If you’ve experienced the heat wave that’s cooking us to crispy, frazzled human steaks, or can remember a summer so hot they were putting sunscreen on cows… You might have also experienced a mild rage that comes with it.
Well, at least that’s what this redheaded yogi suffers from. The heat is not my friend. I burn like a piece of dry wood, and I’m certain I sweat more than the average bear. Needless to say, you won’t get me singing the praises of hot yoga either.
Anyway, all of this general hot-and-botheredness did actually have some benefit: it reminded me about my very favourite form of seated meditation: metta, or loving-kindness meditation.
If you haven’t come across the term before, metta practice comes from the Theravada Buddhist tradition of meditating on unconditional love towards all beings. Easier said than done, right?
The idea is that in developing this kind of loving acceptance regardless of what he said or she did or who they are, we can break free from negative thought-patterns, as well as finding peace in difficult situations in which we would previously jump straight to toxic judgement.
It’s worth keeping in mind that metta practice is a practice: it takes time to develop. Don’t expect to immediately feel like the modern day Mother Teresa. Start small, and keep at it. What I find helpful is the fact that even in an individual session of metta practise, you’re guided through a process starting with the ‘easy to love’, moving to more ‘difficult’ people, finally extending your compassion to all beings.
Some days are easier than others. Some days I’m able to start with sending my love to myself, as many traditions will advise, other days I’m last on the list. Regardless, I always feel more open-hearted and care-free by the end of it.
PERFECT for this season of heat, high emotions and short-tempers.
Ready to practise?
A Loving-Kindness Meditation For Grumpy Hot-Heads
1) Sit comfortably in a quiet place. Ground yourself in your body, taking five or six conscious breaths to slow down and feel inside.
2) Bring to mind someone for whom you feel simple, uncomplicated affection—perhaps a friend, a childhood mentor, or your pet cat. Imagine that they’re here with you. You might feel a simple sense of affection, a warmth in your heart as you do this—or you might not feel much of anything. Doesn’t matter. Trust that your intention is doing the work for you.
3) Begin to repeat to yourself, one breath for each line:
May you be happy.
May you be well.
May you be safe.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
Silently recite the words on the inhale, sending out the energy of your well-wishes on the exhale to the person you’re focusing your attention on. Take your time with this, giving yourself the luxury of unhurried meditation. Sink into the warmth of this connection, perhaps feeling a sense of warmth within your chest or near your heart.
You can change the wording if you like, or tailor loving intentions for specific individuals: May you be at peace, for an anxious friend; May this hard time pass, for a loved one struggling with difficulties.
4) Next—or perhaps later, because you can do these in whatever order you choose – apply this to yourself. Sitting quietly, send yourself these same well-wishes, feeling the warmth of your compassionate heart radiating through your body. May I be happy. May I be well. May I be kind to myself. May I give myself what I need. If an internal voice rears up and says, “This is selfish!”, tell it calmly, “No, this is nurturing”. This can also be a nice one to do if you’re having a hard time falling asleep at night.
5) After working with these initial practices for a while, expand your loving kindness to more neutral subject—a social acquaintance, a store clerk, the woman the next car over on the freeway—again, sending them simple well-wishes on the breath. Eventually, you begin to cultivate metta for those with whom you’ve experienced conflict. Send them your well-wishes simply as a fellow human being: May you be happy. May you be well. May you be free from suffering.
6) Ultimately, you can expand your practice of sending loving-kindness to all beings, human, animal, plant, microscopic—to all beings in your family … neighborhood … town … state … country … world … universe … May we all be happy. May we all be well. May we all be free from suffering.
Note: If anger, grief, or sadness arise at any point during these practices, take it as a sign your heart is softening. You can rest in mindfulness with these feelings, or send them loving kindness and compassion through the same practice, directing these loving thoughts towards the part of you that is distressed.
So hopefully a bit of metta will go a long way in bringing a bit of peace into your life, even if you’re a sweaty, grumpy hot-head (like me.)
*Content in part based on Tara Brach’s amazing work