Loving Kindness Meditation – Cultivating an Open Heart

By April 14, 2018Metta
loving kindness meditation (Last Updated On: August 10, 2018)

Loving Kindness Meditation – Cultivating an Open Heart

Loving kindness meditation is an important part of the path. We have all experienced moments of anger, harshness, judgement, and beating ourselves or others up. Metta can help us open the heart, respond with more gentleness, and be at ease with ourselves and others. Like other types of meditation, there are many different ways we can cultivate this quality. The intention is to open our hearts, and we have to listen to ourselves to see which practices are beneficial in our lives.

Enter your email for a loving-kindness script and a couple of additional guided meditations!




What is Loving-Kindness?

The term loving-kindness comes from the Pali word metta. Scholars and teachers use different translations including loving-kindness, goodwill, and gentle friendliness. Whatever we choose to call it, metta is a quality of heart in which we care for the wellbeing of all beings. This includes ourselves, the people with whom we interact, and other living beings. We are wishing for the happiness of ourselves, setting out to give well wishes, and caring.

The practice may be different than the quality. Sometimes when we are doing a loving kindness meditation we may not feel loving and kind. This is especially common among beginners to meditation, but we all experience it! We are cultivating this quality, and it is perfectly normal to not feel an overwhelming sense of happiness or well-being. The meditation practices serve to open the heart, and it is a process that takes time. With repeated effort, we slowly begin living and responding with more gentleness.

You can check out our post What is Metta? – Metta Practice, Meditations, and Explanation for more on the Buddhist teaching of metta.

30 Day Meditation Challenge

Loving Kindness Meditation Benefits

loving kindness phrasesThere are many reasons we cultivate this quality, and benefits you may notice From more happiness in practice to better control of anger, there are many things you may notice. In our article 29 Benefits of Meditation: What the Research Tells Us, we cover a few studies which investigated the use of metta and compassion practices. Here are a few benefits you may notice in your life:

  • More compassion and kindness in daily living
  • Cool the fire of anger
  • Increased concentration and focus
  • Less feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Deeper social connections
  • Increased experience of positive emotions, or happiness

There are also benefits we may notice in our meditation directly. For example, loving-kindness meditation can help us be more mindful in our mindfulness exercises and concentration practice. As we respond more gently, we’re able to see more clearly. We don’t get so knocked off balance when difficulties arise or the mind isn’t doing what we want it to do.

It also serves as a form of samatha practice, which is a meditation the helps calm the mind. Although we may think of a more traditional breath concentrative meditation as the way to calm the mind, loving-kindness is another way we can cultivate the same quality.

We’ve written a bit about the benefits of metta in our own lives in the posts Practicing Metta for Self, A Year of Self-Kindness Part 2, and Kindness Toward my Body.




Cultivating Metta

There are many different methods for cultivating this quality and no one way is good or bad. You can use a type of phrase or loving kindness meditation mantra, work with visualization, or focus on the actual feeling. We’ll cover a few practices we enjoy, and offer a guided meditation to try out as well!

Learn to Meditate

Traditional Metta Meditation

loving kindness meditation mantraThe most common method is the technique of offering phrases in order to connect with our intentions. This is done by offering good wishes to yourself and those around you. As you go through this exercise, remember that its purpose is to help us open our own hearts. We aren’t working to bring anything in from outside ourselves. We are tuning into the natural capacity of the heart to care and love.

You can start by finding a comfortable meditation posture. I recommend trying to sit up straight if you are able, but you can investigate what is useful for your body. Listen to your own experience! Remember that this is a mindfulness practice as well, and you can use your skills to help support your compassion and care.

Begin the loving kindness practice by bringing yourself up as you are sitting here right now. See if you can connect with your own deepest intention to be happy. Don’t go into stories about what would make you happy; tune into that deeper desire to be content and at ease. See if you can say to yourself honestly with recognition, “Yes, I want to be happy.”

Caring for your own well-being, you can offer a few phrases of loving-kindness. These may be seen as a form of mantra, encouraging concentration and helping us to reconnect over and over to our intentions. Here are a few traditional loving kindness phrases you can use:
-May I be happy
-May I be healthy
-May I be safe
-May I be at ease (or at peace)

Continue to repeat these phrases in your head slowly. See if you can connect with the intention and meaning behind the words. Although you may not feel loving in this moment, remember the intention is to open the heart. Continue offering phrases for a few minutes

You can then bring up somebody else in your life and begin sending loving kindness to them. Usually, the next person worked with is a “good friend.” Tune into the fact that this person too wants to be happy, just like you. Again, offer the phrases with the intention of caring for their well-being and happiness. You can continue by offering the phrases to a neutral person in your life (somebody you don’t know well), and then a difficult person. Remember not to judge too harshly if this is a good period of meditation or a bad one, and stay with the phrases.




Flower Metta

flower loving kindnessFlower metta was first introduced to me on a metta meditation retreat at Spirit Rock. It offers a different way to use the loving kindness phrases, and can be useful when the brain is super active or having trouble concentrating. I also find it a powerful way to actually feel into the quality at times.

You can find your posture, and settle in however works for you. This practice works much better with closed eyes, as it is a visualization practice. So you can picture yourself sitting in a garden or field. Picture your favorite flowers, plants, or whatever gift you’d like to offer in this practice. Really take a moment to drop into the visualization, tuning into the little things like wind, breathing fresh air, and seeing the field around you.

Now, picture a line of people. At the front of the line is somebody dear to you. Visualize this person coming up to you, and you giving them one of the flowers from your field. As you hand them a flower or plant, you can offer a phrase or two. I often use the simple phrase, “May you live with ease.”

Allow the next person to come, maybe somebody else dear to you. Offer the flower, the phrase, and allow them to go on their way. You can continue through the line like this, offering metta and a flower to each person. Allow the mind to bring people into the line. You don’t need to interview people or find the perfect next person. The mind will come up with random people, use associations, and find someone to fill your line.

Loving Kindness in Daily Life

The third practice I use regularly is called stealth metta. As you go about your day, you likely come into contact with many other beings. Whether you’re driving to work, sitting on a bus, or shopping at the grocery store, you have the opportunity to offer loving-kindness to the people you see.

When you go about your day, use the phrases of loving-kindness in your head. When you see somebody, offer a simple phrase. You can offer one or two phrases to people you see, and use it as a way to return to your practice in daily life.




Guided Meditations

Below is a loving kindness meditation audio from our YouTube channel. You can practice with this any time, and adapt it as you need. Try working with different people, diving deeper into working with someone special, or changing it to suit your needs.

We also have some short loving kindness meditations and alternative practices. There are many ways to cultivate this qualityf, so don’t beat yourself up if one doesn’t land clearly for you!

Enter your email for a loving-kindness script and a couple of additional guided meditations!

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Loving Kindness Meditation - Cultivating an Open Heart
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Loving Kindness Meditation - Cultivating an Open Heart
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Loving kindness meditation helps us to open the heart and respond with gentleness, friendliness, and kindness toward ourselves and others. Find loving kindness meditation instructions, free practices, and scripts to lead meditations.
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Author Matthew Sockolov

Matthew Sockolov is a Buddhist meditation teacher and author. He was empowered to teach meditation by Spirit Rock Meditation Center, and is the founding teacher of One Mind Dharma. His new book, Practicing Mindfulness - 75 Essential Meditations is now available on Amazon.

More posts by Matthew Sockolov