio Series to accompany your practice.
- There are some great books on Metta Meditation and Loving-kindness Practice to help you continue your exploration. Here are a few suggestions:
- Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg. Shambhala Publications, 2002.
- The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by Christopher K. Germer, PhD. Guildord Press, 2009.
- Awakening Loving-kindness by Pema Chodron. Shambhala Publications, 2009.
- Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat Zinn. Hyperion Press, 1994.
- The Force of Kindness: Change Your Life with Love and Compassion by Sharon Salzberg. Sounds True, 2010.
- The Healing Power of Loving-kindness by Tulku Thondup. Shambhala, 2009.
- One Soul, One Love, One Heart: The Sacred Path to Healing All Relationships by John E. Welshons. New World Library, 2009.
Wishing you many blessings for the coming year. As always, feel free to stop by to share your experiences and reflections.
May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be free from suffering. May you have ease of well-being.
Love & Light,