How to Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation
The mindfulness practice can improve your well-being, even in the face of conflict
Loving-kindness, or metta in the Pali language, is one of four foundational practices, collectively known as the divine or heavenly abodes, taught by the Buddha. The four practices are loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. All of these are rigorous meditation practices in their own right, used for the most part to cultivate samadhi, or one-pointed concentrated attention, out of which the powers of the evoked qualities emerge, transfiguring the heart. But the essence of all these practices is contained and accessible within all the mindfulness practices.
Even so, just naming these qualities of heart and making their role explicit in our practice may help us recognize them when they arise spontaneously during mindfulness practice, as well as help us incline the heart and mind in their direction more frequently, especially in difficult times. In fact, these practices can sometimes serve as a necessary and skillful antidote to mind states such as ferocious anger, which may at the time of their arising be simply too strong to attend to via direct observation unless one’s practice is fairly well developed.
At such times, formal loving-kindness practice can function to soften one’s relationship to such overwhelmingly afflictive mind states so that we can avoid succumbing completely to their energies. It also makes such mind states more approachable and less intractable. But with concerted and sustained practice, mindfulness itself can embrace any mind state, however afflictive or toxic, and in the seeing of it and the knowing of it within the openhearted, nonreactive, nonjudgmental embrace of awareness, we can see directly into the nature of the anger or grief or whatever it is, and in the seeing, in the embracing of it, in the knowing of it, that mind state attenuates, weakens, evaporates, very much like touching a soap bubble or like writing on water.
What emerges in such moments is nothing less than loving-kindness itself, arising naturally from extended silence, without any invitation, because it is never not already here.
Your own capacity for loving, whether you know it…