Loving-Kindness (Metta) Meditation

Metta practice cultivates altruistic love, goodwill, and friendliness toward oneself and others by supplanting hatred, ill will, and hostility.

In countering ill will, which is a major hindrance in meditation, Metta calms the mind allowing it to settle into a deeper meditative state. Not only is Metta a powerful calm practice on its own, it also reinforces all other types of meditation.

Practicing Metta is also a way of getting in touch with our true nature since our radiant mind is imbued with loving-kindness and wisdom.

To some, it might sound contrived to “cultivate” feelings of love and goodwill, but the fact is we are generating feelings all the time. Except often we create anger, resentment, and jealousy instead.

Since the mind is a compound of constantly changing mental conditions, we can skilfully nurture the positive ones for the mind, instead of letting it do what it will. It is like tending a beautiful garden instead of letting it grow wild, in which case weeds tend to thrive the best.

This meditation is easy to do because your focus is not tied to a single object; it is also less restrictive since we allow imagination to roam.

Metta practice leaves you with a positive and uplifting spirit, making it an ideal antidote for depression, restlessness, anxiety, and sleeping disorder.

How to practice Metta

Metta practice is done in stages. First, we send metta (loving-kindness) to ourselves first. Because if we don’t feel good about ourselves we are not likely to be generous and kind to others. Then we send metta to a person whom we admire and respect, normally someone of the same sex (in case of generating lust).

Next, we move on to a “neutral person” (someone we feel impartial about). After that, we send metta to a hostile person, but only do this after we have generated a sufficiently strong feeling of metta.

The next stage is dissolving our selfish biases in “breaking the barriers”. And finally, we extend metta to all sentient beings.

Please note that if you can’t find anyone you love and respect, you can also send metta to an animal or even a plant. The point is, choose an object that easily arouses warm altruistic love, and then build on it. Just as when lighting a campfire you start with the most combustible such as dried leaves and twigs before putting on larger pieces of wood. Once the fire is strong, you can throw in the sappy logs. In a raging fire even metal melts. You start with an object that easily evokes your love and compassion. Once your altruistic love becomes strong you can even be compassionate towards your enemy.

You can vary how you do Metta to suit, as long as it generates a genuine positive emotion. Below is a step-by-step instruction for doing Metta:

Stage 1 – Metta toward yourself

After the Preliminary, focus your attention at the centre of your heart.

Note your current mood and emotion. Then cultivate loving-kindness for yourself with the affirmation:

May I be well…

May I be happy…

May I be free from suffering…

As you verbalize the affirmations, see what your mind conjures up (pictures, scenes, notions, or imaginations) and feel the effect it has on your emotion. Capture that emotion and amplify it by repeating the affirmation and using visualization.

For example, when you say “May I be well,” you might imagine pure universal energy in the form of white light flowing into your body through the crown of your head. See the energizing light spreading throughout your body. Generate a sense of well being and rejuvenation with this visualization. Feel yourself getting stronger, fitter, and more energetic. Or you might visualize a light inside your body below the navel that gets bigger and brighter.

As you run through the visualization repeatedly, your emotion should intensify.

Some people prefer to visualize a sun (which represents love) in the center of their heart. As they do the affirmation, they visualize it expanding and getting more intense.

Another way is to recall the time when you were the strongest and fittest, perhaps you were doing the sport that you enjoyed. Bring yourself back to that moment. How did that feel? Perhaps you felt invincible then? Build on that emotion by playing the scene several times or from different perspectives.

Use whatever visualization or imagination you can to generate a genuine emotional response.

Similarly, when you verbalize, “May I be happy,” visualize a time when you were the happiest. Perhaps you have just passed your exams, or were on holiday, or doing something else that you enjoyed. Relive that experience and amplify that positive emotion.

When you say, “May I be free from suffering” you might think of all the positive things that are going on in your life. Realise how fortunate you are to be having the things you have today – as things could always be worse. For example, I’d be grateful for my health – I am happy that I am not suffering from any illnesses right now. Because when you’re ill, no matter where you are or what you have, you’d still feel miserable. We often take our health for granted – until we become ill.

There are many things that could make my life worse than what I have right now, so I am grateful they are not present. Appreciate all the things you have, and that will make you feel great about yourself.

You can do one affirmation at a time, or you can verbalize all three affirmations repeatedly and see what your mind conjures up. You are only limited by your own imagination with this exercise.

The remaining stages are only available in the online courses

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Quyen Ngo

Quyen Ngo

Quyen Ngo is a Buddhist studies scholar.​ He has a master’s degree in Buddhist Studies and is an author of a number of books and articles on meditation and Buddhism. He has done numerous meditation retreats around the world.

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Our mission is to make the world a happier and healthier place. We’re committed to helping you live mindfully, become calmer, less stressed, more productive and fulfilled.

Rather than trying to modernise or reinvent, we adhere to the teachings and practices of the enlightened masters that have been helping people for thousands of years. We are making the previously hard-to-access authentic teachings available for everyone to benefit.

Way of Insight founder, Quyen Ngo, has published a book documenting his 43 days meditation retreat in Myanmar. He has created a gradual meditation course aimed at all levels to help you develop your meditation and unleash your silent potential.

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