I read this book when I lived in Cambridge, MA four years back. It made a significant impact and feels very pertinent today, being that she was one of a few and rare female Buddhist monks. Dipa Ma, a female Buddhist Master speaks for all people, and right now, for women in particular.
For me, it has been a long journey to truly understanding what "loving myself" means, as I was raised in a deeply southern (North Carolina) way, where it felt that my needs were secondary to others. Now, more than half a century later, I can place my needs where they need to be, next to my heart without any guilt, regret or feelings of not serving others. From my own full cup, when I am satiated from taking the necessary time to meditate, chant, sway and play, I really am a better person. Gosh, I hope this gives you permission, at whatever age you are, to serve your heart first, and from there we can serve others. You know I love you.
First, love yourself, be a best friend to yourself, your self directed kindness will fill your heart and from that full space you will be able to express kindness to others, easily and readily.
Use these words and mental images to guide yourself in generating and directing feelings of lovingkindness:
Let me be free of enemies
Let me be free of dangers
Let me be free of mental anxieties
Let me pass my time with good body and happy mind
“Enemies” refers to both outward and inward forces, i.e. feelings, irritations and ill will toward self or others or from others. While you mentally or verbally say these phrases, hold a steady image of yourself or look in a mirror to get started. Repeat in order and deepen your resolve. Drop into the meaning and feeling beneath the words. Hold the feeling of well being for yourself along with your mental image. Eventually when you can hold the mental image of yourself clearly and steadily, then you may go on to the next stage.
Change the phrases now to:
May you be free of enemies
May you be free of dangers
May you be free of mental anxieties
May you pass your time with good body and happy mind
During this stage, direct the loving kindness to someone very close to you, your family, friends, teachers or someone you hold dear to your heart. When you find that you love these beings as yourself and can hold the images of them clearly and steadily, then move to the next stage.
Using the same phrases as above, now direct your heartfelt lovingkindness towards those suffering. This focus is more broad and can include a number of beings instead of a specific person as in the Second stage. If the groups in your heart expand to include beings that you may not know, include them too. As you recite the phrases focus on the feelings of loving kindness behind the words. As Dipa Ma says, “from the foundation of truly and deeply loving yourself, see how self love is the foundation and the fuel for loving others. In loving yourself, you love your friend as yourself, then you love the sufferers like your friend, which is like yourself. Eventually, all groups merge into one.”
In the fourth stage, loving kindness and equanimity blend together. By holding a broad sense of expansiveness towards all beings, we send metta to them equally~self, friends, sufferers, people that we hold in neutrality and those we have difficulty with, in other words…all beings everywhere.
Use these phrases to become lovingkindness, by attending to the feeling of lovingkindness. Rest in equanimity, without regard for where it goes.
May all beings be free of enemies
May all beings be free of dangers
May all beings be free of mental anxieties
May all beings pass their time with good body and happy mind
The final or “crowning” stage of Metta meditation is to be able to focus on each of these individual stages and beings for a little while in one meditation session. The blending and expansion of these groups, feelings, and expressions allow you to truly experience loving kindness, or Metta and it then becomes who you are, instead of something you are seeking. The union is complete.