Two of the primary purposes of meditation are to learn to let go and to recognize one’s interconnection to all things. During this period of mass sickness and poverty, Metta is a profound meditation technique that at once achieves both goals.
Metta roughly translates to ‘benevolence’ or ‘loving-kindness’ in Pali, and comes to us from the Buddhist tradition. The purpose of this exercise is to focus on cultivating and sending feelings of goodwill to all beings.
I was first introduced to it at the first group meditation I ever attended. The session was led by an inspiring dharma teacher named Dave Smith. Smith, who has made it his life’s work to aid in the recovery of those with substance abuse issues, led us through a 20-minute Metta practice.
In that first sitting, we were asked to imagine sending rays of love to all sentient beings. This guided meditation so moved my spirit and opened my heart that I began attending Dave’s Sunday evening session each week.
Looking back now on that fateful day in early 2013, I am amazed at how completely this simple yet meaningful practice touched my soul. After seven years of reflection on the power of Metta practice, I have come to realize why it is so impactful: loving-kindness meditations simultaneously quiet our restless minds and open up our wayward hearts.
In these times of fear and uncertainty, what could be more inspiring than sending our deepest wishes of love and goodwill to the planet when we wake up in the morning or go to bed at night?
Through the ages, it has been said by more than a few sages that meditation is the highest form of prayer, because it breaks down the separation between the external world and our own soul’s inner yearning for peace and oneness.
If it feels right for you, you might find the following COVID-19 adapted Metta practice helpful:
Find a comfortable position, either sitting cross-legged on the floor or seated upright on a chair of your choosing. Slowly close your eyes and bring your awareness to the centre of your heart, as you begin to inhale and exhale long, deep breaths.
As you deeply breathe in and out, imagine filling your heart with pink or green light on the in-breath, and then imagine sending that same light out to the world from your heart on the out-breath, as you repeat these words to yourself:
“May all beings be free, may all beings find peace and may all beings be blessed with good health as this pandemic passes like the seasons.”
I recommend that you try this practice for 15 to 20 minutes. But by all means, feel free to do it for shorter or longer intervals than what I suggest, if it feels more comfortable for you.
Metta meditation has the power to heal our minds and hearts. Remarkably, too, it could also heal the whole world, at a time when we are in desperate need of healing.
Two studies on the power of loving-kindness were conducted in Jerusalem and Lebanon in the 1980s. In both studies, scientific researchers found overwhelming evidence of a powerful link between the practice of mass Metta (loving-kindness) meditation circles and lower incidences of war.
As originally reported and published in The Journal of Conflict Resolution (1988), during days of high attendance at a peace meditation held in Jerusalem, war deaths in neighbouring Lebanon decreased by 76 percent. On those days of intention-filled Metta practice, crime and traffic tickets in the near vicinity went down as well.
Incredibly, the same study was replicated with even stricter controls, and produced the same results, as reported in the academic journal of Social Behavior and Personality (2005). If Metta meditation practice can bring peace to a war-torn people, imagine what it could accomplish in terms of alleviating all suffering related to COVID-19!
When love meets prayer’s full intentions, the possibilities for the development of human consciousness are endless. However, one question does arise: how can one go about starting a meditation or prayer circle during a time that requires social distancing?
Max Reif, an inspiring writer for this conscious writing collective, The Mindful Word, may have the answer. In one of his many thoughtful articles, Reif relates how he has learned to tap into online spiritual communities through Zoom (the interactive web interface program that has soared in popularity during the crisis) to cultivate feelings of loving-kindness:
In Reif’s words:
“I rise, as often as possible, at 5 a.m. At 6:30, I attend ‘Virtual Morning Arti,’ an international Zoom gathering of Meher Baba devotees. We recite prayers, sing two spiritual anthems and then spend an hour sharing whatever songs, poems, messages or anecdotes people are inspired to contribute. This event often leads me to great heights of joy! While the external world continues its hard slog, my internal world is brought to a point of shining—more than before the pandemic, I think.”
Maybe, we can all follow Reif’s example. Is it really a stretch for our imaginations to envision meditation circles popping up all over the world, through virtual connections? I don’t think so. Besides spreading some much-needed peace and love right now, the emergence of such gatherings (even if they are only virtual) will also inspire hope … the true motor of the human experience.