We kicked off January 2016 in a big way here at Longwave - and as we step into February our classes are overflowing with the warmth and dedication of our ever growing kula, new and seasoned yogis alike - and we couldn’t be more stoked! The month of February is the perfect month to show some love, and in our case loving-kindness, or metta. You may have heard more than a few of our teachers mentioning this phrase in class - but do you truly understand what it means and where it came from?
Metta is an essential Buddhist concept found in the Four Immeasurables. Also called the Brahmavihara’s, or sublime attitudes, these four virtues form the basis of compassion and joy in life. These ‘sublime attitudes’ are comprised of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity, and are cultivated by practicing a specific meditation for each. The notion of loving-kindness has also been found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, an ancient Indian guide for living a spiritual, meaningful yogic life. The practice of cultivating metta is a powerful antidote for negativity and suffering. The ultimate wish is for all sentient beings, without exception, to be happy. In order to reach this level of loving-kindness, we must be willing to put in the work (meditation).
Traditionally, there are five stages of meditation on metta: loving-kindness towards self, towards friends and family, towards a “neutral” person, towards a “difficult” person, and eventually towards the entire Universe. Not only did the Buddha list the benefits and fruits of this practice (there are 11 in total!), but modern scientific research has been done to study the effects of cultivating metta. Barbara Fredrickson, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that meditation on loving-kindness can help “boost positive emotions and well-being in life” and a study conducted at Stanford University concluded that benevolence meditation increases social connectedness. Staying connected through the practice of sending love to self and others is a huge part of the practice.
Perhaps the most important connection we need to establish is with ourselves. The first stage of metta meditation involves sending loving-kindness and compassion within. One way we can experience this is in our daily practice, on our mats. We’ve all had those practices where nothing seems to go as planned; our mind won’t stop reeling from a hectic day at work, our hips seem to groan and ache, and our balance is non-existent. It happens, our life is a progression, not a stand-still. But what we can work toward is compassion for ourselves and our bodies through wishing ourselves well: “May I be happy. May I be free. May I be filled with joy. May my body be at ease”. Each time a negative thought appears, repeat the manta and begin to notice the sensations of the mind calming and the body responding with ease. It may not be easy, but as Sri K. Pattabhi Jois exclaimed, “Do your practice, and all is coming”.
Another practice in metta we can experiment with is sending those benevolent vibes to our friends and family. This sounds easy enough because of course we wish our loved ones well, of course we want them to be happy! But what about sending those wishes to complete strangers: the cashier at the grocery store or the gas station attendant down the street? Awareness is the key. By becoming aware of these “neutral” people, we start to make a conscious effort in surrounding them with loving-kindness. We begin to take small steps in bringing our yoga off the mat and into the world by dissolving separation and recognizing that all things are connected. We begin to be the change in the world, “May you be happy, may you be free”. But what about the “difficult” person? The person who makes you angry and irritated, the individual you just can’t seem to get along with no matter how many Ujjayi breaths you take?
This is where the real work takes place. Surrounding these people who challenge us with loving-kindness takes courage. In an excerpt from Loving-kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, Sharon Salzberg encourages us saying, “This is a very powerful stage in the practice, because…the person with whom we have difficulty stands right at the division between the finite and the infinite radiance of love…Here we learn that the inherent happiness of love is not compromised by likes and dislikes, and thus, like the sun, it can shine on everything. This love is truly boundless. It is born out of freedom, and it is offered freely.” What an incredibly honest and powerful life-affirming message. Even the person we perceive as most difficult still deserves love and nourishment.
As we dive deeper into the practice of metta on our mat and within ourselves, we are better prepared to shine the light of loving-kindness into the world. This kind of love deeply transforms our way of being, thinking, and doing. It shows us that we are all connected in this thing called Life and without exception, all living beings deserve all the loving-kindness there is to be had. Show yourself and others some love this month! Dedicate this February to truly be a month of loving-kindness. Happy meditating!
To learn how to practice metta meditation join Longwave Yoga on February 14, 2016 for a complimentary meditation session. Register HERE.