I truly believe that the greatest disease of our time is one of disconnection. We can see this in our disconnect from the natural world, from community and on the deepest level from our own selves. This imbalance is one that tends to accompany the many benefits of living in a modern world. And, it is one that seems to contribute to suffering, sorrow and even disease itself. The good news is that there are resources and tools that have been around for millennia that can support us in reconnecting and returning our lives to a state of wholeness.
As a long-time meditator, trained shaman and holistic practitioner, I have come to view life on earth as a journey of awakening. In many ways it is like a school — we come here to learn and to grow. What presents itself to us through our life experiences is our curriculum or our program. One of my teachers always reminds me of this when I am struggling with the affairs of daily life. Whether great or small, our challenges, and particularly how we respond to them, are the key to unlocking the greater truth of who we are.
In my own journey, I have found no greater tool than meditation and mindfulness for facilitating a sense of awareness and connection. And, these are practices that are not new but that have been a part of spiritual traditions for thousands of years. They have been proven by those who have treaded the path of seeker; and today, science is joining in to uncover that there are benefits on all levels — body, mind, emotion and spirit. Perhaps, it is this marriage between spirituality and science that is stirring an invitation for these ancient practices in our modern culture.
Everyone has a longing to transform themselves in some way and to find happiness in their lives. Meditation and contemplative practices can help us to get to know ourselves on a deeper level, to move into acceptance of who we are and to develop the sense of connection that for many of us is often lacking in our lives. There are many types of meditation practices available ~ enough to meet the needs of every person in this world. I always encourage people to explore and find practices that truly resonate with them, with where they are in life today and in moving toward the person they would like to become. As we meditate, we begin to discover that true change comes from within.
One of the most beneficial practices I have found, both in my personal practice and in sharing meditation in workshops and trainings over the last 20 years, is the practice of Metta (or Loving-kindness meditation). This practice derives from Buddhism and in many of its traditions is considered a foundational practice. Metta can be translated quite simply as Loving-kindness. It is connected to the energies of the heart — love, compassion and gentleness.
I was first introduced to Metta in my early twenties when I lived and worked in New York City. I had been meditating since I was 14 years old, mostly on my own, learning through books and occasional lectures (there was no internet yet)! After I graduated from college, I moved to NYC and was blessed to find many centers, classes and workshops where I could go to learn about meditation. I spent quite a bit of time at a couple of Buddhist centers and that is when I was introduced to Metta practice.
According to the Buddha’s teachings on the practice of Metta, we begin with cultivating Loving-kindness for ourselves, then for others beings and finally, for our whole world. This is done through visualization, reflection and repetition of simple phrases like these:
- May I be happy.
- May I be peaceful.
- May I be free of suffering.
- May I have ease of well-being.
I have to be honest, as someone who has a voracious inner critic, I found the suggestion of offering loving-kindness to myself to be a bit challenging at first. Thankfully, I had committed to exploring Metta, so I followed the instruction of offering loving-kindness to myself as the foundation for the practice. I can now see this resistance to loving and nurturing ourselves is a challenge that many people in our world face; back then I thought it was just me and my upbringing.
It took many years of practice for me to embrace and understand the deep importance of offering loving-kindness and compassion to oneself as a foundation, not just for Metta meditation practice, but for life itself. Today, I view working with the resistance to this as one of the most powerful teachings of my life. However, in those early years of exploration, it was in offering Metta to others where I found myself connecting to this practice in a profound way.
So, there I was in my early 20’s in New York City. I hadn’t found my direction in life and was working at a job I didn’t love but I was figuring it out. I would take the subway from my tiny apartment in Astoria, Queens to my office in Manhattan. It didn’t take long to see that there was whole lot of the suffering going on around me. On a daily basis, I was faced, as were all New Yorkers, with seeing people who were homeless, sick, and often unhappy. The subway wasn’t somewhere you came across a lot of smiles, especially during the morning commute!
I think it was this feeling of suffering — others and my own, too, that led me to bring my meditation practice to my morning train ride. At first, it was really because that was when I could find the time. Soon, I found it helped me to practice stillness and find my center amidst the chaos of the world around me. Then, things seemed to really change when I learned Metta. Instead of focusing on myself alone, I was able to extend my practice out to those around me. I noticed immediately that this helped my sense of connection as well as feeling like there was something I could offer others without having to do anything outwardly.
