Loving-Kindness, A Practice

Amy Grauberger M.A.

Metta is the Sanskrit word meaning loving-kindness, friendliness, benevolence, inoffensiveness and non-violence. If I were to ask you “do you practice metta with yourself?” Before you roll your eyes with a big ‘of course!’ let’s take a look.

Growing up in the United States I would never consider mean thoughts as a form of violence.  Mean thoughts were just fine, in fact they were encouraged by means of “keep it to yourself!” So, if the thought remains unsaid, it’s ok. This seems fine, but then the mean thoughts can turn from others to oneself.

These subtle acts of violence against the self are simple and very effective at sabotaging any positive esteem and sense of worth someone might have. It can start easily, as it does when judging others, and turn inward. I might think, “what were you thinking?!”  This can grow to: “what were you thinking you idiot?!”  Maybe finally becoming, “you are so stupid, can’t you do anything right? You don’t deserve to live!” This inner dialogue is truly one of the most detrimental forms of violence. How we see and interact with ourselves dictates how we see and interact with the rest of the world. I like to refer to this as talking trash to oneself about oneself or simply self-trash-talk. So do you practice metta or talk trash about yourself to yourself?  Are you listening close enough to tell?

When we practice loving-kindness we are open to our potential for love and life. We open ourselves to give love and, more importantly, to receive love. Loving-kindness is not limited to receiving and giving love to others, but to ourselves as well. Think of someone who when offered a compliment, responds with an argument or contradiction of the compliment.  This person is unable to view him or herself in a loving way resulting in a rejection of the compliment, ultimately a rejection of the self. If I am not able to see myself in a good light, I am not able to see other’s thoughts of me in good light.  When I begin to practice loving-kindness with myself as self-talk, I will be able to see myself with higher esteem and accept accolades and the love of others.

How do we practice loving-kindness or better yet, non-violence with ourselves? When we are scared, do we say, “I know you are scared, but I love you?”  Probably not. I have found fear is usually met with, “you have nothing to be afraid of!” or “Don’t be stupid.”

At first, the nonviolent way may seem corny or awkward. I understand that. I like to illustrate the importance of loving-kindness in self-talk by likening it to how we speak to others. If a child reaches out to me and tells me he is scared, I am not going to tell him he is stupid, I am going to approach him with compassion and a gentle voice, saying “I can understand you are scared that was a very scary thing that happened.”  When another adult tells me she is sad or anxious, I want to approach her with the same compassion.  That might sound like, “I would be anxious in that situation too.” Alternatively, “I feel sad about that also.” I would never dream of telling my husband or sister, friend or even a stranger that they are stupid for feeling sad or scared; or especially to “shake it off.” Some people treat people they don’t even know better than themselves. That just doesn’t make sense.

So how does one begin these practices of loving-kindness?  Awareness is the first step. Being mindful of self-talk is so important. Being caught up in self-trash-talk can easily be countered by simply asking “Is this helpful?”  Most likely the thought is not helpful.  The thought can then be replaced with compassion and understanding.  Expressing self love is also helpful. Telling myself, “it’s ok to be angry, I still deserve love.” Or “I feel sad, I still love you.” Some might be uncomfortable with expressing self love, maybe helping that with “I know this is uncomfortable, but I still deserve love.”

Some people have been working the self-trash-talk for years if not decades, it’s important to remember to use compassion and kindness when catching these thoughts. It’s important to keep this a non-violent practice and not another vehicle of self-judgment. The goal is progress not perfection.


If you want to learn more about Loving-Kindness please see these resources:


The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle

Loving-Kindness, the Revolutionary Art of Happiness, Sharon Salzberg

Rebel Buddha: a Guide to a Revolution of Mind, Dzogchen Ponlop