The simple translation of the Pali word “Metta” into English is typically defined as: “Loving Kindness” - iit also captures aspects of benevolence, compassion, friendliness, amity and goodwill. Although not a perfect translation, for the sake of simplicity we will use the word Metta and the phrase Loving Kindness interchangeably.
At a high level, Metta meditation uses words, images, and feelings to evoke feelings of compassion and friendliness. It is a method of developing unconditional love and acceptance toward oneself and others.
When practicing a Loving Kindness meditation we do not do it for accomplishing a goal or proving a point. It has no conditions; it does not depend on whether one "deserves" it or not; it is not restricted to friends and family; it extends out from personal categories to include all living beings. There are no expectations of anything in return. It is merely a process to experience and enjoy.
A regular Metta practice can function to soften one’s relationship with overwhelmingly afflictive mind states so that we can avoid succumbing completely to their energies. It makes them more approachable and it makes them less intractable.
In addition to being practiced for many thousands of years - one might assume that if such a practice did not provide benefits to the practitioners, it would have been abandoned, over the past 20+ years, there have been a multitude of scientific studies to attempt to understand and try to prove it’s benefits.
Some of the proven benefits of Loving Kindness meditation include*:
1. Less self-criticism
There is hardly any space left for self-criticism and self-harm once we commit to Loving Kindness meditation. The method quietens our inner critic and makes us more self-accepting than ever (Frederickson, 2001).
2. More positive emotions
Studies have shown that regular practice of Loving Kindness meditation increases vagal tone, a physiological marker of subjective well-being. The positivity Loving Kindness meditation generates inside, attracts positive energy from the outside, and improves the quality of life and life satisfaction permanently (Kok et al., 2013).
3. Lesser self-destructive thoughts
Research has shown that seven weeks of unfiltered Loing Kindness meditation practice induces joy, gratitude, care, and hope. Individuals with suicidal tendencies and borderline personality traits showed a marked reduction in their self-harming impulses and manifested an overall decrease in the negative symptoms (Fredrickson, Coffey, Finkel, Cohn, Pek, 2008).
4. Reduced pain symptoms
Pilot studies on patients with chronic back pain and migraine showed that when they practiced Loving Kindness meditation for brief periods of 2-5 minutes per day, they showed a remarkable reduction in the pain symptoms and could accomplish their daily tasks with more ease and comfort (Tonelli et al., 2014, Carson et al., 2005).
5. More resilience
A study on people with long-term PTSD showed that engaging in deep, meaningful compassion and self-love meditations reduced the trauma and flashback episodes. Control studies showed that groups that received Loving Kindness meditation scripts during their sessions could resume work sooner than participants who received other forms of guided instructions (Kearney et al., 2013).
6. Long-term benefits
Studies on the after-effects of Loving Kindness meditation showed that individuals who attended the sessions felt positive and self-motivated for up to 15 months post-intervention. Compared with other meditation practices and self-help tools, Loving Kindness reflection created more affection and empathy for strangers and social connections at work (Seppala and Gross, 2008).
7. Faster recovery
Clinical populations such as people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders manifested a marked reduction in negative symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions when they practiced Loving Kindness meditation individually or in groups. Besides positivity and symptom reduction, the practice also improved their judgment towards others they live or work with (Johnson et al., 2011).
Metta is the ideal, pure love, which everyone has in potential. We often begin with extending this unconditional love towards those who are easiest to do so, such as a child, a good friend or even one’s pet. Then we begin to include others who are special to us, those who are perhaps a little more difficult to extend these feelings to and then express this love towards ourselves. Unless we have a measure of this unconditional love and acceptance for ourselves, it is difficult to extend it to others - so it can be somewhat circular in nature. Gradually, both the visualization and the meditation phrases blend into the actual experience, the feeling of Loving Kindness.
Like all meditation practices, Metta meditation is a practice. And with all things that we practice, the more you practice, the better you will get at it.
* Chowdhury, R. B. M. A. (2021, December 6). What is Loving-Kindness Meditation? (Incl. 4 Scripts). PositivePsychology.Com. Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://positivepsychology.com/loving-kindness-meditation/