How Metta Meditation Helps Us Develop a Kinder Attitude Towards Ourselves
by Paul Garrigan
The Importance of Developing Metta in Recovery
Metta (loving-kindness) meditation is one of the core practices we teach as part of the Hope Mindful Compassion program. Most of us who end up in rehab will have developed a bad attitude towards ourselves along the way (it may have been why we turned to alcohol and drugs in the first place), and this tendency towards self-loathing means we are at high-risk of sabotaging our future happiness. Metta meditation teaches us to begin valuing ourselves more highly so we are far less likely to settle for the sad existence of addiction.
The Difference between Loving-Kindness and Compassion
The words ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’ tend to be used interchangeably in everyday speech, but in our program we emphasize a specific meaning for each. ‘Kindness’ is having a friendly attitude towards ourselves or other people while ‘compassion’ is our willingness to be with our own suffering or the suffering of others. It is possible to be kind without being compassionate – e.g. doing something we think is ‘nice’ for somebody without considering if it is actually what the person wants.
Metta is one of four mental states we can deliberately cultivate in order to improve our lives after addiction. These desirable attitudes are collectively known in Buddhism as the Brahma Viharas and include loving kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha). One of the best definitions about what each of these mean is offered by Gill Fronsdal
Loving kindness befriends all beings
Compassion cares for all who suffer
Sympathetic joy rejoices with all who are fortunate
Equanimity loves peacefully all who can’t be helped
Why Do We Emphasize Metta Mediation at Hope Rehab?
If we do metta meditation every day, it can help us develop each of these four mental states, but it is particularly suited for developing loving kindness. This is why we also practice Tonglen to help us develop compassion and mindfulness practices to increase our equanimity.
Benefits of Metta Meditation
People have been doing metta meditation for thousands of years and here are some of the traditionally reported benefits of the practice:
• Other people will like us – kind people are just nicer to be around
• Our faces will be radiant – practicing kindness is better than a face lift
• We will sleep better
• We will have pleasant dreams
• We will wake up in a good mood
• We will be better able to cope with dying
• We will have serene minds
• It will feel like the universe is on our side
• We will feel more at home in the world – we develop unconditional positivity so no matter what is happening it just feels as if things are going to work out okay
Somatic Metta Meditation
We practice somatic metta meditation here at Hope Rehab. We want it to involve the physical sensation of feeling goodwill – this makes the practice far more powerful. As we do this, we start to feel our heart opening up, and there is a real sense of rawness and vulnerability. By focusing on the somatic aspect of loving kindness, we are also able to access very deep states of consciousness.
The method we use to make our metta meditation more somatic is to imagine we are breathing directly into the heart. As we breathe in, we notice any tension in the chest area (armoring around our heart), and we let this tension go as we breath out. We then combine the heart breathing with the metta slogans which are:
May I Be Happy
May I Be Healthy
May I Be at Ease
May I Be At Ease
We begin somatic meditation by just focusing on ourselves (level one), but later on (level two), we include others. You can practice these mediation at home by visiting our guided meditation page.
Why Do We Emphasize Metta Mediation at Hope Rehab? by Paul G