Loving-kindness meditation, also known as metta bhavana, is a method of developing compassion, disciplining negative thinking and balancing and harmonising wandering minds. Buddhists and Taoists have used it for centuries and believe that it enables them to achieve a powerful alignment with the universal flow of energy and love known as ‘qi’’. It can be adapted and practiced by anyone, however, regardless of religious beliefs.
The aim is to feel and emanate a pure, unconditional and inclusive love, one of wisdom with no terms or restrictions. It doesn’t depend on whether someone deserves it or not, nor is it confined to family and friends, and there are no expectations of gaining something in return. It is a meditation of care, concern and tenderness – a feeling of warmth for ourselves and others. The practice softens the mind and heart, opening us up to a deeper level of kindness, and breaks down our internal and external barriers.
We have to begin by loving ourselves, because without having experienced this unconditional love and acceptance on a personal level it will be difficult to extend it to others. From this point, we can then include those who are special to us and eventually all living things. Over time, the visualisation and meditation blend into the actual experience – the feeling of loving-kindness.
Take a comfortable and relaxed posture and bring your focus to the solar plexus (your chest area). Breathe in and out from the heart centre and anchor your mindfulness on the sensations coming from there. Recognise any areas of mental blockage, numbness, self-judgement or self-hatred and try to generate a kind feeling toward yourself. As you keep breathing in and out, repeat affirming phrases, such as ‘may I be happy’ and ‘may I be healthy and strong’, either in your head or out loud. Choose five that resonate most strongly with you, and after saying each one several times, move on to someone in your life who invites the feeling of pure unconditional loving-kindness (usually a partner or close relative). Repeat the phrases you used for yourself for this person (e.g. ‘may she be safe and protected’) while continuing to breathe from your heart centre.
Next, do this exercise for someone neutral whom you neither strongly like or dislike followed by a person you have difficulties with and who generates hostile feelings and resentment within you. This will no doubt be the hardest part of the meditation, but you will be surprised how much better you feel once you start directing positivity toward them. If negativity starts to arise, return to your first person of choice and let the loving-kindness flood back then try again. Practising this on a daily basis will bring you great benefits, both on a personal level and in your relationships, and should help you to cultivate a compassionate and loving mindset in work, rest and play.