Stage 4 – Cultivating metta towards a “difficult person”
In this stage of the meditation we deliberately call to mind someone we are in a state of conflict with and we wish them well. This may be someone we are merely irritated with, or there may be a more deep-rooted conflict.
Here we are meeting our ill-will head on. Metta, or lovingkindness, is the emotional opposite of ill will, and so we are consciously evoking the image of someone we usually respond to with feelings of aversion in order that we can overcome them. This doesn’t mean that we cultivate ill will in order to deal with it! It’s enough simply to call to mind someone we have difficulties with, and to wish them well.
You can listen to an MP3 guided meditation that will lead you through the first four stages of the practice by clicking on the player at the foot of this page.
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.”