By practicing meditation we establish love, compassion, sympathetic joy & equanimity as our home.
― Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness
What we know as loving kindness meditation was originally known as metta bhavana.
This name literally translates to “love cultivation.” This form of meditation is more than just something to practice.
It is a unique emotion that is felt at the inner core: the heart, soul, inner being are all synonymous for the same location where you feel this emotion.
This isn’t the romantic kind of love.
In Ancient Greek, there were actually four different types of love that were described.
Agape love would be the romantic feelings between spouses, the love for a deity, or the love for one’s children.
Eros love would express the physical passion that people would have for one another.
Storge described family relationships.
Philia was used to describe the affections people would have between one another in an equalized relationship.
For loving kindness meditation, it is the Philia love that would be emphasized. And, as the old adage goes, you’ve got to learn to love yourself before you can express love for anyone else.
That introduces us to the first stage of loving kindness meditation.
Stage #1: Learning to Love Yourself
We have the idea of loving ourselves backwards today.
We often think something like this: I don’t mind if someone speaks harshly of me, so I’m going to speak harshly to others.
It doesn’t work that way.
Because we want to be treated a specific way that we like, we must then be willing to treat others in a specific way that they prefer.
To do this, we must change how we view ourselves. The idea that it’s fine for people to be abusive to us speaks of a lack of love for oneself.
In order for loving kindness meditation to work, we must become aware of what is happening within our inner being.
Instead of engaging in the turbulent forces that the world tries to throw our way, we must find the eye within that storm.
Loving kindness begins when we can explore our own tranquility. That can only develop when we grant ourselves a personal kindness of providing calm.
In peacefulness, the turbulence of the world begins to fade away.
What happens when we stop focusing on what the world has to offer and start listening to what our inner being has been telling us all along?
A foundation of confidence and strength begins to grow. Instead of seeing ourselves as weak and worthless, we transform into beings that are powerful and influential.
The feelings of love begin to grow for oneself. Within this emotion is contentment.
Many people picture this emotion as a golden light that carves through the body, fighting off the darkness this world tries to use as a substitute.
An easy way to begin developing this stage is to repeat a simple mantra as you envision the light pushing away the darkness.
“May I be happy and well.” Repeat to yourself out loud or within your mind, whichever you prefer, and then envision what you look like as being happy and well.
Once you’ve been able to accomplish this stage consistently through your meditation, then you’re ready to move to the second stage of the process.
Stage #2: Wishing a Good Friend Well
Now that you’ve begun to recognize the emotion of loving kindness and what it can do for yourself, it is time to begin transferring that emotional energy toward others.
Emotions are the great connectors of the universe. Have you ever noticed how someone can call you at the perfect time for an encouraging word?
Or know that they should stop by to bring you some coffee or lunch even though you haven’t spoken to each other in months?
This is because we are emotionally connected to our family and closest friends. This connection transfers energy between people and this is how we can sense when someone is in need.
This connection can also be used to transfer feelings of strength, confidence, contentment, or personal blessings.
Start your loving kindness meditation by first touching on your own personal strength and confidence.
Feel the emotions grow within your inner being. Picture the light pushing away the darkness. Then, instead of picturing yourself or encouraging your own contentment, bring someone who is dear to you into your meditation.
Picture them as vividly as you can within the light.
Now think about what qualities attracted you to form this friendship with the other person you’re thinking about.
This isn’t about physical attractiveness, though if thinking about a spouse this is part of the equation for sure.
It is about the facets of that person’s inner being that draws you close to them.
As you’re thinking about these qualities, visualize them.
What does your friend do that is an example of these attractive qualities? As you explore these features, you’ll start to feel that emotional connection within your inner being.
You will feel the loving kindness that you have for this person. Allow this emotion to grow.
Offer them a blessing or well wishes through a mantra: “May they be happy and well.” Picture yourself sending the light through this emotional connection to them so they can experience it as well.
Once you’ve perfected this stage, then you’re ready to advance to the next part of this journey.
