Ways of Cultivating Metta – Introduction

buddha face, detailSometimes when people are beginning to learn lovingkindness meditation they think that lovingkindness is something that’s to be manufactured. And so they make lots of effort to try to generate some emotion, as if they’re trying very hard to wring some emotion from the heart.

And sometimes, if you make a lot of internal effort, you can become somewhat excited and convince yourself that you’re developing lovingkindness. But more often a sense of disappointment and even despondency sets in, because you don’t get the expected result. So this isn’t a very useful approach.

You can’t actually make emotions happen — all you can do is set up the conditions for them to arise and then see what happens. Love can’t be manufactured through meditation. It can’t be squeezed out of our being.

It’s a bit like growing seeds. You can’t make a seed grow. All you can do is provide warmth, water, and soil, and then be patient.

In cultivating feelings of loving kindness we’re encouraging ourselves to wish others well. So how do we set up the conditions for doing this?

Emotional Awareness Exercise

The first thing is to become aware of how we actually are feeling just now. This is essential groundwork.

Try this exercise:

  • Sit quietly, and bring your awareness into your body
  • As best you can, relax each muscle as you bring awareness to it
  • Bring your awareness to your heart area, and see what emotions are present, smile, and watch what happens
  • If you’re not sure what you’re feeling, pay attention to the kind of thoughts you’re having. Are they anxious? Critical? Self-critical? Depressive? Joyful? Your thoughts can give you a clue to how you’re feeling.
  • If you’re not sure about how you’re feeling, see if you can notice how you feel about not being sure about how you feel! Sometimes that makes it clearer.
  • Remember: whatever emotions you are feeling (good, bad, or even neutral) are fine. You can work with those emotions, and you can only start from where you are
  • See if you can be kind to yourself. Be patient as you attempt to find out how you’re feeling.
  • Don’t try to find out what you’re feeling. Rather than a frantic search, think more of relaxing into an awareness of what’s already there.
  • Gently bring yourself back to the outside world

39 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi there,
    I too just stumbled on it after looking for some guidance on metta. For many years I have been struggling with self confidence and fear and am now trying to get a handle on it. I figured becoming friends with myself would be a good start. Any other suggestions would be very welcome……it’s a bit of a journey for me

    Thanks for your care

  • Hi I have just come across your web site. I have returned to my meditation after a long absense and find strong emotions popping up such as grief (i think its that) It wont stop me practising though. I just love your audio as usually I do a Mantra as in the Cloud of unknowing. I will also follow the one on your audio as I found your voice just right , it was great. thank you.

    • Hi, Lilias.

      I have some suggestions here for dealing with grief. Why not read (and practice) that and then let me know how you get on.

      All the best,

  • During the emotional awareness exercise, I noticed a frightening face. However, later when I smiled I experienced an extreme sense of euphoria (almost as if I was floating?). What does this mean?

    • It’s not uncommon for dream-like imagery to arise in meditation, Ray, and I don’t think it actually means anything.

      Your question about what this all “means” suggests a kind of grasping after spiritual results, and I suspect that you’re pouncing on happiness when it arises, getting excited about it, and building it into something euphoric. Euphoria is a kind of excitement at feeling joy, which is not what we’re after. Try just to let things arise more naturally, without grasping after change. When joy appears, see if you can find a way to just let it be, and accept it for what it is.

      We’ve all been there :)

  • This is interesting. I am able to access the audio meditations on this site with Chrome but not with Firefox. And yet with I’m able to access DIY Dharma Audio files using Firefox but not with Chrome.

    Huh! Don’t you just love modern technology. ;-) Though it really doesn’t surprise me with all the updates and problems with Adobe Flash Player and Java.

    I hope this help someone else access the files. Chrome works, at least for me.

    • Thanks for this. It’s a WordPress plugin issue, but I haven’t had time to investigate it yet…

  • Hi,
    For what it’s worth, I too am unable to play the audio files, they disappear when I click on them.

    I’m using a Mac with Firefox (up to date) and Snow Leopard. When I click on the link to play the file it disappears, when I reload the page it returns but then it goes away when I click on it again. It doesn’t tell me that I need a missing plug-in, etc, in order to access them.

    I’m going to try and use a different browser, Chrome because it uses a different Flash player than Firefox or Safari. I’ll let you know if that works.

  • Is there a reason why I cannot access the audio on these pages? S son as I click on the player it disappears. I am finding the written info very helpful though thank you.

