Mindfulness, Mindful Breathing, and Metta Bhavana

Nurturing Loving Kindness through Mindful Breathing

Hearing. Touching. Seeing. Thinking. Feeling. Breathing. These are some of the faculties through which we construct and process the human experience, the human substance. These are the senses that construct what it means to be a human being. But what about the “being” part of being human? How often do we succumb to the pressure to produce things with our time, to do something productive with our time? Bombarded with to-do lists, we multitask our way through our days often at the expense of our to-be list. Our worries are perpetual, sending our minds to hundreds of places, lingering in the past or fretting about the future—but what about the place that matters most? What about the here and the now, the present moment? Where, for example, is your mind while you’re reading these words? You may have thought of a few or dozens of other things while you were reading. Your phone may have beeped or blinked, prompting your attention away from what you’re reading. Or perhaps another tab on your web browser is blinking, and you’re finding it hard to focus on just one thing. But that’s OK. This is not your fault. We live in a world that attempts to sap every second of our attention at every turn, yet there are ways to shape a space for ourselves. First, grant yourself permission to answer any important messages or do any important tasks that you need to do. When you’re ready, come back and grant yourself the permission to focus on just one thing: you.

Mindfulness - Strive to be alive in the presentTake a moment to breathe in gently and deeply, focusing on the feeling of the air passing through your nose and filling your lungs, and think to yourself, I am in the present moment; then breathe out with a soft smile on your face, feeling your shoulders relax as your lungs un-wind, and think to yourself, this moment is beautiful. Repeat this for a few minutes. If this is your first time, you might try breathing and being for, perhaps, two to three minutes, but feel free to go longer if you want. If you become distracted, that’s ok: forgive yourself and use your breath to re-center yourself. In-breath: you are the present moment. Out-breath: the present moment is beautiful.

How do you feel now?

When we bring our senses off of auto-pilot (often driven by our stresses and anxieties), when we bring our body and our minds into unison, we transition, paradoxically, from a doing thing to a being thing. The verbs of our human substance shift from passive to purpose: instead of hearing, we listen; instead of seeing, we look. This is the essence of mindfulness, and if you spend some time breathing a moment ago, bringing your breath into your being, your consciousness, you’ve already engaged in a mindfulness practice: that was mindful breathing. There are no secrets to this. Anyone can do it. And you can do it at any time.

Following is a framework for developing Loving Kindness which I invite you to read. You may also enjoy listening as a guided meditation which you can do from this point forward. I invite you to engage in several minutes of mindful breathing before moving forward from here.

Engaging in Metta Bhavana, or “Loving Kindness,” is—in my view—an extension of mindful breathing. Through mindful breathing we bring our being to the present moment, and in Metta Bhavana we persist in the present with thoughts of empathy and compassion across the spectrum from ourselves to the entire world around us, freeing us from feelings of fear, doubt, anxiety, odium, and the stress that continually cripples us.

The first phase of the Metta Bhavana meditation is to bring your being to the present moment, to bring your mind and body to unison, to make your purpose singular. This and every phase may take several minutes or more, and that’s OK.

Once you’re ready, and you feel like your focus is singular, begin wishing yourself well. Think and breathe:

May I be well.

May I be happy.

May I be free from suffering.

As you repeat these wishes to yourself, imagine your mind and your heart illuminating a warm, golden light. Feel the light’s warmth, its radius growing each time you wish yourself well. Feel yourself settling into the embrace of the Earth as it holds you as the warming lights from your mind and heart converge and join. This is your Metta. Nurture it until it surrounds your entire being.

When you’re ready to move on, consider someone with whom you are close and have a special bond. Think and breathe:

May they be well.

May they be happy.

May they be free from suffering.

As you repeat these wishes to your kindred spirit, imagine your mind and your heart further illuminating your warm, golden light, its radius extending from your being each time you repeat your loving kindness.

When you’re ready to move on, consider someone with whom you feel neutral. Think and breathe:

May they be well.

May they be happy.

May they be free from suffering.

As you repeat these wishes to this neutral person, imagine your mind and your heart further illuminating your warm, golden light, its radius extending even further from your being each time you repeat your loving kindness.

When you’re ready to move on, consider someone with whom you sometimes have difficulty. Think and breathe:

May they be well.

May they be happy.

May they be free from suffering.

As you repeat these wishes to this challenging person, imagine your mind and your heart further illuminating your warm, golden light, its radius extending yet further from your being each time you repeat your loving kindness.

When you’re ready to move on, consider someone with whom you are presently in conflict. Think and breathe:

May they be well.

May they be happy.

May they be free from suffering.

As you repeat these wishes to this person with whom you’re presently in conflict, consider that this person is—like you—a collection of their own world experiences, and that at times, the world has perhaps not always been revealed to them in the same ways as it has been to you. Imagine your mind and your heart further illuminating your warm, golden light, its radius reaching far and wide from your being, now beginning to surround your community.

When you’re ready to move on, consider all sentient beings including yourself. Think and breathe:

May we be well.

May we be happy.

May we be free from suffering.

As you repeat these wishes to the world, imagine your mind and your heart illuminating your warm, golden light, its radius extending around your surrounding community and growing beyond it. Now your being is a furnace of understanding, compassion, and empathy. You are the present moment; you are an agent of peace; and, thus, the present moment is beautiful.


The contents of this post grow from my readings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat-Zinn. If you are interested in further reading, here are some books that may interest you.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment–and Your Life. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2012. Print.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York: Hyperion, 1994. Print.

Hạnh, Nhất, Mobi Ho, and Dinh Mai. Vo. The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation. Boston: Beacon, 1987. Print.

Hạnh, Nhất. The Sun My Heart: From Mindfulness to Insight Contemplation. Berkeley, CA: Parallax, 1988. Print.

Leave a Reply