I invite new and regular visitors to take a look at my updated and expanded Metta Instruction page. There you will find many helpful articles you can read online or download—articles such as these:
To help you understand how you can “personalize” your metta practice, I thought I’d share some of the approaches I use in my own metta practice. One thing I’ve found to be very helpful in doing self-metta is to use “customized” phrases—that is, phrases of that speak directly to areas where I need to express and feel more compassion and understanding toward myself.
As you probably know if you’ve done metta practice, traditionally one starts out with loving-kindness directed toward oneself. But as many Western dharma teachers have pointed out, because many of us here in the West have deep issues of self-hatred and guilt that we are working out, sometimes self-loving is not the best place to begin metta.
We may need to begin where we can generate and feel some genuine good-will and affection—maybe toward a friend, or even a pet. Then, when we can actually sense what unconditional good will feels like, we can go from that good place to more difficult objects of affection—which may mean, ourselves!
Customize Your Metta to Address Your Particular Sense of Self
Typically, one may wish, “May I be happy. May I be free of suffering” and similar phrases that reflect our desire that we be happy and know the causes of happiness. What I discovered as my metta practice developed was that I could make those self-metta phrases very specific and very focused on areas where I was “caught” or “hung up” in terms of loving myself or letting go of false identifications and ego traps.
Over time, I developed particular particular phrases that were “Steve metta” phrases. They we developed by by my noticing the specific kinds of feelings and emotions that indicated where I was stuck—my mental hang-ups. An important adjunct to developing these self-metta phrases was working with psychology books that were grounded in Buddhist insights and practice. You can find a list of these here, in this post:
Another study that has proved to be extremely helpful in developing a customized “Steve metta” has been working with insights and practices from the Riso and Hudson Enneagram books, such as this: Understanding the Enneagram – Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
Create Your Own Customized 3×5 Self-metta Work Cards
Developing specific phrases of self-metta may take some time. Maybe, at first, you just work with general phrases, such as “May I live joyfully and with ease.” There’s plenty of instruction on this in the articles I’ve listed above. But, over time, if you watch what arises in your metta, and begin to notice with more insight the harmful patterns and effects of trauma in your life, you should start seeing your sticking points. These may well be areas you don’t want to go! It takes real courage to love, when we feel unlovely or unloved.
When you begin to identify these painful and unskillful place in your heart and mind—and in your life—consider what the antidote to that hurt and trauma might be. What are the specific ways you could love yourself, or change the way you look at things, that would liberate your heart? Write down positive, self-affirming phrases, or aspirations, and then use them in your self-metta sessions.
It’s perfectly alright to stop your metta from time to time and refer to your customized metta phrases. I’ve my phrases on a 3×5 card, and use them in my metta sessions when I’m “on the cushion” as well as throughout the day. (Indeed, referring to them throughout your day can be very powerful and healing. We often need to be repeatedly reminded to love ourselves, and to let go, to break old habits and conditioning.
Whatever phrases or thoughts we may use, the big thing to keep in mind is that it’s not so much the words as the spirit of love, compassion, and wisdom behind the words that is the healer. In a way, what we are doing in our self-metta is mothering and fathering ourselves—maybe in a way we never were mothered and fathered as children. Feeling this, we can bring a powerful aspiration to be the kind of courageous mother and father that the Buddha speaks of in the metta sutta:
“As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings. So with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings; radiating kindness over the entire world.” The Buddha, Sutta Nipata I, 8
We should never forget that we are ourselves one of those very, very precious beings!
Some Examples of “Customized” Metta Phrases
Here are some of the self-metta phrases I have worked with and still work with regularly. Although they are very personal, I’m sharing them to help give you an idea of what your own self-metta phrases might look or sound like. I’ve found that the more specific the phrases are in terms of your self-love issues, the more powerful the healing, transforming effect.
Again, above it all, these cards and phrases are only skillful means. The healing is in our use of them, in what goes on in our own thought and hearts as we say them and ponder them. Metta is meditation. To be most effective, our metta well-wishes and aspirations need our full attention. We need to notice and see what arises as we do the metta (whether for ourselves or for others) but not get hung-up in what arises.
Maybe even more than in breath meditation, because of the powerful emotions metta can bring up, we may find ourselves being caught-up in story lines and dramas and traumas from our past. As in meditation, when we lose focus on the breath, just notice the story, notice the arising of feelings, and then just return to the metta phrase. Breathe in, breathe out, and smile! It doesn’t matter if we have to do this a thousand times, like “a mother protecting her child,” we resolutely and fearlessly return to love that “child” of loving-kindness that we are developing and cherishing in our hearts.
I hope you have found this sharing helpful. And now, here are some of my personal phrases:
May I be free of anger and aggression against my self.
My I let go of all self-hatred and self-contempt.
May I let go of all feelings of hopelessness and despair.
My I let go of all self-sabotaging thoughts and actions.
May I let go of the feeling that I am inadequate and defective.
May I let go of the fear that I am unimportant and undesirable.
May I let go of feeling shameful and misunderstood by others.
May I let go of the feeling that people always let me down.
May I let go of all unrealistic expectations of myself and others.
May I let of all claims of needing to be treated differently.
May I let go of all self-indulgence in my emotions and behavior.
May I let go of all self-doubt and emotional vulnerability.
May I let go of wanting to protect myself by withdrawing from others.
May joy and warmth fill my heart. May I love myself!