If I were to suggest just one meditation for parents, without a doubt it would be the LovingKindness Meditation, also known as metta. This is a simple, gentle practice that holds you, your child, or others in your thoughts and wishes each happiness. The practice cultivates love, compassion, non-judgement, joy and calmness.
The root meaning of “metta” is friend. A true friend is with us in both joyful and difficult times. Such a friend is a refuge to us when we are afraid or hurt and cares for us when we are unable to care for ourselves. The practice of metta draws on that loving quality, guiding us to be our own true friend. It then extends friendship to others. This kind of unswerving friendship reflects aspects of the first Guiding Principle, “Love Genuinely.”
In metta meditation, we repeat a set of phrases, wishing things for ourselves and then for others. Traditionally there are four phrases centering on happiness and wellbeing. Different teachers state them in slightly different ways, but the ideas are all very similar. Below are the four phrases I use in the Guided Audio Meditation. They are based on suggestions from Jack Kornfield (2002).
May I be filled with lovingkindness
May I be safe from inner and outer dangers
May I be well in mind and body
May I have ease of being and happiness
It’s perfectly fine to explore other phrases, alter these or create phrases that have particular meaning to you. As you quietly repeat each phrase, you may want to reflect on it, taking in the depths of its meaning. In the set I have suggested, the first phrase is a broad invitation to have a rich warm hearted feeling of friendliness and goodwill.
The second phrase wishes for physical and mental safety. Dangers come in many forms: threats from outside, but also thoughts from within that are harmful to ourself or others. The third phrase wishes good health physically and mentally. When this is not possible, it suggests handling illness or pain with patience, and moving as much as possible toward wellness and harmony. The fourth phrase wishes that matters of daily living flow without struggle. These include family relationships, work, friendships, material resources and whatever else comes to your mind. The phrase ends with the simple but all encompassing wish for happiness.
Your metta meditation may be as short as 10 minutes, though it is common to sit for 15-20 minutes each a day. Sit comfortably and center for a few minutes before beginning the phrases. You may wish to follow a few of your breaths, sensing the inhale and the exhale and noticing if there is tension anywhere. Breathe into areas that feel tight, relaxing as you exhale and settling into your sitting. You may then wish to bring to mind some good things that are within or a few things that make you feel happy or grateful. The Buddha suggested that you imagine yourself as a much loved little child. When you are ready, silently begin to repeat the phrases. Just let your thoughts rest on the words. Do not try to force yourself to feel lovingkindness or anything else. Remember, meditation is gentle and caring. Just be with the words.
The Guided Audio Meditation below begins with breathing and a gentle body scan to help you center and relax. It then states each phrase, allowing time for you to repeat it for yourself, then gradually leads you into saying the phrases without guidance.
As you practice, you may find unloving thoughts and irritations rise up. You may feel unworthy or even ridiculous. All of these things are okay. Just accept those thoughts and gently return to the words. After a few sessions, you may begin to feel more open and comfortable.
Traditionally metta practice begins with yourself. When you are ready, you extend it to others: family, friends, neighbors, people you find difficult, all people everywhere.
A simple metta practice for parents
You may wish to begin a Loving Kindness practice directing the phrases first to yourself and then to your child. You can expand it to others any time you wish.
You will find some additional information about LovingKindness meditation in the segment in this site called, “A Little More about LovingKindness Practices.”
Jack Kornfield (2002). The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace. New York: Bantam Books.