How often do you go about your day thinking only of yourself? You may think of others, but it may only occur as an anxiety or excitement related to how that person will affect your day, your mood, YOUR state of being. This is perfectly natural (albeit unconscious) human behavior. Now, how often do you hold another person in your mind simply to send them good will, or to reflect upon their beautiful beingness? It’s not a trick question. Some do and most do not. Again: natural human behavior. But we are conscious beings capable of more than just subconscious thought patterns! We have the power to choose love and compassion if we desire. And that’s where lovingkindness comes in.
Lovingkindness (yes, it’s one word) or metta (in Pali) is a Buddhist term, which means universal, uninhibited friendship and love toward yourself and others. The term is also used to describe certain mental exercises we can implement to cultivate this state of being. It can be done at any time, or used as a subject for meditation.
Why would we do this, you ask? Jesus and Buddha both taught their followers to embrace everyone including their enemies. There was a very specific reason for this: it feels AMAZING. It cultivates mindfulness, compassion, humility, and above all, presence. You may be thinking that the idea of embracing or loving someone who you don’t know or worse, someone who has wronged you is ridiculous and impossible. For our purposes, try not to think of love as romantic or familial love. Think of it as friendliness. Love, at its core, is positive energy.
When we hold others in our mind in such a way, WE reap the benefits. Lovingkindness is foremost an introspective exercise. Others around you may and most likely will be affected in a positive manner due to your practice, but that occurs because you’ve realized that loving others is first about loving yourself. Without further ado, let’s get to it.
Option #1: Resolve to be mindful throughout the day when coming into contact with others. For every person you encounter, or talk with, hold them in your thoughts in a kind manner. Look beyond the person’s gender and physical appearance. Realize that this person is a human being just like you who has hopes and dreams, problems and pain. Even if a person seems to be unfriendly or ‘bad,’ realize that there are probably many reasons for that. If you live in the city, like me, where you are encountering hordes of people at a time, hold them all in your mind and say a few kind words (ex. below).
Option#2: Begin your meditation with lovingkindness. Start with yourself, then those closest to you, people you don’t know, and ‘bad’ people alike. Say the words aloud, repeat them if necessary, then say them inwardly, and eventually let the words go and focus on the peaceful and calm feeling of metta. Allow this to take you into your usual meditation.
*Note: Do not think that you must fake some warm, fuzzy feeling. Just have the kind thoughts or say the words and see what comes up. Be mindful and present.
Words for practice
May I be happy, may I know joy, may I know peace, may I know compassion, may I know love.
May my parents be happy, may they know…
May my friends…
May all those people to whom I’m indifferent…
May my enemies…
May all those I do not know…
May all beings in the universe…
For another informative article on lovingkindess, see here.
May you know and live with peace, compassion and love.
By Terence Stone
Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained singer and actor living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.