Stage #3: The Random Stranger
We all meet random strangers every day. We bump into them while shopping for groceries, look at them when stopped at a red light, and sit next to them when watching a movie.
This one chance encounter is often the only time we will ever encounter this random stranger. Most of the time we don’t even get their name unless they happen to be wearing a name tag.
Most of the time we have no feelings at all for this stranger. We simply encounter them and move on with the day.
If this stranger gets in our way, we may have a negative reaction to them.
If we see that they have run out of money for the food they must purchase, then we might have empathy for them and provide assistance.
Beyond this, we think nothing of the random stranger whatsoever.
Yet at some point, our closest family and friends were once random strangers to us.
The first time a newborn sees their father, that person is a stranger until he speaks or can be recognized in some other way.
Our friends were once strangers to us, but we spent time getting to know them, reinforcing the strength of the emotional connections.
We are also connected emotionally to the random strangers we meet every day. We ignore these connections because they have no value to us, but loving kindness meditation forces us to take a second look.
These people do have value to the universe. Therefore they must also have value to us.
In this stage of meditation, think back to the random strangers you encountered throughout the day before. Picture their faces as best you can. Think of their name if you happened to pick it up.
Allow the light to spread to these people on the emotional connections that you feel within your inner being.
These connections can be difficult to detect at first. This is because we have spent so long ignoring the connections we have to strangers that we’ve trained ourselves to think nothing of them.
It will take time to undo what has been learned. Do not become discouraged if you find yourself struggling to visualize the strangers you’ve encountered or to spread the light of your loving kindness in their direction.
This is a process. Every day you make an attempt at this stage, you will take at least one more step toward perfecting it.
As the light spreads, send along a blessing. In return, the universe may just decide to bring those same random strangers into your life more often to give you the chance to form another close friendship.
You must become comfortable with this stage of loving kindness meditation before embracing the challenges that lie in wait for the next stage.
Stage #4: Loving Your Enemies As Yourself
Jesus said this about loving your enemies: “But I say to you, love your enemies and bless the one who curses you, and do what is beautiful to the one who hates you, and pray over those who take you by force and persecute you.” (Via: biblehub.com)
The Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] is quoted in Hadith 1376 as saying this: “Do not turn away a poor man…even if all you can give is half a date. If you love the poor and bring them near you…God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.”
Buddha offers this thought: “Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts.”
The list of religious figures and their quotes about what it takes to positively transform your life through loving kindness is clear.
You cannot just focus on yourself and the people who are most special to you. There must also be loving kindness spread to those who despise you, hate you, and who are considered by you to be an enemy.
Words such as these can even become your own loving kindness meditation script if you wish.
The challenge here is clear: we are all taught to hate our enemies. Their goal is to destroy us in some fashion, so we must attempt to do the same. If nothing else, it is for our very survival.
Except that it is not. True peace cannot be achieved until we are at peace with those who despise us the most. There cannot be any hatred, thoughts of anger, or other negative emotions. This is the dark that the light of loving kindness is driving away.
Until you can love your enemies as much as you love yourself and your closest family and friends, then your world cannot transform.
There is no denying the difficulty of this stage. You must set aside the negative energy. Picture the person who is your enemy as vividly as you can.
There is a good chance you will feel anger and hatred build up within your inner being. You must set these aside. Picture the light of loving kindness driving this darkness away from your enemy.
Put in its place something beautiful. Extend the force of light along the emotional chains that bind us all together so that the darkness between you and your enemy can be removed. Offer them a mantra of wellness or send a blessing along this connection.
Will this change the relationship between you and your enemy? It will on your end.
You cannot change anyone else but you and that’s the focus of loving kindness meditation. You find the love you have to give and then you freely offer it.
At this point, you will be ready to begin implementing the final stage of loving kindness meditation.
Stage #5: Doing It All At Once
There are more than 7 billion people who live on our planet right now. By the year 2050, that number is expected to top over 10 billion people.
