by Jillian Pransky
IMAGINE CHANGING EVEN YOUR MOST CHALLENGING RELATIONSHIP
If you are human, like me, then you probably have some people in your life that the mere thought of them can instantaneously agitate you. Maybe make you feel angry or hurt. And you know that if only they would change, then you could finally have a more loving relationship with them. If only they would change…
I know a lot about this. My Dad really needed to change.
In my lifetime, he faced over 14 life-threatening illnesses. Since I was little, I mentally wrote his eulogy several times, and while I attempted to honor him, all I could express was my resentment. But the truth is I really wanted to be at peace with him. I desired a loving relationship with him. I longed to harbor less anger and experience more joy in all the moments of my life.
“If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at them. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart…” Pema Chodron
As I grew into my 20s, and into a regular yoga and meditation practice, I realized my anger with my dad, carried over into other areas of my life, other relationships. And if I wanted the love I know I was capable of, then I needed to change. Not him.
So I did.
I credit Metta Meditation as one of the most powerful tools that helped me to create this amazing expansion in my life and I had the honor of sharing this transformational practice in my TEDx Talk: Mind Play To Expand Love In Your Life (watch below).
‘Metta’ (aka Maître) is commonly translated in English as ‘loving-kindness,’ and has been used to foster patience, compassion and acceptance for over 25,000 years. In short, it involves mental visualization, observation, and a willingness to keep an open line of communication between your mind and your heart.
Metta is a mental practice – in which we train in relaxing and opening up when we have the impulse to do the opposite. At first we get good at in our mind, and eventually these new skills will manifest in the real moments of life.
Traditionally, Metta practice begins by relaxing, then focusing on a mental image of a particular person, while silently repeating specific Metta phrases towards them such as: “May you be at happy. May you be safe. May you be at peace. May you feel love.”
We simply observe how we feel as we move through these images of people who fit specific categories (a loved one, friend, neutral person, difficult person, self) while mentally reciting Metta phrases to them. For instance, how does our breath or body shift? Do we become more tight, hot, angry? Or do we numb, blank out? Or maybe, we grow more light-hearted, expansive, warm, happy?
And, we practice relaxing while we observe our reactions and feelings with out judgment or expectation. Simply notice instead of pushing away, covering up, or amplifying reactions or feelings.
“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.” Pema Chodron
Many people find it easy to do Metta for a loved one or a good friend, but when we pick some one hard it can bring up a lot of stuff. And believe it or not, sometimes the hardest person to wish well for – is actually ourselves. For me this was the case. But, through practicing Metta, eventually, I was able to cultivate compassion for myself.
He didn’t change…I did.
And the more I befriended myself, loved myself, the more I began to relax around my father. Slowly, organically, instead of focusing on the way I wasn’t getting love, I saw how he didn’t experience love him self. I felt empathy instead of anger; compassion instead of criticism. Truly, I began to wish for him – that he felt happy, at peace, safe, and loved. And when I did, he began to act differently towards me. Our whole relationship began to evolve (see the TEDx Talk to hear more.)
“What you do for yourself any gesture of kindness, any gesture of gentleness, any gesture of honesty and clear seeing toward yourself will affect how you experience your world. In fact, it will transform how you experience the world. What you do for yourself, you’re doing for others, and what you do for other’s you’re doing for yourself.” Pema Chodron
Metta meditation can be the foundation for developing a truly deep friendship with yourself and others. As most spiritual traditions teach, it is extremely important to learn to be friendly to oneself. To make this very important connection with oneself, to feel at ease with oneself, feel at home with one self. It is only when we make this connection with ourselves that we can really feel friendly to others. It is only with this deep warmth of friendship that we are able to really open our hearts to ourselves and others.
So when we do befriend ourselves this way, it’s not only good for us, its good for everyone we come into contact with.
Metta is not only an idea worth spreading, it’s an idea worth practicing.
TEDx – WATCH, PRACTICE, AND SHARE THE LOVE!
Practice 12-minute Metta online with Jillian on her website here.
MEGA WELL WITH METTA: ITS NOT ONLY GOOD FOR YOUR RELATIONSHIPS ITS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH
While it has been noted, for centuries, to transform our experience of connection, open hearted-ness, and love, neuroscience research has proven that Metta changes more than mental and emotional states – it can change in our chemistry. Metta can cause a reduction in stress chemicals (like cortisol) which makes us feel more on guard and ready to fight. And Metta can increase oxytocin, which can further improve our ability to love and be loved.
Under the guidance of such well-known contemplatives as the Dalai Lama, researchers have proved that Metta Meditation not only offers similar benefits to other forms of meditation (such as breath meditation or open-awareness meditation) like reducing distress in the mind and inflammation in the body, but also a variety of additional unique benefits that are subtly different from other kinds of meditation. And neuroscientific meditation researcher Richard Davidson from the University of Wisconsin concluded that Metta changed several important brain regions: both the insula and the temporal parietal junction (TPJ) lit up as a result of Metta. The insula is the part of the brain responsible for our ability to empathize with others, and to make oneself aware of emotional and physical present-moment experiences. And these meditators also experienced higher levels of compassion than the non-practicing group as well as increased our ability to attune to the emotional states of others.
Read More on the research here.
Jillian Pransky is an international presenter, National Director of Restorative Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Training for Yoga Works and co-founder of the Bright Spirit Yoga Teacher Training. She leads programs at Kripalu, Omega and Mohonk. Jillian’s Calm Body, Clear Mind DVD and Relaxmore CD have garnered excellent reviews from many including Dr. Memhet Oz. She has been featured in many magazines including Yoga Journal, Self Magazine, Family Circle and appeared on CNN.
As a student of Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron since 1998, Jillian’s yoga is infused with Mindfulness practices, steadfastness and ease. Her practice and teaching are based on attuning with nature, the seasons, and environment; harmonizing the inner and outer worlds. Her work helps students grow more present with themselves and the world around them; cultivating greater states of health, vitality, peace and awareness both on and off the mat.