  • […] I cobbled together the exercise below after reading the information found on the Buddhanet.net and Wildmind.org sites.  I’m not a practicing Buddhist by any means nor do I have any training.   Go read […]

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,

    i’ve been keeping a fairly regular practice of meditation and i’ve been noticing something that keeps coming up during my sessions. Sometimes as I relax and focus on my breathing, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I will start to giggle and just feel silly and playful. Out of all this I have been able to get some insights on other things that I noticed that need work on but I have noticed that I am much more humorous and playful with others in my regular life. All in all, I am feeling much more calm and serene in my everyday life. I still feel the stresses of life but now, instead of reacting and resisting, I notice what I feel and how it affects me and I just go with it and try to listen to my body as to what I need to do to ride it out and “be with it”.
    Anyway, that’s what I’m currently dealing with. Hope all is well.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,

    Things have seemed to normalized a bit. I think you were right about how, perhaps, I had ulterior motives for caring in the past. I remember at one point just saying out loud that “I don’t care” with regards to someone talking to me about their problems. I became aware of the fact that I truly was not concerned with the things happening to others. I had no control over what they were dealing with and them telling me about it wasn’t going to make any difference. I have my life to live and have enough troubles of my own. That was the “true” feeling that I had.

    After some reflection on this state of affairs, I am starting to measure out my concern. I am becoming aware to the fact that I am not responsible for every bit of suffering going on around me. Plus, why should I be. That is not to say that I am not concerned or aware of the fact that those people may be suffering but I am becoming aware of the fact that it isn’t my responsibility to make it right or to be at it’s beck and call. I don’t know if this is making any sense.

    Anyway, I have decided that I choose how I parcel out my compassion and not be reactive to the world and people around me. I cannot “fix” everything nor should I worry that I cannot. There are many people around me who are more capable, and intelligent enough to take care of those issues. When I did this, my attitude changed and I feel much better about myself and I realized that I am just like everybody else. I am not a savior to anyone. I have needs that need satisfying just like everybody else and it’s okay to say so.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is that I’m truly becoming aware of the fact that I am, indeed, human. Wow, imagine that. I don’t have to care about other people’s concerns. I can live my own life and that is okay. At times I feel like a selfish bastard but I have to remind myself that it is okay because this is my authentic self and not the deceptive self that I was presenting to others previously.

    I know that I am a work in progress and that the path is difficult and sometimes easy but, either way, I am much more happier and content with who I am discovering as being me.

    Hope this all makes sense. Your thoughts on my experience would be appreciated.

  • Just to say a few words about appreciating the small things in life. It’s important just to slow down, to look, and listen, and to pay attention to one thing at a time (some of the time, anyway). Doing this several times a day will have a definite effect on the quality of your experience.

    It can also be good to have a “gatha” (verse, or phrase) that you can repeat in order to help evoke a sense of appreciation. Thich Nhat Hanh is very good at this sort of thing, with gathas like “In, out; deep, slow; calm, ease; smile, release; present moment, wonderful moment.”

    I’d be very interested to hear how you get on, and I would love it if you would give us an update in a few days.

  • Thank you.

  • Hi, Daniel.

    Well, it could be that in the past there was some ulterior motive for your paying attention to people, such as wanting to be liked, or fearing them in some way. And if those reasons for paying attention to people are gone, you need to find new reasons.

    In general, I’d encourage you to delight in the small things in life. Every moment is precious and unrepeatable. Every person is a work in progress, struggling (often blindly) to find happiness in an unstable world. Sometimes (often, in fact) we lose touch with this and the world seems irritating or boring.

    Also, try taking your lovingkindness practice into daily life. As you drive, or walk, or sit on the bus, or have lunch, or as you pause at your work — in everything you do, at least some of the time — repeat the metta phrases and direct them to the people around you. The world can start to seem like a tender place.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,

    Thanks for your post in response to my post. I’ve been doing the lovingkindness and breathing meditations and feeling like I am getting some good results.

    But, I was wondering about something I have been noticing that has been happening lately. It seems that I am becoming more and more impatient and “checked out” from my interactions with the world and people around me. Where I once was, seemingly, attentive to others, I know seem to have a “I don’t care” attitude. This is surprising to me.

    Do you have any idea as to why this may be happening? Am I really a selfish, bastard underneath? I would appreciate any direction and insight you can share with me about this.


  • Hi Daniel,

    I can’t tell you how much it pleased me to hear your story. May you continue to grow in happiness and compassion.

