Using creative imagination
Ways of cultivating metta
Again, let’s say we’re cultivating metta towards ourselves (i.e. we’re doing the first stage of the meditation practice).
We can develop a basis for self-metta, or lovingkindness towards ourselves, by imaginatively connecting with pleasant experiences. It’s not that experiencing pleasure is the same thing as feeling metta. That’s not the case at all, and we can have metta while we’re feeling very uncomfortable indeed. It’s more that by mindfully “treating ourselves” to a pleasant experience we are actually practicing self-metta.
Think of an experience that would make you happy. Sometimes I imagine I’m snorkeling on the Australian Great Barrier Reef. I’ve never actually done this, but when I imagine the feeling of buoyancy in my body, and the warm currents of water caressing my skin, and the light rippling down from above on to the beautifully colored corals, and the shoals of vividly hued fish that swim by me, then I feel good.
You can think of anything that would bring you a true, deep sense of joy and well-being. You could imagine flying in a hot-air balloon over the Andes, or walking on the moon, or just lying on a beach.
As with the memory exercise, bring as many of your senses into play as possible, and make your sensory imagination as vivid as you can. Visualizing in this way can be a very potent method for cultivating lovingkindness in meditation.
You may wonder how this is different from simply day-dreaming. The answer is that day-dreaming is an activity where the mind simply wanders without mindfulness. It may stick to pleasant subjects, or it may wander off into less pleasant territory. We have no control because we’re not paying attention.
Here, however, we’re mindfully calling to mind certain imagined experiences. We’re doing this with the purpose of cultivating metta, and we’re encouraging the development of mindfulness so that we can stop the mind from simply wandering willy-nilly.