It’s hard to walk around nowadays without tripping over someone doing mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is on everyone’s mind — it’s everywhere! On our phones, on the covers of magazines, all over youtube. Apps, books, retreats. It can’t be avoided.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a really great development. But here’s the thing: mindfulness meditation isn’t the only kind of meditation there is. It’s really useful, but there are other kinds that are just as rewarding. Maybe even more rewarding!
One of these lesser-known types of meditation is Loving Kindness Meditation, also known as Metta meditation.
The best thing about Loving Kindness Meditation is that it can actually make you a happier person. In this article, we’ll take a close look at Loving Kindness meditation and go over the basics of how it works. We’ll also look at some of the research as to the benefits of loving-kindness meditation.
What Is Loving Kindness Meditation?
Loving Kindness Meditation, or Metta meditation, is a type of meditation that uses the feelings of love, kindness, and joy as your objects of attention. Instead of focusing on your breath as your object of attention, you focus on filling your soul with feelings of love and kindness during your meditation.
Typically you start out with some time focused on loving yourself, and being kind to yourself. You can’t feel love for others if you don’t give yourself love, as well.
From there, you slowly broaden your focus outward. You shift your focus to a close loved one, perhaps a spouse, child, or parent. You keep project your feelings of loving, kindness, and joy to them.
And then go outwards again, perhaps to someone distant you haven’t seen in a while, maybe a lost childhood friend.
You continue this process, with the goal of sending your love to those you have never met and never will meet. You send your love and kindness to everyone, all beings under the sun.
During Metta meditation, you attempt to cultivate joy and love in your soul, which you can hold onto after your meditation is complete. By the end of your meditation, you will likely feel a positive, joyful vibe that will increase contentment and reduce negativity.
How to Practice Metta Meditation
Let’s go over the basics of Metta meditation.
- Find a comfortable meditation position. Try to sit fairly upright with a straight back. Aim for engaged comfort — you don’t want to fall asleep, but you also don’t want to be distracted by discomfort. A meditation cushion, meditation chair, or zafu/zabuton can be helpful here. Take a few deep breaths.
- Begin to direct your focus inward, and place your attention on your body, mind, and soul. Thank yourself for being, and acknowledge one or two of the good things you have done recently. Appreciate all of the parts that are working well, and even for those parts that might not work so well. Fill yourself with love and joy for yourself, and open a door to deep happiness and fulfillment.
- Direct your attention away from yourself, and move it to someone you love very much. Great choices may be a child, a parent, a spouse, a very close friend. Fill yourself with love and gratitude for their being, and for the fact that they are in your life. You may want to dwell on a particular event that made you feel a great deal of love, or perhaps you just want to bathe in the overall sense of joy and kindness you have for their existence. Feel your belly warm and tingle, overflowing with positive energy from the love of this person.
- Allow this love to fill you up to overflowing with peace, contentment, and positive emotion.
- When you are ready, direct your attention to a new person, someone more distant. Perhaps a relative you haven’t seen in a while, a friend from childhood, an old classmate. Hold all that love you held for yourself and your closest loved one, and channel it toward this new person. Give them the same blissful kindness that you gave your closest loved one. Hold this person in your heart, and direct as much love and kindness as you can to them.
- Continue to move to further, more distant people. Your gas station attendant, your Instacart delivery person, one of your kids’ teachers. Someone from your local cafe. Continue the same process you’ve been doing, but focused on this further-distant person. Try to direct the same amount of love and kindness toward this person that you did toward your closest loved ones. Give them your greatest blessings.
- Widen your focus again, this time to someone you have never met. Find someone that you know of, but that you don’t actually know. Someone you saw on the train. A Netflix actor, someone you follow on Instagram. Send your love, kindness, and joy to this person, as much as you did to your closest loved one. Even though you’ve never met this person and don’t really know them, they need love as well. Even if you will never meet, even if you think you would dislike the person if you met them (especially this!) give them your love and kindness.
- Finally, it is time to move your focus to all people, all of humanity. You could even do all beings, if you wish. Direct your joy, love, and kindness to all people, or all things. Appreciate them simply for existing, and honor them with as much love and kindness as you can muster. Direct that same love and kindness you gave to yourself and your most treasured loved ones to everyone, to all things in their beauty.
Loving Kindness meditation is a similar process to mindfulness meditation, but there’s much less focus on the breath, on contemplation, and your thoughts. Instead, it directs your attention to your emotions, and cultivates a warm, delightful love for all people, from those closest to you to those most distant.
If you lose that sense of love and joy during your Metta meditation, bring your attention back to those closest loved ones that are generally very easy to feel great love for, and again gradually extend your emotions out to more distant landscapes.
The Impacts of Metta Meditation
After a few Loving Kindness Meditation sessions, you’ll quickly see the value in this technique. Far more than other types of meditation, Metta meditation makes you feel really good when you do it. You’re focused on love, kindness, gratitude, joy — all good things, all emotions that in modern society we focus on so little.
With no cynicism, attempting to fill your emotional bottle with love and kindness can be a genuinely moving experience. It’s delightful.
Most people don’t do marathon sessions of Loving Kindness Meditation. Typical Metta meditation sits are 5-10 minutes. But the longer you spend soaking in the waters of meditative joy, the more pleasant you’ll feel when you’re done.
Finding Happiness Through Loving Kindness Meditation
Metta meditation can actually help you find happiness in your life. It’s not about magically transferring love to your loved ones, or to random distant people. Instead, it’s about filling yourself with love, and projecting that love out into the universe. When you feel more gratitude and love for others, you will show that through your actions in all things.
By bringing love and joy to the forefront of your consciousness during your interactions, you will improve your life and the lives of all you interact with — yourself included!
Professor Laurie Santos uses Metta Meditation as a large part of her Yale course The Science of Happiness. This course is known to be the most popular course in Yale’s history, which shows how important these ideas are.
There is a good deal of scientific research on Loving Kindness meditation. Many studies have found long-term benefits to the general happiness of those who practice this type of meditation.
Even if you want to spend most of your meditation time on mindfulness meditation, adding a bit of Metta meditation to the mix will certainly help your practice. Constant mindfulness meditation can be fatiguing, and Loving Kindness meditation provides a similar, but completely different experience.
You can find several guided Metta meditations on Youtube or your favorite app. There is also an excellent introduction to Metta meditation in John Yates’ The Mind Illuminated.