by Nancy Alder
Not so long ago I received an email from someone that was written in all capital letters. It was clear that her intent was to yell at me over the internet for something which really had nothing to do with me. My replies to her were always professional and cordial, but hers were eternally screaming with anger and as if I was a child. The final one I received, the one written in all capitals stuck with me for days. I knew there was no reason I should have been the recipient of such vitriol and yet I could not let it go. It was if I carried her with me everywhere I went and she was an angry backpack that kept me from moving forward at a comfortable pace.
Then I remembered a practice I had learned earlier that year from one of my favorite teachers, Sharon Salzberg. I spent a day with Sharon learning all about Metta meditation and knew this practice could help me let go of the angry email writer. So I sat down on my zafu and drew my attention to my breath began the meditation. After a few rounds I got to this person:
May she be happy.
May she be healthy.
May she be well.
May she be at peace.
I had found a way to release the experience of her angry words by remembering that she was like me. When I received this challenging email, the last straw after a chain of nasty ones, I felt trapped by her anger and negativity. I was the like the fly who innocently made the wrong turn into the spider’s web and could not seem to find the non-sticky threads. But the minute I sat down and held space for her during my Metta meditation practice I was shown the way out of her angry shroud. I could see her as human, as hurting, as angry for reasons that had nothing to do with me. I understood that her frustrations were based upon life outside of our relationship and that the poison that typed those exclamations had been fed to her by others. I was merely the recipient because I was available to be. So I held her space, acknowledged her humanity and was able to let her and her words go.
Metta meditation is a practice based upon one of the Four Immeasurables, or Brahma Viharas of Buddhism. These four tenets of living are guides of how to hold others, whether they be those you love, those you do not know or those who you struggle with, with the same respect. The Brahma Viharas are: Mudita (Sympathetic joy), Karuna (Compassion), Upekkha (Equanimity) and Metta (Loving Kindness). Applying these four “divine principles” to others is a wonderful way to remember that we are all one in the same. They, the Brahma Viharas, help us in maintaining healthy relationships with our family, friends, romantic partners and even those that cause us strife. They are tools to keep us swimming in the same ocean, dancing to the same tune and living the same lives. They remind us that we are not so different after all.
Metta meditation can be used in times of strife like after receiving an angry email or when you need to cultivate love and kindness for someone you love, you are concerned about and especially towards yourself. It is a practice that helps us be reflective in our relationships and reminds us that rather than standing alone, we are together even with those we see as so very unlike ourselves. The basic steps for doing this practice are as follows:
1. Find a comfortable seat and close your eyes. Begin your practice by drawing your awareness to your breath. Notice the quality, texture and depth of both your inhales and exhales. Stay here for a few moments and/or minutes remembering that you can always return to your breath at any point in your practice. (note: this practice can also be done as a walking meditation and in that instance you would not close your eyes)
2. Repeat the following four phrases (or something similar that resonates to you more deeply):
May he/she/I/they be happy.
May he/she/I/they be healthy.
May he/she/I/they be well.
May he/she/I/they be at peace.
Repeat these phrases several times for each of the following four people in the following order, switching as you feel ready and at the end returning to yourself:
Someone you love or someone who needs extra healing/care/love
Someone you see but do not know personally (grocery clerk, mailman, crossing guard)
Someone with whom you find struggle/challenge/anger
3. Return to these four phrases in #2 about yourself for a few rounds and then follow with a return to breath awareness as described in #1. Remember that at any point you can both return to the meditation focused on yourself or breath awareness if you find the person you are focusing on is too unsettling.
This practice has transformed my relationships and those of my children as well. Approaching others from a place of Metta or loving kindness offers me the opportunity to acknowledge that there is goodness and kindness and struggle within all of us. Therefore we can understand and more actively love and support those that give us goodness and even those that do not.
About Nancy Alder
YOGI + MOTHER
Nancy Alder is a mom to elves, a yoga teacher and writer in Connecticut. She is a New York editor for Mantra Magazine and writes about the alchemy of yoga, mysticism and motherhood at her site Flying Yogini. She is co-creatrix of the eight limb // life a course in finding your yoga off the mat and everywhere. When not teaching or writing about yoga she explores the enchanted woods with her elves and counts the days until the next snowfall.