How Metta Meditation Builds Resilience

Most Saturday afternoons between 12:45 and 1:30 pm, you'll find me guiding a meditation workshop at Kripalu. I am always surprised and delighted by how many people show up, and I am curious as to why they want to meditate. The reasons they give vary from to reduced stress to finding the stillness inside, to connecting with divine forces. No matter why folks come, most of them are searching for ways to find themselves and live their best lives.

Meditation is being praised by modern-day science as a practice that helps with emotional self-regulation: the ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses, as well as cheer yourself up after disappointments and act in a way consistent with your most deeply held values. 

In her broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, Barbara L. Fredrickson and her research colleagues assert that people’s daily experiences of positive emotions compound over time to build a variety of consequential personal resources. The authors tested this hypothesis in a field experiment with 139 adults, half of whom were randomly assigned to begin a practice of loving-kindness meditation. Results showed that this meditation practice produced increases over time in daily experiences of positive emotions, which, in turn, produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms). In turn, these increments in personal resources predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.

For those of us with really busy lives, the best news is that the benefits of metta, or loving-kindness meditation (LKM), kick in after only seven minutes of meditation.

LKM involves offering blessings to a number of different recipients. Traditionally, you start with the self, then move on to a loved one, a neutral person, a person of challenge, and, finally, all living things.

You can use any words or phrases that are meaningful to you. Traditional phrases are safe, happy, free, at peace. You might want to take some time to consider what each one of these wishes means to you, and develop a personal connection to them. You can also personalize your wishes, finding ones that feel just right for you.

Begin by bringing yourself into a comfortable position: standing, sitting, or lying down. Make sure your body is in a position where you will be awake and alert, and simultaneously at ease. Take a few minutes to become present with your body, allow your breath to be calm and steady, and connect with your heart. Then silently repeat the phrases, focusing them toward yourself:

May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I skillfully ride the waves of your life.
May I know peace no matter what life circumstances

Send metta to yourself as long as you like, and then move onto the next person, changing the "I" to "you" or "they" in each phrase. After offering to all living beings, let go of the wishes and, for a few moments, simply breathe, relax, and observe the effects of the meditation.

The practice can be expanded or compressed to any length of time, or narrowed down and directed towards one individual, depending on time and the needs of your heart.

Find out about programs with Michelle Dalbec at Kripalu.

Reprinted with permission from Michelle's website.