When the news from my own home is so sad, this is all I feel I have to offer: instructions for a metta meditation. “Metta,” also known as “maitri” and often translated into English as “loving-kindness,” comes from the Buddhist tradition. Here are some links, in case you want to know more about the roots of the practice: Buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chödrön, who’s always worth reading, explains maitri/metta here. Over at Wildmind Buddhist Meditation, there’s a clear introduction to lovingkindness meditation (check out all the links to the left). These folks at Dharma Seed provide a number of talks and guided sits around metta. Finally, just to be thorough :), I’ll link you to the wikipedia page for Metta. My own practice of meditation, this and others, is secular.
I present here the version of the meditation that I tend to use, written from memory, but I’ve encountered variations from different teachers, so it may be different from whatever one you might know or use.
Sit, or lie, or stand, however is most comfortable. Many people sit on a cushion but this might be hell on your back; it is on mine. I sit on a meditation bench. You can sit on a chair or do whatever works for you. If you’re lying down on the bed and it makes you sleepy, try lying on the floor.
You are going to be sending good wishes from your soul to at least five specific people, and it might be helpful to choose your people before you start. The first person will be you. The second person will be a loved one (which whom you may have a complicated relationship). The third will be someone with whom you have an unambiguously positive relationship – a benefactor in your life. The fourth will be a neutral person in your life – maybe someone you see at the coffeehouse or the person who drives the bus or delivers your mail, but whom you don’t know personally (maybe you don’t even know their name). The fifth will be someone you consider an enemy.
Hold the first person – yourself – in your mind. Find a way of viewing yourself – a position with which to regard yourself – that makes you feel warmly toward yourself. Then, send the following wishes to yourself, perhaps repeating them silently once, or even several times:
– May you be peaceful and serene with what is.
– May you be happy and joyous.
– May you be healthy and strong.
– May you be safe and protected from harm.
– May you have ease of body, ease of mind, and ease of heart.
– May you be free from suffering and delusion.
Repeat these steps for your loved one, your benefactor, your neutral person, and your enemy.
When I’m done with that, I like to expand my view to my neighborhood, my region, my country, my hemisphere, etc., so that in my final steps, I’m sending the wishes to everyone in the world, and finally, all living beings. Really, you can do any variation of the meditation that you want. When I do it next, I’ll spend some time focusing on those suffering because of the explosions at the Boston Marathon on Monday, those suffering because of violence everywhere, those suffering for any reason.
Thank you to Eve for this version of metta. Thank you also to Sunada Takagi, who teaches the online meditation courses at wildmind.org and who taught the wonderful Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course that I took recently.