So many people see meditation as a personal practice—turning inward to connect with your own thoughts and feelings. But there’s actually a type of meditation that’s all about directing your attention toward the well-being of other people and the world at large: loving-kindness meditation, also known as metta meditation.
Read on to learn more about this style of meditation, its unique benefits, and how you can start practicing it in your own life.
What is Loving-Kindness Meditation?
A renowned expert in loving-kindness meditation, Sharon Salzberg says, “The term loving-kindness can seem a little odd or quirky,” maybe even in a way that initially makes you feel it’s not for you.
But if you can get past the sappy-sounding term, the meaning and practice of loving-kindness meditation are quite profound. “It more fundamentally means a sense of connection,” Salzburg explains. “It doesn’t mean you like somebody necessarily, or you approve of them, or you take delight in what they’re doing by any means, but it’s a deep, deep knowing that our lives are really so profoundly interconnected.”
The idea is that these feelings of goodwill are unconditional. It’s not easy to think this way, and the mindset needs to be honed and strengthened through practice—that’s where loving-kindness meditation comes in.
“The way we practice loving-kindness is to imagine someone in our life that we care about and then, while we’re picturing this person, we’re going to repeat a phrase in our mind, a phrase of well-wishing or of health and happiness,” explains teacher Jeremy Lipkowitz.
Loving-kindness meditation often starts with sending goodwill toward yourself—because you can’t truly love others if you don’t love yourself—and then extends out to thinking of people you love, people you barely know, and the world at large.
Is Loving-Kindness Meditation the Same as Metta Meditation?
Loving-kindness meditation and metta meditation are the same thing—metta meditation is simply the word for Buddhist loving-kindness meditation.
Buddhist Loving-Kindness Meditation
Loving-kindness meditation originated in the Buddhist practice under the name “metta meditation.”
So what is metta meditation? In Pali, the sacred Buddhist language, it means benevolence, friendliness, goodwill, and an active interest in the well-being of others. It is the first of four virtues or sublime states that meditation is meant to help cultivate, which also include compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity.
In his sutta (or scripture) on Buddhist metta meditation, the Buddha said, “This is what should be done by one who is skilled in goodness … Wishing: In gladness and in safety, may all beings be at ease. Whatever living beings there may be; whether they are weak or strong, omitting none, the great or the mighty, medium, short or small, the seen and unseen, those living near and far away, those born and to-be-born—may all beings be at ease! … So with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings; radiating kindness over the entire world; spreading uploads to the skies and downwards to the depths; outwards and unbounded, free from hatred and ill-will.”
Loving-Kindness Meditation Benefits
Even though this style of meditation is about turning your attention to others, many practitioners praise the benefits they see in themselves and in their personal relationship—and research has backed some of them up. Some of the positive things you can expect by sending good out into the world include:
1. More Positive Emotions
Studies have shown that practicing loving-kindness meditation can decrease negative emotions, both toward individual people and in general. Participants in one seven-week study reported an increase in feelings such as joy, cheerfulness, fulfillment, and awe. Turns out, by finding ways to love anybody and everybody around you, you find more ways to love the world at large, too.
2. Improved Empathy and Patience
Loving-kindness meditation is basically an empathy exercise. It’s easier to be patient with folks, forgive any mistakes, and understand where they’re coming from when you’re in the habit of directing your thoughts their way and wishing them well no matter what. Studies suggest that loving-kindness meditation improves empathy and compassion more than any other type of meditation.
3. Increased Self-Compassion
This extends to the self as well. By sending unconditional love toward others—despite their mistakes—it becomes easier to love yourself no matter what. One study found that people who practice Buddhist metta meditation are less critical toward themselves than people who don’t and generally have fewer feelings of unworthiness and self-doubt.
4. Better Social Connections and Less Loneliness
It stands to reason that by focusing on feeling positive emotions toward others, it would be easier to develop deep and positive relationships. But, more than that, studies have shown that loving-kindness practices enhance perceived social connectedness. By regularly mulling on the connections between you and other people, you’re likely to feel a deep sense of closeness and belonging.
5. Decreased Pain
While it’s not completely understood why, some studies have shown loving-kindness meditation to help decrease pain, such as from migraines or chronic lower back issues. Maybe it’s karma, maybe it’s those good vibrations radiating back to you, or maybe we’ll never know why—but it certainly can’t hurt to try!
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How to Do Loving-Kindness Meditation
Buddhist metta meditation or loving-kindness meditation starts like any other form of meditation—find a comfortable seated or reclined position, take a few deep breaths, and then gather your attention.
Ready to start sending goodwill out into the world—and unlocking a deeper capacity to care? Read on to learn all the tools you need to practice loving-kindness meditation.
Basic Metta Prayer
If you’ve ever been to a remotely spiritual yoga class, you’ve probably heard some variation of the metta prayer at the end of class. What is the metta prayer? It usually goes something like this the above graphic.
You can use this as a basis for practicing this style of meditation, using it as sort of a loving-kindness meditation mantra and swapping out “all beings” for any person or group you’d like to send your thoughts toward.
Most beginners start this practice by sending these well wishes toward themselves or someone they love, like a family member or friend. The next step is to try directing loving thoughts to someone neutral, who you don’t really know—like your dry cleaner or the cashier you paid for your lunch. You can also focus on a collective of people, animals, or even all creatures on the planet at once!
The most advanced version of this practice is to send loving-kindness toward someone you have a fraught relationship with. While difficult, this can be helpful in letting go of anger, freeing yourself from resentment, and even mending the relationship in the long run.
Loving-Kindness Meditation Scripts
The basic metta prayer is just the beginning—you can tailor the loving-kindness meditation mantra to whatever you want to specifically wish for other people. Other ideas of positive phrases you could use to build your personal loving-kindness meditation scripts include:
- May [person] have the strength to overcome their struggles.
- May [person] be free from suffering.
- May [person] feel connected and calm.
- May [person] awaken to the light of their true nature.
- May [person] be surrounded by people they love.
- May [person] always have food and water to keep them nourished.
- May [person] always have a safe home.
- May [person] be free from ill-will, cruelty, or anger.
Get creative and just make sure you’re sending only good thoughts out into the world during this practice!
Guided Loving-Kindness Meditation
Looking for loving-kindness guided meditations? This 10-day Sharon Salzberg loving-kindness meditation challenge is a great place to start. As a world-renowned teacher in loving-kindness meditation, Sharon Salzberg is the perfect person to lead you through all different variations on the practice.
Short Loving-Kindness Meditation
Looking for a quicker way to dip your toes into the practice? This 10-minute loving-kindness guided meditation is a simple way to try it out.
You can also go through one or two rounds of the loving-kindness meditation mantra on your own anytime you need to direct some positive energy toward another person.
Start Practicing Loving-Kindness Today
You don’t have to be a master meditator to start sending loving-kindness out into the world—even just five minutes of meditation a day can start to strengthen your feelings of compassion toward others, and even toward yourself.
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