Loving kindness is one of the ‘four immeasurable minds’ or ‘the four boundless states’ along with compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity. They are considered immeasurable because attention to and cultivation of these qualities is unlimited.
We all have the qualities of loving kindness, empathic joy, equanimity and compassion within us. By turning attention to these beautiful qualities within us, we are expanding the field of loving kindness and sharing them with all living beings. As these qualities are naturally a part of who we are, so there is really no effort involved in loving kindness meditation.
Loving kindness meditation is called metta bhavana in Pali. Metta is a type of love that is non- romantic and is closer to the feeling of kindness or friendliness. Bhavana means to cultivate or develop. There are generally four or five stages to loving kindness meditation. Each stage can be practiced for a few minutes each, depending on how much time you set aside. However, as some stages of loving kindness meditation are more challenging, or easier, depending on the person, feel free to start, finish or even skip a stage, to practice in a way that feels beneficial for you.
1. Loving kindness for yourself. Loving kindness meditation starts with an aspiration for one’s own well-being. Use an intention of love for yourself as the basis for the practice. Perhaps imagine your heart as a place where flowers of loving kindness bloom effortlessly. Send wishes of love, happiness and freedom from suffering to yourself and feel these qualities radiating within your being.
2. Loving kindness for someone you care about. Imagine someone you care about or respect deeply. It could be a friend, teacher, a kind neighbour, or even a pet or animal that is easy to feel loving kindness towards. Wish them safety, protection, happiness, love, health, grace and ease of well-being. Emanate these feelings towards them for a few minutes. Some practitioners start with this stage because they find it easier to cultivate loving kindness from a place where it already naturally seems to exist.
3. Loving kindness for someone neutral. The next stage is to imagine someone you are neutral towards. It may be someone you don’t know very well or do not have a strong opinion about. Maybe the cousin of a friend or a neighbour that you see sometimes but don’t really know anything about. Wish them happiness, safety, grace in the face of difficulty and protection from harm.
4. Loving kindness for someone that is problematic for you. This is where loving kindness meditation can be challenging at first. Imagine someone that you have a difficult relationship with, or a person that you don’t like. Try to recognise that they are also a human being, with aspirations, and feelings too. Perhaps try to identify a beautiful quality that you respect in them or imagine what may make them happy. Send loving kindness to this person for a few minutes and wish them health, peace and happiness.
5. Extend loving kindness to all beings. Now you can expand your attention and loving kindness to all living beings. This field of awareness may include all plants, animals, people, minerals and you may decide to give particular attention to those who are less fortunate than yourself. With compassion and an abundant heart, send them your loving kindness and wish them ease, safety and optimal health. Radiate your loving kindness out to all living beings knowing that this positive energy may penetrate deep into the cosmos.
Takes a few minutes to relax out of the practice and see how your mind and body feel. Are you more open? Do you feel more compassionate? How abundant is your heart? Say thank you to yourself for sharing the gift of loving kindness with yourself, others and the world.