Padmasambhava said of this practice that it was a very powerful kind of magic, and I believe him. I remember many years ago sitting on a bus and suddenly becoming aware of the fact that I had been simply radiating loving kindness to all the other passengers. After a short period of practice my psyche was transformed, such a shift from the usual self-centred mind drivel.
It works on so many levels, on the level of self love, on the level of not discriminating, on the level of growing your love, your friendliness, and your empathy. It works to build community and dissolve anger and hatred, and helps you work with the subtle energies in you that lead to these states. The little jealousies and intolerances, the judgements, they can’t survive in the radiant glare of kindly awareness.
I believe this meditation also works at deeper levels, when one is radiating positive vibrations and love, or at the least a well-wishing for all life. This cannot but affect life, and affect reality.
It is very easy to become romantic, to wax lyrical about the heart that is as wide as the world, the infinite love, the union with all life. I do. I don’t care. I love it. It is so very inspiring and mind-blowing, so obviously a part of the enlightenment that must arise in this world. Awe.
The consciousness, the heart-mind that holds all there is in its embrace, with the ferocious love a mother has for her only child, the fearless radiant energy that would liberate all beings from suffering. How can you not wax lyrical? How can you not be inspired?
At the beginning however, you might just sit there and try to find a sense of self-love. This can be genuinely challenging, but practising this meditation will transform suffering and low self-esteem. If you do meet a deep sense of suffering when you do this practice, generate compassion instead, simply connect with the desire for your suffering to end, the desire to love yourself well.
Metta has no accurate translation, for there simply aren’t enough words for love in the English language! It is a sense of loving kindness, a will to be well and happy, and free from suffering. Bhavana is a term for a meditation which involves the generation and cultivation of a quality. The nurturing of a spiritual quality in yourself, if you like.
The phrases that are recommended for the practice:
May I be well. May I be happy. May I be free from Suffering.
So you take yourself just as you are, and through the phrases and the visualisations you connect with the desire to be well. The desire to be happy. That’s all. You can imagine a warm glow in your heart, or sunshine filling your body, whatever works for you. You will find you develop your own style, nobody ever taught me to imagine a sun in my heart, it just kind of arose. Over the years you invent ways that make it easier for you to connect with the feeling of metta.
Then in the second stage, you take this momentum of well-wishing, this light, and move it onto a good friend. Just as you suffer and want to be happy, so do they. See them glow or shine, use the phrases. Then for an acquaintance, and then for someone for whom you have difficult feelings. I would suggest not using someone for whom you have very strong negative feelings at first – use someone for whom you may feel envy, or who has aspects you find challenging.
May he/she be well. May they be happy. May they be free from suffering.
What you are really working with is your own capacity for metta, your own generosity of spirit and forgiveness. The last stage or fifth stage is to imagine these four beings, self, friend, acquaintance and the difficult person, with your well-wishing shared equally between them. I imagine a sun or light in the middle of the circle, and that its light and warmth are radiating equally for all.
Then the circle widens and spreads, to the local area, then the country, then the world, and then out into space, an infinitely widening sphere, your wish bright and strong, powerful enough to radiate love endless and boundless.
Blessings that can transcend time, space and dimension, so that all that lives or did live or will live, anywhere and in any form is receiving your metta. And as you radiate kindness and blessings, you will find that the blessings come back to you (More on Metta.)
May all (that lives/they) be well, may all (life/beings) be happy, may all (that is) be free from suffering.
Just try it – see what happens. I am always happy to chat about meditation or answer questions. Let me know if it works for you!