When many Westerners think of meditation, we conjure up images of a cross-legged person clearing their mind of all distractions and thoughts. That type of meditation, formally known as Vipassana, is very common among practioners of meditation. Actually, the goal is not to clear your mind of all thoughts but, rather, to be able to bring your attention back to your breath. I wrote a children’s book, entitled Meditation Station (Shambhala/Bala Kids, 2020), that teaches young readers how to stay focused on their breath and not let their train of thoughts take them away. When I launched that book, I did a joint Facebook live with SARK, in which I sang my mantra for the audience. You can listen to that here from about 25:00-28:00.
That mantra was based on a retreat I attended at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. Buddhist teacher and renowned author, Sylvia Boorstein, led the daylong retreat on Metta, a.k.a. Loving Kindness Meditation. Sylvia taught us the following “formula” for practicing Metta.
1) Self-Love: Start by Sending Well Wishes to Yourself. The classic mantra includes wishing yourself happiness, peace, safety, and calm. For many years, my mantra was “Freedom from danger. Mental Happiness to you. Physical Happiness also. Ease of being in life.” Sylvia astutely encouraged us to set our mantra to the tune of a song. My friends had played John Denver’s Annie’s Song at their wedding not long before that retreat, so it was stuck in my head. At some point, a homeopathic doctor suggested to me that including words like danger in my mantra was, well, dangerous. So, I since flipped it on its head: “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I be calm.”
2) Friends & Family: Next, extend your loving thoughts to those with whom you are closest: family, your partner, your children, friends, etc. One at a time, hold that person in your mind’s eye and heart and repeat, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you have ease of being in life.” Then, move onto the next person. Picture them and send out light and love.
3) Difficult People: This is the hardest step—think about someone with whom you don’t see eye-to-eye or with whom you have a conflict. They might bring up less than desirable feelings for you—anger, sadness, guilt, jealousy. Try and send those difficult souls the same loving kindness: “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you be calm.” Even when someone has really wronged you, it feels so much better to send them Metta than to let them cause you stress and anxiety. It is quite cathartic. Trust me.
4) Self-Love: Come back to yourself-Full circle, wish yourself the same health, happiness, calm, and safety. Basically, you have to put on your oxygen mask first—greet yourself with love—and it is best to end the meditation this way since you may have just struggled to send well wishes to “frenemies.”
Given the fact that so much is out of our control, even post-pandemic, this is one way in which we can create positive energy in the world. At the end of our sangha sitting together, we often say, “May all beings be happy and free from suffering.”
A few years ago, I attended another daylong retreat with Sylvia in which she taught us to sing the loving kindness/Metta mantra to the tune of “Happy Birthday to You.” Everyone knows that tune. It’s hard to forget or loop out of:
“May you be protected and safe.
May you feel happy and pleased.
May your body be healthy,
and may you live with ease.”
I used that chorus in my most recent book, Share Your Love (Shambhala/Bala Kids, October 17, 2023), which walks young readers and their caregivers through loving kindness– proving that even the youngest minds can meet each moment with kindness.
Metta may be the form of meditation that is closest to prayer. You pray for yourself, those you love, and those who make your life more stressful. I highly recommend trying out loving kindness meditation and sharing your love with the world.