I’ve always approached New Year’s resolutions with a certain level of discomfort. So often we resolve to quick fixes and instant gratification. Or we make goals that are either unrealistic or too nebulous, resolutions we’ll never be able to keep and lead to setting ourselves up for failure.
This isn’t entirely our fault. The very concept of the New Year’s resolution has become a marketing tool for diet, fitness, and self-improvement industries, among others, and our consumer-driven culture gobbles it up.
But I think my discomfort with resolutions runs deeper than all of this. These resolutions are often so inwardly focused, so self-centric and ego driven. Now, don’t think that I don’t believe in working on yourself. I’m a great believer in taking care of your body, mind and spirit in whatever way is needed. And, I love the idea that all of us can strive to be better versions of ourselves.
I’ve found in my own spiritual questing that, often, the way we improve ourselves is to shift to an outward focus, consider what we are emitting out into the world, how we are interacting with the people and environment around us, and to let that self-reflection make us better.
The founder of a writing group I belong to asks us to choose a word of the year each year. It’s a lovely practice for both personal and professional growth, to focus your goals and intention around a single word. I’ve been trying to implement this practice as my own version of a New Year’s Resolution for the past few years. And for 2019, I chose lovingkindness.
What is lovingkindness?
Simply put, lovingkindness is compassion. Concepts akin to lovingkindness appear throughout the spiritual discourses of several major religions. In Judaism, for example, lovingkindness can be defined by 13 attributes found in the book of Exodus. To me, lovingkindness is the conscious effort to share in the infinite benevolence of the Source of Life that dwells within us and all around us.
In his book, The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness, Rabbi Rami Shapiro goes as far as to say lovingkindness is the key to a Heaven on Earth. He explains, “If you choose kindness, love, generosity, and joy, then you will discover in that choice the Kingdom of God, heaven, nirvana, this-world salvation.”
Lovingkindness can also be a spiritual practice, like in the case of Metta meditation.
What is Metta?
Metta bhavana, or lovingkindness meditation, is a method of developing compassion that comes from a long tradition of Buddhist practice. But Metta has become an engaging and welcoming practice for spiritual seekers across religions.
Emma Seppala, the Science Director at Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, speaks to the heart of Metta meditation when she says the purpose of it is “to make people feel more connected and kind to others as well as to themselves.” In short, Metta meditation is a way to train yourself to make compassion a part of your everyday life.
Even more amazing, Metta meditation has been proven to have incredibly positive effects on the practitioner. One study showed that seven weeks of Metta meditation increased “love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe… which, in turn, predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.”
It seems that Metta meditation not only increases your capacity for compassion, but it is also good for your health.
How do you Metta?
Metta meditation is fairly simple to add to your daily meditative routine. It is also easy to start as a new meditation practice.
To start, you’ll use a pattern of phrases which you’ll repeat throughout your practice. There are many variations of this pattern out there, and I encourage you to look for something that is the best fit for you. To get started, here’s the pattern I use:
May I be well
May I be free from fear
May I be blessed with love
May I dwell in peace
Get comfortable and begin to recite the pattern of phrases to yourself, over and over. Wellness coach Elizabeth Scott says you’ll begin to feel “complete physical and emotional wellness and inner peace.” Once you spend some time with yourself, you may shift your focus to loved ones. Just adapt your pattern to “May you be well…” etc. Spend some time focusing on someone you love.
Elizabeth Scott suggests that you continue with your meditation by extending your focus “to other friends and family, then neighbors and acquaintances, even other groups of people around the world. You can extend these feelings of lovingkindness to people in other countries around the globe and focus on a feeling of connection and compassion.” You can even include someone you’re in conflict with, or an “enemy” of sorts.
Cultivate your Metta meditation however it best serves you and your needs. You can go through the whole cycle, from self to world, or choose to focus on individual aspects. You can change it up daily or build up as you go. But I invite you to join me in focusing your heart on compassion and growing your capacity for lovingkindness in the New Year.