Now include the billions of people who have come before us and still have energy contained within the universe and that’s a lot of potential influences on the loving kindness that we create for ourselves and others every day.
As you become more proficient with each stage, it will become easier to visualize multiple people and multiple emotional connections at once.
The goal of this final stage is to incorporate as many people as you possibly can into the time allotted for your meditation during the day.
As you visualize more loved ones, strangers, and enemies, you will become a force of light that will drive massive amounts of negative energy out of this world.
Keep extending your emotions outward. Don’t just settle for the direct connections that you feel. Go beyond to their family and friends.
You’ll find that the emotions you can generate can become a wave of light that can literally blanket this world with loving kindness energy from your solitary point of meditation.
The loving kindness meditation benefits will keep radiating outward once you reach this stage even after you complete your session. It becomes an emotional force that engages people continuously. It does not cease.
Are You Ready To Experience Loving Kindness Meditation?
Some may doubt this concept. Others may scoff at it. There is power within a single individual to change the world.
We encounter this on a global scale and on a local scale almost every day. Names like Helen Keller, Leonardo da Vinci, Nelson Mandela, Nikola Tesla, Socrates, Aristotle, and Albert Einstein may come to mind.
This list can include your name as well, even if you never become famous for your efforts to spread loving kindness.
That is the nature of love itself. Love suffers long and does not become envious of others. It doesn’t seek glory for itself. It believes in the best of each person in all circumstances and is always filled with hope.
Above all else, love never fails.
What is loving kindness meditation? It is a way for you to change the world at many different levels. That’s why you should consider starting this practice today.
The practice of lovingkindness can uplift us & relieve sorrow & unhappiness.
― Allan Lokos, Pocket Peace: Effective Practices for Enlightened Living
Powerful. Flexible. Intuitive. Innovative. Transformative.
You may also be interested in:
3. How Long Should You Meditate Each Day?
7 thoughts on “What Is Loving Kindness Meditation and Why You Should Start the Practice”
You had me until “love your enemies as yourself”. This is a biblical principle that has always challenged me because I don’t see the benefit in praying for those who hate me and doing good to those who treat me badly. But this clearly transcends all spiritual beliefs because even the prophet Muhammad and Buddha have something similar to say about it.
But the bottom line you present is that it’s about us and who we are and want to be. If we want to live a happy, content and peaceful life then here are the 5 things we are to do to get loving kindness.
I think your webpage is amazing and so full of knowledge. I agree that meditation can really help someone live their lives to the fullest. Also, I agree that “loving” one’s enemies is so challenging at first, yet rewarding later on in life. I like the pop-ups as well. Keep up the good work, Luke!
As a Buddhist I can definitely appreciate this post and I think you did a good job explaining the essential points in an easy to understand manner.
I think the hardest parts of this practice are loving ourselves and loving our enemies. But when we realize that there is no real inherent separation between us and see the Buddha (or Christ) in everyone, then it becomes possible.
Thanks a lot for your comment, Ian!
It is so hard to bless those that hate me. I believe your right however. I know deep in my heart that the people that do not like me are suffering same as me. They are human with real feelings like my own. I think I will think about them daily and send blessings toward them like Jesus says. I forget to do that daily and I am glad you reminded me. Great post!
good article this, well written and easy to understand. I am new to meditation but completely believe in its merits.
for me meditation was only about clearing your mind of clutter but this shows me there is so much more to it. Some of it looks easier to achieve than others. The section on wishing a friend well is a good one, i don’t think we appreciate our friends as much as we should.
I really enjoyed your post and in fact some months ago I did an extensive research in the loving kindness meditation.
I practiced for about one month, but then I returned to mindfulness meditation. I found that it works the best for me and it is way more challenging.
Mindfulness gives rise to feelings of love, compassion, joy and peace as well.
As you supported in the beginning of your article, those are qualities of our inner core, our spiritual self and I believe that they can’t be cultivated using the mind, but rather come to the surface when there is no mind.
I would love to hear your opinion on this.
Comments are closed.