Like many other New Yorkers, I always wanted to help to the homeless people who I passed daily on the street — sometimes I had money to give, sometimes I didn’t or didn’t know if giving money was the best kind of support. Often, I wondered “what else can I do to help?” I ended up doing a lot of volunteer work with homeless shelters and programs. As I began to practice Metta, I realized that the energy of Loving-kindness was something I could always offer. Did it actually help that other person? I hope so but it’s hard to know how for sure. I do know that it helped how I felt about the world around me, it deepened my sense of connection and transformed my attitudes about life. I truly believe these inner changes have an impact on our relationships and the world around us.
Since that time, Metta has been a foundational practice in my life. At times, it’s been at the forefront of my daily meditation practice and at other times, I practice it on the spot, wherever I am and with whomever I encounter. It is also one of the main practices I share with others as I have come to see that loving ourselves is a key to transformation and healing on many levels and one that is much needed in our lives and our world. For many of us, It is one of the hardest things to do. Metta offers a vehicle for loving ourselves like few others I have encountered — it is both simple and profound.
It was with this awareness that the vision for May Is For Metta emerged in 2010. After leading meditation groups in a variety of settings in NYC and the MD/DC area, I found I was getting quite a number of requests for support from folks I had worked with previously and those I was connecting with online for some type of virtual program. At the time, I was working part-time in a residential addiction treatment program as a shaman and holistic health practitioner. One of my weekly groups at the center was on meditation and mindfulness.
In this group, I would introduce the clients to a variety of practices with the intention that they might find one they resonated with enough to practice in an ongoing way once they left treatment. Inevitably, I found that the practice most “loved” and embraced by my clients, who were in very early recovery, was Metta or Loving-Kindness meditation. It’s not really surprising… Not only had Metta become a foundational practice in my own life, but it was also one of the tools that really helped me in my own process of long-term recovery from trauma.
The concept of loving oneself was new and somewhat scary for many of the clients, but I could also see it was something they felt excited about exploring as most had tried so many other ways to recover and were still struggling. What I noticed was that in addition to the benefit of the feeling of loving-kindness, which is generated at the beginning of the practice, the Metta phrases actually provided a strong anchor for their practice, perhaps a bit stronger than the breath itself. Additionally, having the ability to offer loving-kindness to others gave them an opportunity to work on their relationships that had been damaged through their addiction in a powerful way. They may not have been able to heal or change the relationship directly, but what I noticed is their response to it changed and often softened in ways that seemed to open the door for communication in a new way.
So, in the spring of 2010, when I decided to start some type of virtual mediation program, Metta was at the forefront of my mind and heart. One day while I was practicing, and repeating the phrases, I had an idea bubble up to do a 31 Day program. Since May was coming, I decided to call it May Is For Metta. The first year, the program began through a Facebook group. I just began by inviting folks I knew who were interested in meditation. The word spread organically and we had 118 people participate that May from various parts of the world.
In the following years, I moved the monthly practice to my blog, The Heart Of Awakening: Searching for A New Paradigm and decided to offer the program as a series of daily posts. In 2014, it even evolved to include daily audios to accompany the posts. I am excited to share it as we move into the 6th year of May Is For Metta: 31 Days Of Loving-kindness Practice, which happens live every May 1st to 31st. It can also happen anytime and anywhere that you feel called to practice.
Perhaps you have joined us because you:
- are curious about the Buddhist practice of Metta
- have thought about meditating for sometime
- already meditate but would like to deepen or explore a new practice
- struggle with feelings of self-criticism or harshness
- feel stuck in your life
- have a sense of disconnection (this may be with your self, in your relationships or with the world itself)
- would like to cultivate loving-kindness and compassion in your life, your relationships and the world
- have participated in May is For Metta before and want to continue your explorations
Just know, you don’t have to be an experienced meditator or a Buddhist to practice Metta. Loving-kindness is universal! You are welcome to work with the program in a way that feels good to you. This program is designed to support you at whatever level of experience or interest you have. As they say in many twelve step programs, “Take what you like and leave the rest.” And, in the spirit of loving-kindness and compassion, it is essential to follow the guidance of your own heart — this is a concept we will explore more on our journey together.
A Note: I am not a monk or nun, guru or authority, just a person who is happy to share this exploration with you! It is offered by just one human being on the path of life who has explored Metta and Loving-kindness as a foundational practice and tool for life on earth. It has helped me to open my heart and find joy in life. I hope it will help you, too!
How To Participate in May Is For Metta 2016…