I’ve recently been attending meditation classes at my local Buddhist centre and I’ve really been enjoying the experience. Last week we were guided through the Loving Kindness meditation and I found it such a useful and insightful experience, that I thought I’d share it here on this blog.
What is the loving kindness meditation?
Cultivating the practice
The practice of loving kindness is known as metta bhavana in the Pali language. Metta means non-romantic love or kindness and Bhavana means cultivation – hence the cultivation of loving kindness in the practice.
The meditation is broken down into five stages. Before you start, however, make sure that you are sitting in a comfortable position with your back supported, and ensure that you won’t be disturbed for about half an hour. Perhaps play some soothing, meditative music to help you relax and switch off the chatter in your mind. Then close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing.
In the first stage of the meditation, you focus on developing feelings of loving kindness or metta towards yourself. This isn’t something that comes naturally to all of us – I know I found it difficult at first – but this is great for boosting your self esteem and showing yourself a little kindness. Repeat the following phrase to yourself: “May I be well and happy”. It may seem strange and a little awkward at first, but you soon get used to it.
May they be well
The second step is a little easier in my opinion as you bring to mind a good friend and cultivate feelings of metta for them. Conjure up in your mind an image of your friend, and focus on all the good things about them that you like. Allow a feeling of love and kindness to build in your heart. Again repeat: “May they be well; may they be happy”.
The next stage is interesting as you repeat the same process, but this time with a ‘neutral’ person – someone you don’t especially like or dislike. It could be someone you just see around on a regular basis. For example, I chose a man who gets on my bus every day. It might seem odd at first to be sending out feelings of love to a complete stranger, but it helps to reflect on the fact that the man on the bus is human too, with thoughts, feelings and emotions. And soon it feels pretty good to be sending him some good vibes.
The hard part
Now comes the difficult bit – cultivating loving kindness to someone you actively dislike. I struggled with this most of all as an ex-friend instantly popped into my mind. But I gritted my teeth, focused on her, dismissing any feelings of anger or hatred, and focused instead on sending her love and kindness: “May she be well; may she be happy.” It’s a tough one, but I think this sort of thing is good for the soul. Holding on to feelings of bitterness eats away at us and keeps us stuck in a negative place, so this practice is a great way of banishing those unhelpful thoughts.
The last stage involves thinking about all four people – yourself, your friend, the neutral person and the person you dislike. Then, focus on sending out those feelings of loving kindness to everyone around you; imagine them spreading out to your neighbourhood, your country and the rest of the world.
At first aim to spend about five minutes on each stage, but as you get more practised, extend this time. After you have come to the end of the process, open your eyes and bring your consciousness back to the room. I guarantee that you will be feeling calmer, happier and brighter. I think this is a wonderful practice for building compassion, self-esteem and tolerance towards others and I hope that you do too. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
About the author: Liz Parry is a writer specialising in holistic health and wellbeing, personal development and spirituality.
This was originally published in June 2012; updated May 2021