‘Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.’
May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be peaceful
May I live with ease.
These simple words of the metta, or loving-kindness meditation, have much to offer us. When we first hear them, we might find them a bit obvious, or a voice in our head might say, ‘that’s all very well and good, but…’ There may be any number of reasons why it might be difficult for us to imagine a life of happiness, health and peace, but this doesn’t mean we cannot wish for it.
Metta meditation always begins with ourselves, on the premise that we can’t generate loving-kindness for others if we have none for ourselves. You cannot give what you don’t have. We sit in the meditation posture, and silently repeat the phrases. We aim to embody the phrases by connecting with our heart centre, in the centre of our chest, during the practice. They are not empty phrases mindlessly repeated, but an expression of our deep desire for ourselves and others to be happy and well.
Metta meditation is very flexible, and there are any number of different versions which can be found on the internet and in books. You can change the phrases to ones which particularly resonate with you. Popular phrases include ‘may I be safe’, ‘may I flourish’, ‘may I be calm and content’, ‘may I live with equanimity’. Sometimes phrases are suggested in the negative, such as ‘may I be free from suffering’. While I respect the teachers who use these phrases, my personal preference is for always keeping the phrases positive.
It can also be effective to choose one phrase only, and to practise with it for an extended period of time. For example, you could very well sit with ‘may I be happy’ for a month or a year, and notice any internal struggles this phrase might illuminate for you. A few years ago I attended a silent nine-day metta retreat, led by the Australian monk Bhante Sujato. For the first two days, the meditation practice was simply to silently repeat the phrase ‘may I be happy’. I really struggled with the phrase, and to me this struggle was quite disconcerting. After all my years of meditation and other inner work, why was it still so difficult to just sit there and say, ‘may I be happy’? Metta meditation can show us with great clarity how we see our place in the world, and it can help us connect with our common humanity, both within ourselves and with others. We will look at extending metta to others in next week’s reflection.
Weekly practice idea:
Choose one of the phrases – a good starting point might be ‘may I be happy’ – and, after taking a few minutes to settle yourself into the meditation, repeat the phrase silently to yourself, connecting it with your heart centre as you do so. Notice how this feels for you.