“Loving-kindness” (an endearingly awkward word, if you ask me) is a translation for the Pali word mettā, a Buddhist concept, though that English translation comes by way of a 16th-century Christian text whose author was originally trying to find an equivalent for the Greek Biblical term agape. In other words, loving-kindness transcends culture and religion and is a priceless attribute for any of us to cultivate.
Well, get yourself into a seated meditation position, comfortable but alert, preferably somewhere quiet. It never hurts to gently concentrate on your posture and breathing, though that’s not really the main point here.
Below are the six steps traditionally recommended for loving-kindness meditation:
1. You must begin by extending loving-kindness to yourself. Sounds like the easy part, right? Well, in a way it is…but be honest. How often do you reflexively think harsh, counterproductive, even cruel thoughts about yourself? We all do it, no matter how proud or well-adjusted we may seem. Think about the worst moments of self-hatred you’ve had lately. Did you deserve that, really? Would you put up with an external voice talking to you like that? Would you be so judgmental of a friend?
2. Speaking of a friend, that’s our next stop. Think of someone you love dearly. It’s traditionally advised that this not be someone for whom you have any sexual or otherwise complicated feelings. Also don’t make this someone who’s passed on; though that can be a healthy exercise separately, we’re focusing our attention on the present, everyday world of existence. So envision your friend,
3. Next, a neutral person. Someone in your life tangentially, but toward whom you have no particular feelings for good or ill. Maybe the old guy down the block, or the clerk at the grocery store (as long as the line wasn’t too slow; that’d fit better for the next step). Project a positive feeling of love for them. Just feel it, for no particular reason. Why not?
4. Here’s where it gets hard. But this is perhaps the most rewarding step as well. Think about someone you can’t stand. Now try make yourself feel empathy for them. Envision them in a positive or sympathetic light. Imagine the best-case scenario, where they may be coming from. Then, even if you can’t excuse, just forgive. Remember Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.” The strange sense of peace you get is yours to keep, if you can, and more importantly, the world will be better for your gentle attitude.
5. All of the above. Hold all four in your mind at once: yourself, the good friend, the random neutral person, and your nemesis. Let yourself feel equal love and compassion for all members of this imagined gathering, this tiny band of stragglers on the tossing, turning raft of life.
6. Because of course, those four figures are just a few representatives of a vast, teeming world of hearts and minds. You’ve given your compassion a good work-out, now stretch it. Visualize it extending to everyone, everywhere, for all their pain and imperfection. Sure, a thought can’t save the world. But it’s a start.
That’s it. Hope you feel like making it a part of your routine. May loving-kindness reach you from others, and may you experience its great joy in your own life.