    All the best,

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,

    Yesterday, I became aware of how much I truly hated myself and have endured much suffering because of it.

    I decided that enough was enough and was tired of being sick and tired of the shame that kept me from many wonderful things in life. So, after coming across your site and discovering what I felt would help me reverse this situation I purchased the “Guided Meditations for Calmness, Awareness, and Love” mp3 album.

    I made some time before I went to bed to listen and found them very helpful and, literally, mindblowing. I don’t know how I am supposed to do them. One track a day or what but I listened and did the first two and man I had an amazing experience that lasted past the 40 minutes that the two tracks take up.

    Anyway, I had such an outpouring of emotion that I found painful and exhilerating atll at the same time. Both were profoundly deep. I felt the intense pain of shame and then after about an hour of that I found wells of joy and merriment exuding from my deepest being. It was absolutely powerful. Afterwards, found myself calling up faces of people from my past that I expressed a wish for wellbeing, happiness, and freedom from suffering. It was a powerful experience for me that left me feeling light and deeply authentic for the first time in my life.

    After about three hours of this intense activity, I went back inside to my home and slept like a baby.

    I actually feel optimistic about myself and my future. I am feeling much more grounded and open to cultivating more of this lovingkindness for the benefit of myself and others around me.

    I slept so well last night that I actually woke up this morning without the nagging feeling of pain that I used to feel in my belly upon waking.

    I hope to continue to practice this meditation and make it a part of my beautiful life.

    There is still so much more I could share about this one experience but I just wanted to take the time and express my gratitude to you for making this recording and making it available to the world. Clearly, an expression of loving kindness.

    Thank You and peace and wellbeing to you.

  • Hi, Shelley.

    Really the answer to the situation you’re in is mainly more mindfulness, which leads to an experience of equanimity. This means that we learn to accept our experience without trying to escape it. Even when experiences are painful, we learn just to be with them, and to accept them.

    I don’t know what kinds of meditation you’re familiar with, but lovingkindness meditation can also be very helpful in relating to painful experiences, so that we can appreciate them and even welcome them.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,

    Firstly thank you for your CD Meditations for Busy people – it has really helped me focus on relaxing when i’ve been quite stressed out in the past.

    I have recently (this week) done your Emotional Awareness exercise and have been really emotional as a result – i haven’t cried much or felt emotional about anything for a few years and have found it all a bit surprising. I have been feeling extremely vulnerable, but content at the same time – a strange combination i think…

    I will continue with the excercises and meditation, but can you suggest how i will regain control of my emotions? or what the process might be.

    Many thanks.

  • Hi, “Searching.”

    I’m sure I wrote about this somewhere on the site, but I’m not sure where… At one time I had a big problem with self-hatred. To deal with this I came up with a special form of the metta bhavana, where all of the first four stages were ways of cultivating self-metta. The first stage was as normal. In the second stage I called to mind specific aspects of myself that I liked. I’d name them, and wish them well. In the third stage I’d call to mind qualities that I thought I hadn’t yet developed, and wished them well. In the fourth stage I thought of aspects of myself that I didn’t like, and wished them well. The final stage was as normal. For a long time — perhaps a year or so — this was the only form of the metta bhavana that I did. I found it very effective.

    These days I often identify some aspect of myself that I think needs lovingkindness. For example whenever there’s any negative emotion present, I’ll look for the underlying sense of hurt, and wish it well. I also find that to be very effective.

    It can be very useful as well to think very specifically about what being “well” or “happy” means for you. So think specifically about what’s going on in your life and use that as a phrase. So something like “May I have compassion for myself” reflects a very specific need you have, and is more likely to be meaningful to you than a generic “may I be happy.”

  • Thank you for this site. I’ve been practicing insight meditation only for a few short months, and have just recently been introduced to the concept of metta. In my first metta meditation the other day, I discovered that extending metta towards others near and far from me is not hard, but I am having exceptional difficulty with the first part: loving/forgiving/having compassion for myself. It was a surprisingly painful discovery. What would you recommend for a new practitioner who would like to develop (uncover?) metta towards oneself?

  • Hi Ciaran,

    Thanks for your kind comments. I’m only too happy to share what I’ve learned.

    The plugin sounds useful — it seems to be Windows-only, though. I created those files on very primitive equipment a long time ago when RealPlayer was the only viable format. I’ve long planned to update them all, but the business of making a living keeps getting in the way!

