Stage 5 – Cultivating metta toward all sentient beings
In the Fifth Stage of the practice we cultivate universal lovingkindness: a positive regard for all beings, irrespective of whether we like them, dislike them, or feel neutral about them.
In this stage we develop a sense of expansiveness in our well-wishing. Although in earlier stages we have directed our lovingkindness towards one person, we now include many people, and not just people but all beings capable of feeling suffering and experiencing happiness.
We start — as always — by developing body awareness, and by contacting our emotions. Stage Zero, as you’ll know if you’ve been working systematically through this guide, is the initial stage of meditation, before the stages proper, in which we set up conditions that help the meditation practice to go well.
In stage zero first set up your posture, and deepen your awareness of your body, taking your awareness into every muscle and relaxing as best you can. If you’re not sure about meditation posture then check out our posture workshop.
Having developed greater awareness of the body, next become aware of your emotions taking your awareness to your heart, accepting whatever emotions you find there, and then beginning to wish yourself well. You can use any of the methods for cultivating lovingkindness that we outlined in earlier sections of this meditation guide.
Once you have spent maybe 5 to 10 minutes wishing yourself well, move on to the second stage.
In the second stage of the meditation practice, think of a good friend, and wish them well. Decide in advance who you’re going to pick, otherwise you might waste time in indecision during the practice.
Next, call to mind someone you have little or no emotional connection with. Perhaps this is someone you see working in a store, or that you pass on the street.
It doesn’t matter if there is some feeling — the main thing is that you neither really like nor really dislike this person.
Once you’ve called this person to mind, wish them well, using words or phrases, or your imagination.
Then we cultivate Metta for someone we don’t get on with. It may be someone that we have long-standing difficulties with, or it may be someone that is normally a friend, but we have difficulties with them just now.
Call the difficult person to mind, and be honest about what you feel. There may well be feelings of discomfort. Notice any tendency you may have to think badly of that person, or to deepen the conflict you have with them (for example, by getting into imagined arguments with them), and let go of those tendencies.
Instead, wish them well. “May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from suffering.”
Then in the last stage of the practice we spread our well-wishing in wider and wider circles.
Start with yourself, your friend, the neutral person, and the difficult person. See all four of you together, and wish all four people well. Try to do this equally for all four of you, and notice any tendency to “play favorites” by wishing your friend more happiness than the others.
Then spread your well-wishing out in wider and wider circles, until you are wishing that all sentient beings are well and happy.
You can listen to an MP3 guided meditation that will lead you through all five stages of the practice by clicking on the player below: