Helping others doesn’t necessarily mean donating millions to charity or volunteering for fifty hours a week. Rather, it can involve approaching life with a fresh generosity of spirit, a simple giving-ness that is its own joy.
But how can we develop these qualities? Loving-kindness meditation, or “metta bhavana,” offers us the key. The Sanskrit word for meditation is “bhavana” which literally means “to cultivate.”
In this way, we can see meditation as a process of cultivating positive qualities of mind, rather than some state of hyper-concentration.
So “metta bhavana” means the “cultivation of loving-kindness.”
Loving-kindness (or lovingkindness) itself can be defined as non-judgmental, compassionate acceptance, and awareness of ourselves and others.
How Do You Practice Loving Kindness Meditation?
A loving-kindness or metta meditation begins the way most meditations do. Here are the basic instructions:
- Begin your meditation by sitting in a comfortable position, either on the floor with your legs crossed and your hands sitting loosely in your lap.
- You can also sit straight in a chair with your legs uncrossed, feet on the floor, and hands resting in your lap.
- Avoid lying down or getting too comfortable, as you don’t want to fall asleep.
- Once you are seated, close your eyes and take two or three deep cleansing breaths.
- Then begin counting each breath going from one to ten. (Count on the out-breath.)
- Do this two or three times until you feel calm and relaxed. Then begin the loving-kindness practice as outlined below.
Now let’s review the loving-kindness phrases that are the centerpiece of this powerful meditation practice.
Short Loving Kindness Meditation Script
The practice comprises a simple method in five stages. We cultivate an attitude of kindness towards . . .
- a good friend
- someone to whom we hold no particularly positive or negative feelings
- someone with whom we are struggling
- and finally, to all living beings
Bringing to mind each of these people as you are in a meditative state, we say to ourselves: “May I/they be happy,” “May I/they be well,” “May I/they be loved.”
There are no hard-and-fast rules. There is nothing wrong with altering the words slightly.
You might wish to progress through all stages or just one, dwelling on each for seconds or minutes. Or, if you are going through a personal challenge or feel unsettled, focus on a self-compassion meditation script for loving kindness.
Different teachers will have different variations. But the goal is the same — to offer kindness, compassion, and unconditional love — to yourself and others.
Steven Smith, a guiding teacher of the Insight Meditation Society, describes loving-kindness as “love with wisdom.” He writes this on The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society website:
It has no conditions; it does not depend on whether one “deserves” it or not; it is not restricted to friends and family; it extends out from personal categories to include all living beings. There are no expectations of anything in return. This is the ideal, pure love, which everyone has in potential. We begin with loving ourselves, for unless we have a measure of this unconditional love and acceptance for ourselves, it is difficult to extend it to others.
Deeper Loving Kindness Meditation Script
The basic method outlined above can provide a good foundation for deepening the practice of loving-kindness.
We can bring a more varied, open approach. Ultimately how you incorporate other elements (if at all) is up to you. You can learn the value of not always seeing meditation as a fixed thing.
Prepare your heart and mind before you begin the practice so you reap the most from it. The following are some suggestions you may find helpful before you start a lovingkindness meditation.
- If we are torn by resentment, self-blame, frustration, or any other poisonous emotions, we cannot give in a positive way with others.
- It is easy to feel inadequate, especially in Western culture, where we are bombarded by images of “ideal” people in all we see and hear. Soften your heart to your perceived “flaws.”
- It’s beneficial to name any hurtful feelings in yourself before bringing the gaze of kindness to them.
- Reflect on the things in your life for which you are grateful to provide an enriching precursor to loving-kindness practice.
Remember, gratitude helps dispel the negativity we experience at a perceived lack in our lives.
Metta Meditation Script for Yourself
As you meditate on compassion toward yourself, you might say:
May I be free from inner and outer harm and danger.
May I be safe and protected.
May I be free of mental suffering or distress.
May I be happy.
May I be free of physical pain and suffering.
May I be healthy and strong.
May I be able to live in this world happily, peacefully, joyfully, with ease.
As you repeat each phrase, feel the words deeply, as though you have the power to grant these gifts unreservedly and with profound love.
Loving-Kindness Meditation Script for Someone We Like
You may want to begin this stage by deepening your appreciation of your friend.
Bring to mind a person to whom you wish to send loving-kindness and consider their positive qualities — the light of goodness you see in them.
If they are experiencing difficulty, you can wish them a speedy recovery and inner healing.
Use the same statements above, replacing the word “I” with the name of your friend. Allow some time for reflection on your friend after you make these statements.
Loving-Kindness Script for A Neutral Person
This part of the mindful practice presents its own unique challenge — that of feeling loving-kindness to someone whom we are indifferent towards.
It is unusual not to harbor some kind of feeling about a person we know, even if the acquaintance is only a slight one.
Whoever we choose is likely a passing figure in our life — a store clerk, the mailman, or someone we pass on the street.
Spend a few moments to imagine what this person’s life is like, to foster a sense of your shared experience.
- How might they be like you?
- Do they have a family, children, a life outside the role you see them in?
- What might be their dreams, hopes, or ambitions be?
- What challenges, fears, or grief are they experiencing?
Come to view them not as a stranger to you, but as someone who could be your friend or part of your family.
If you don’t know the person’s name, give them a name, visualize them in your mind’s eye, and repeat the above statements using the name you give them.
LovingKindness Meditation for A Difficult Person
In this stage, we attempt to replace feelings of ill-will with kindness. This can be a supremely difficult thing to do.
Using the person’s name, repeat the statements above as you visualize them.
If the hurt runs particularly deep, you can always keep the phrase, “As best I can,” in mind.
It can also prove beneficial to start with someone who you find only mildly antagonistic, graduating to more difficult people from there.
Bear in mind that the only effect of holding negative feelings is to hurt yourself. Acknowledge any pain that arises in response to thinking about this person.
Notice where in your body this feeling manifests and breathe awareness and peace into that place.
If it feels appropriate, you may wish to consciously bring to mind any ignored positive qualities of this person or to adopt their point of view.
Remember that all human beings, knowingly or unknowingly, are acting in accordance with what they believe will make them happy.
Metta Meditation for All Beings
In this final stage, we foster a sense of kindliness to all beings. This is a very nourishing feeling to have. Visualize rays of loving-kindness emanating from your body in all directions as you say the phrases above.
You might also add, “May all beings in the air, on land, and in the water be safe, happy, healthy, and free from suffering.”
This stage is particularly helpful in connecting you with all other living things through the power of loving-kindness and compassion.
Practiced regularly, this guided loving-kindness meditation script can help us develop an attitude to life that is infinitely beneficial to our emotional well-being, peace of mind, and joy.
How you adapt the practice to your personal circumstances is ultimately up to you, but it remains at its heart a deeply enlivening and potentially transformative process.