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.

4 Comments. Leave new

Hello Bodhipaksa,

I was reading about how you would recommend that someone have access to an experienced meditator when they are depressed and was wondering if any of the online classes offer phone support. I fear that I am slipping into the type of depression that would take medication to get me out of it. I have taken medication before and would prefer not to go down that road again. Please advise.


Hi, Rags.

What you’re looking for is a higher level of support than we can provide through our classes. However, Sunada does also do lifecoaching, which includes meditation instruction and telephone guidance. She also has first-hand experience of working her way out of depression without drugs, and she’s a very fine teacher.

I’ll email you her contact details separately.

All the best,


Hi Bodhipaksa,

I’ve known about the Metta Bhavana practice for quite a while, and have always used phrases when practicing it. Often it felt kind of forced, like ‘going through the motions’ a bit.

Although I’ve meditated on my own for several years, I have only recently starting going to my local Triratna centre. I’ve actually just got back from the third evening in their ‘Living with Kindness’ course, which covers the Metta Bhavana.

The way they taught it was slightly different to how I’ve seen it presented before: it focuses on using creative imagination, but you imagine sitting by yourself in a room or perhaps a park bench, and just experience how you feel.

Then as you go through the stages, you imagine the various people coming along and just sitting there with you.

I found that this really shifted the focus of the practice from feeling like you’re trying to force feelings of goodwill out to just experiencing what your reactions to these people really are.

It was a bit of a revelation really! I seemed to feel the practice a lot more deeply than I have before. Although perhaps that was partly from being with lots of other people doing the practice, in a room with a nice peaceful atmosphere?

I’m looking forward to exploring the practice more in this way.

Just thought I’d share my experience and see what you think! Maybe others might find this approach useful :)



Hi, Dan.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I teach a variety of ways of doing lovingkindness practice, and you’ll find many of these, including reflective and imaginative approaches, discussed in the series I did earlier this year called 100 Days of Lovingkindness.

All the best,


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