  • might i suggest the realplayer alternative codec which includes a browser plugin. it can be downloaded here for free https://www.free-codecs.com/download/real_alternative.htm

    i’m so very glad i happened across this site. i’ve been trying to meditate and deal with many of life’s problems past and present and to rediscover, and essentially reconnect with my inner self, for the good of self and others. unfortunately, most of the material i’ve read was generally confusing and left me even more so, with little care given to the important details you have so extensively and thoughtfully covered.. thank you again for providing an invaluable resource and for being so open with this knowledge.

  • I like your site, but many people will not install Real player, I have been trying for 20 minutes to find a way to listen to the audio with out installing Real player.

    • Sorry for the inconvenience!. Normally RealPlayer’s not necessary, since we have a flash plugin that plays the guided meditations. But, alas, the plugin stopped working and the developer has not yet suggested a solution or fixed it. We’ve replaced some of the meditations with the aid of YouTube, but putting that together takes time.

  • Sue – thank-you for sharing this. I have also gone through a difficult childhood and have found that my relationships now suffere
    The imagery you described is very close to what I have visualized and the emotions you described is what I have been feeling
    but not acknowledging. Your note has helped me embrace those emotions and start understanding my hypersensitivity and
    pain that comes from what other’s would experience as minor incidents. In the past I have blamed the other person for making
    me feel this way and just like you I have vowed never to feel like that or let someone abuse me again. Your words are helping me
    move forward from this and I’m currently working through the resentment and pain that has build up over the years. Thank-you so
    much for sharing and helping others.

  • Good for both of you. When we run from fear we avoid growth. When we turn to face our fear we’re already growing.

  • Thank you for your kind words and thoughts.
    I too see it as a positive thing and would prefer to be brave and move forwards than stay ‘stuck’.
    Luckily I have a husband who is willing to come on the journey with me despite it being well out of his comfort zone.

  • Hi Sue,

    I’m sorry to hear about the difficulties you’ve been experiencing in your marriage. When I experience the kind of imagery you’re describing, I take it to be a part of myself that I’m seeing as a separate person because I’ve not been fully acknowledging those feelings. So it’s very good that the image of the scared younger you has come into consciousness and that you’re sending her lovingkindness. May you all be well, happy, and free from suffering.

  • I feel fear and panic and the image of a little girl sitting in a corner hugging her knees looking scared and alone (me as a child). I think this is very relevant to the problems I am experiencing in my marriage currently. Comments that I (and most people would) find hurtful are magnified as they echo my previous circumstances and I then feel panic that I shouldn’t ‘put up with this’ as I am acting as a victim again.
    I am sending love to my inner child and we are going for couples counselling to try to change the pattern without any blame.

  • Hi Tara,

    You’re exactly right. In the end, all we have to do is to embrace all “difficult” emotions with mindfulness and lovingkindness and they will heal themselves.

  • If it is true that our emotions are all equally valid, then bringing them to the consciousness of metta can only be a good thing. So whatever emotions one is experiencing when the heart opens and the unexpected occurs, can we simply introduce these emotions to lovingkindness and help them to heal? I know fear and love cannot live together, so if we give love to our fears, can we begin to feel Buddha’s healing power? Lovingkindness to me would be a way of life, of being, as close to all the time and with every breath as we can get, but anger overtakes me sometimes, and I have to breathe and sit in meditation to find my loving center again. Yes?

  • I have just listened to your emotional awareness exercise. During the exercise I felt sorrow in my heart area that I didn’t know was there. What do I do now? Just continue with the exercise daily and see what happens do I just observe it. I have only just moved on from the mindfulness of breathing meditation.

    • I’d suggest that sorrow, while not exactly pleasant, is often actually a positive emotion. I see it as the heart-feeling we have when we’re separated from something we love and appreciate, and so it’s a reflex of love in much the same way that compassion is the reflex that appears when love meets suffering. I think it’s something to be accepted and valued. I don’t think we need to do anything with it – we don’t need to make it go away and we certainly don’t need to indulge in it. We just need to experience it while it’s there. Like all experiences, it will pass in time. I think we can, if we want, send thoughts of lovingkindness to our sorrow – you might want to dip into the lovingkindness section of the site to get a better idea of what that means.

  • I agree completely — I felt the same way, hearing those words.

  • “You can only start from where you are.”

    This one concept helped me immensely in cultivating metta.

    Brilliantly simple.


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