Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Awakening Your Heart with Metta

The practice of Metta, of loving-kindness, began for me with a series of repetitive spoken meditations. The basic premise is simple enough: to have awareness of your emotional state, awaken your heart to gentleness and teach it to have compassion for yourself, loved ones, acquaintances and people you have difficulty with. I performed a twenty minute meditation every night before bed, wherever I was.
Besides being generally more relaxed and patient, and sleeping well, this work has gifted me the confidence to trust my own intuition. Maybe it was just the act of meditating every night that opened the door to reconnecting with my personal voice, but it was the decision to learn loving-kindness that brought me my awakening and I have gratitude for it.
I have my voice. I can express my thoughts and opinions without caring if people disagree with me or criticize me for what I think. If I want to be able to have faith in what I believe and share those beliefs, I have to allow others to do the same. Their differing opinions are not about me, but are woven from their lessons and life experiences.
We are all threads in the beautiful tapestry of life. Instead of getting upset or hurt, I use my compassion to seek clarification, so that disagreements breed conversation and discussion, which in turn allow my thoughts and beliefs to grow. I find myself acting from a place of kindness, and no longer out of fear.

How Awakened is Your Heart?
Or, I could also say, how present are you in your body? I use this exercise as a test to gauge the connection between my emotional and physical body, which helps me stay mindful. Relax and place your hand over your chest. As you say these three phrases slowly, one at a time, pay attention to your breath and your emotional responses.
Inhale. Say “May I be well” on the out-breath.
Inhale. Say “May I be happy” on the out-breath.
Inhale. Say “May I be free from suffering” on the out-breath.
Repeat multiple times.
If the words sound mechanical falling off your lips, you need to open a bit more to connect to your heart chakra. If you are overly emotional from the go, you will want to do them with the focus being control instead of opening.

Meditations for Loving-kindness
These meditations are based on the ones I learned from Whispering Deer. Spend however long feels right for you at each step until you feel genuine compassion blossoming in your heart. Be mindful and present with the words you are speaking.

Self: This is often the hardest step for those who are raised in Western Culture. Speak each of these phrases out loud. Reflect on how you feel after each one. Listen to catches and tremors in your voice that reveal your emotional state. Like a soft-focus gaze, you want to feel the edges around your heart soften as you repeat it:
May I be happy.
May I be peaceful.                  
May I have the causes of happiness.
May I be safe.
May I be protected from harm.
May I be healthy.
May I be strong.         
May I care for myself.
May I live in peace and harmony.
            May I accept myself exactly as I am.
This meditation is to be repeated, until you feel a softness in the heart. This is the start of having loving-kindness for the self. While it is easier to have compassion for others in our society, we cannot take care of others until we can take care of ourselves. Revisit this meditation again, once you have mastered the others.

Loved Ones: This should be someone you are close to and have an easy relationship with, someone you have loving feelings for.
May [name of loved one] I be happy.
May [name of loved one] be peaceful.                       
May [name of loved one] have the causes of happiness.
May [name of loved one] be safe.
May [name of loved one] be protected from harm.
May [name of loved one] be healthy.
May [name of loved one] be strong.  
May [name of loved one] care for myself.
May [name of loved one] live in peace and harmony.
            May I accept [name of loved one] exactly as they are.

Neutral Acquaintance: Think of someone you interact with, maybe not every day, but regularly, but not someone you know deeply.
May [name of neutral person] be happy.
May [name of neutral person] be peaceful.               
May [name of neutral person] have the causes of happiness.
May [name of neutral person] be safe.
May [name of neutral person] be protected from harm.
May [name of neutral person] be healthy.
May [name of neutral person] be strong.      
May [name of neutral person] care for myself.
May [name of neutral person] live in peace and harmony.
            May I accept [name of neutral person] exactly as they are.

Difficult Person: This can be someone you have trouble having good feelings about in general, or someone who has acted hurtfully against you. I recommend doing this part at least twice. Start with someone you just have a bad feeling about and move onto someone who has hurt you.
May [name of person you hate] be happy.
May [name of person you hate] be peaceful.             
May [name of person you hate] have the causes of happiness.
May [name of person you hate] be safe.
May [name of person you hate] be protected from harm.
May [name of person you hate] be healthy.
May [name of person you hate] be strong.    
May [name of person you hate] care for myself.
May [name of person you hate] live in peace and harmony.
            May I accept [name of person you hate] exactly as they are.
Any time things become difficult and you feel agitated or constricted, ease out of it and return to a category or person that is easy for you.
Tips for Meditation
If you’re someone who falls asleep easily when you try to still yourself, let me assure you that it’s very common. It’s actually a way of your body throwing up resistance. It may be helpful to do these meditations with your knees bent upward, if you choose to lie down. If you start to fall asleep your legs will fall and wake you, and then you can slip back into wherever you remember leaving off with the meditation. Another thing you can do is to sit/lay with your thumb connected to another finger on the same hand. That physical touch will remind you subconsciously that you are meditating. They were both helpful tools in my early practice.

Wrapping Up
There is one final stage, which is to have gratitude for all sentient beings. By the time you are ready for that step you will most likely discover you already have those feelings of compassion within you. This work is slow work. It’s not an immediate relief. It’s difficult to unravel a lifetime of negative thinking. Allow yourself your feelings and be gentle. Never forget to hold compassion for yourself first, so that you may be able to offer it to the world around you.

            [Updated from an article originally published September 7, 2011.]

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