By David Jones
“May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful.” Who is a Buddhist speaking to when they say this?
It’s not really an entreaty or appeal to someone, as if asking someone to grant these things; they’re focusing on their desire for compassion for everyone and everything in the universe. In a way it focuses that desire and sends it out into the world. It’s not some empty gesture, because it brings the person meditating into a communion of sorts where they celebrate our common humanity as well as our connection to every living thing. The more you meditate on your goal, the closer you draw to it.
This isn’t new to Christians though. Philippians 4:8 states, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
As we think deeply about such things we draw closer to them, and we align ourselves with those good, positive, “excellent or praiseworthy” things. And there are few things more right, admirable, or pure than desiring the well-being of everyone. This compassionate practice is referred to as “metta.”
Metta can have many translations besides the common “loving-kindness,” leading one to have and show friendliness towards strangers. It wishes good things for all, not in the sense of satisfying greed, vanity, lust, or selfish desire, but the kind of true, lasting, benevolent happiness within.
Today it seems like an epic challenge to desire good for others, particularly if they scare or anger us. Yet if we nurture a desire for others’ well-being, we begin thinking more like God does. Jesus told folks, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:44-45)
Here’s an example of a metta meditation or loving-kindness prayer (or you can use your own words):
May I be happy.
May I be safe.
May I be content.
May I be at peace.
May I be forgiving.
May I provide light.
May I be well.
You’re not asking God to just give you these things. You are, however, speaking affirmations into being by prayer. You could even follow each of these with “amen,” a Hebrew-based word which means various things having to do with the truthfulness, trustworthiness, or certainty of a saying. Amen shows that you are in agreement with the thing said. It would be like saying, “May I be happy, may that become true.”
Also, these words should be spoken with intent, feeling the very things within you. Mindless repetition doesn’t help anyone when it comes to sacred words. Jesus cautions, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” Without thought, without deep and meditative respect of the practice, even a prayer can become meaningless recitation, hollow repetition, empty phrases devoid of meaning.
But metta isn’t a selfish plea for ourselves, which is an important lesson to take to heart in our prayers as well. So how is this not a selfish practice if everything begins with “May I?”
Because the process only begins with me. It continues by radiating outward from me. I’m at the center of this process like a router spreading a Wi-fi signal throughout the house. It’s not much good if it just stopped at the source.
As you draw closer to these noble desires, expand it to include those you love, such as family and close friends. You can even name some of them if you like. “May Stacie be happy. May Stacie be safe.” Just say these things with intent, picturing their faces.
Spend some time imagining these wishes washing over your loved ones and helping them. Then move out farther to other people in your life, wherever they may be. The teachers, the road repair crew members, the nurses, the food handlers, and others who help make our lives better or easier.
Now the moment of truth: remember when Jesus said, “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you”? Time to walk the walk.
Think of someone you don’t like, and focus your blessing upon them. Start with individuals, then groups. Move on to those you may hate and bless them too, by name and then in groups. Beware of letting sarcasm or judgmental thoughts negate your words. Finally expand this blessing to encompass all people, all animals, all living things.
Sometimes this blessing will change. Maybe a wonderful new person has come into your life, or someone has made you very angry today. These people are now to receive these considerations individually.
By practicing this metta we become routers of benevolence and compassion, spreading love-based kindness to all without judgment or thought of merit. If God sends rain and sun upon our friends and enemies freely regardless of what they say, do, or believe, then that’s truly an example worth following.
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Editor: Dana Gornall