There’s a traditional Buddhist meditation known as metta bhavana, also known as the loving-kindness meditation. The name comes from the Pali language. Metta translates to love or kindness; bhavana translates to development or cultivation. This cultivation of love has no limits or conditions. It doesn’t depend on whether or not someone “deserves” it. And it doesn’t expect anything in return.
I learned about this kind of meditation during my first round of therapy. At the time, I didn’t think I needed it. I’m fine, I told myself. I may have had a rough start in life, but now I’m a freaking finance manager for crying out loud! I’ve clearly moved on with my life.
My friends and my string of failed relationships didn’t agree. Neither did my history of anxiety attacks or my nightmares and subsequent early morning wake-ups. There were times when I’d wake up with nail-shaped scratches in my palm; I’d clenched my fists so hard in my sleep that they had left marks. At the urging of a friend, I went to see a therapist.
My therapist’s office was on the other side of town. As I stared at the walls — mostly filled with degrees, awards, and the occasional picture of a kid — I thought of what I knew about therapy. I figured that it would help me gain some perspective on my past and help me learn how to erase it from my mind.
Instead, the therapist told me that I’d need to confront my past. He talked about hypnosis techniques and meditation. Then he told me about a technique developed from Buddhist tradition that was known as the loving-kindness meditation. There were some parts that I could agree with, such as feeling metta for yourself and for a good friend. But when he started talking about feeling metta for an enemy — which, in this case, he suggested might be my family — I shook my head.
For those of us who are still healing from past trauma and hurt, this kind of love goes against every instinct in our body. How can we be kind to people who weren’t kind to us? How can we love someone who may not deserve our forgiveness, let alone our love?
I was so taken aback that I never went back to that office. Once again, I told myself that I didn’t need it; but if I’m being honest with myself, I think I was just scared.
One good thing came out of that meeting: an official diagnosis. I had post-traumatic stress disorder. I wasn’t surprised; having read about it on the internet, I knew I had the symptoms. Still, before that visit to the therapist I had declined to say anything until I’d gotten a professional diagnosis.
At the time, I didn’t understand why it was important to forgive anyone. Wasn’t I the victim? Why should I give anymore than I already have?
We resist the idea of forgiveness because in forgiving we risk getting hurt again. We’d rather heal ourselves by forgetting instead of forgiving. But if I’m being honest with myself, forgiveness was harder than being hurt. Forgiveness meant accepting that the people who hurt you are only human. It’s easy to justify running away when you’re running from a monster, but what happens when the monster is just like you?