Using words or phrases

Ways of cultivating metta


Let’s say we’re cultivating metta towards ourselves (this is the first stage of the practice). We start by cultivating lovingkindness towards ourselves because how we regard ourselves has a profound effect on how we regard others. If we dislike ourselves it makes it hard to have positive regard for others.

Using phrases is the classic method of doing the Metta Bhavana practice. I use this method more often than any other. There is no limit to the words or phrases you can use. The traditional phrase for the first stage would be “May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering.”

You have to say the phrase to yourself as if you mean it. You also have to remember to keep your focus on your emotions: you repeat the phrase, over and over, but watch what effect it has on how you are feeling. This is true for any word or phrase you use (and other phrases can be used).

Leave time between each repetition of the phrase so that you have time to absorb what effect it has. I often fit the phrase in with the rhythm of my breath. I say “May I be well” on one out-breath. Then for the next in-breath and the next out-breath and in-breath I tune into my heart and see what effect the phrase has had. Then on the next out-breath I say “May I be happy”. Then two out-breaths later I say “May I be free from suffering.”

When you’re thinking these words, you’re being active. When you’re listening for the effect they’re having then you’re being receptive. This practice needs you to be both active and receptive — actively working with your emotions, and receptively watching what effect your actions are having.

You don’t have to use that particular phrase. You can just repeat a word like “love,” or “kindness,” or “patience.” Or you can use a series of words.

Or you can remind yourself of what your own positive qualities are, and rejoice in your own merits.

9 Comments. Leave new

  • […] Share the Love :: Sometimes using the fancy word “Metta,” meditation that focuses on caring for others – or caring for yourself – can be a useful way to reflect and replenish. Start by cultivating Metta for yourself and you can grow to increasing Metta for others (even others like your coworker who chews too loud. or your mother-in-law). One way to help cultivate Metta is to put words to your ideals and aspirations. Repeat your self-mantra while breathing deeply. It can be simple as a single word “happy” or a phrase – like the traditional “May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering.” Focus on your words and believe them. Loving yourself will lead to loving others. Want to learn more about fancy-pants words like Metta? Check out Wildmind’s Lovingkindess Meditation guide. […]

  • Thank you for this very clear explanation of the concept. I’ve not done metta sitting outside of a group with a facilitator directing the progression, so I have a beginner’s question about this method. I suppose the divisions must depend upon how much time you allow for the whole, but is there a suggested number of repetitions for each set of phrases before you move to the next or is it purely intuitive? I refer to the part where you say “May I be well”/reflect, “…happy”/reflect”, “…free from suffering”/reflect — how any times would you suggest to repeat this cycle before going on to the second stage, directing your attention outside of yourself to the next in succession of other persons? Is it closer to three times or ten times or a hundred? I can hear a voice in my head saying “don’t be ridiculous — there is no right answer, no ideal number of repetitions”, but I’m asking anyway if there’s a kind of quantitative grouping to apply to the rhythm of it that you find to be generally more beneficial? I apologize if this is an idea that limits the practice and also if m complicating u question by tryIng to be too precise. I just thought youight be helpful with this because your explanation is so simple and direct that it helped me more than the other explanations I found previously. Thanks again, Gillian

    • Hi, Gillian.

      It’s a sensible question. Generally people will do each stage for five to ten minutes before moving onto the next, but there’s no set rule. If you need a lot of self-metta one particular day, or if you’ve having particular difficulties with a certain person, then you can spend as much time as you like on that stage. The important thing is to allow time for the words to register and to have an effect. I find that a couple of full breath-cycles between each phrase works well.

  • My Theta instructor advise me to meditate on a certain phrase ,how to do it? Same as u mentionned above?

    • I’m afraid I don’t know what a “Theta instructor” is, what kind of phrase they would give you, or why. You’d be better turning to him or her for guidance.

  • Does one say these phrases in the mind or out loud.

  • jimmy chesire
    July 5, 2014 3:51 pm

    Thank you for your help.

  • Om shanti from Kuwait. Thanks alot for this meditate I feel it and I need it…


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