Ways of cultivating metta
To get seeds of metta to grow, we need soil and water. The soil is our awareness: we need to keep our emotions in our awareness in order to cultivate positive emotions. So while in the Mindfulness of Breathing practice our focus is on the physical sensations of the breath, in the Metta Bhavana practice our focus is on our emotions.
An awareness of our emotions helps nourish us so that lovingkindness can flourish. As we stand back from our emotions in meditation — simply observing them — we find that negative emotions begin to subside and that positive emotions begin to flourish.
There’s an intelligence inherent in the aware mind that recognizes that negative emotions are fundamentally unsatisfactory and lead to suffering, and so energy is withdrawn from them. That same intelligence recognizes the fundamentally satisfying and enriching nature of positive emotions such as lovingkindness, and by dwelling upon positive emotions strengthens them.
But we don’t have to simply observe our emotions. We can directly cultivate positive emotion. This leads us to ask, what is the rain? The rain is the variety of methods we can use to encourage the development of the seeds of metta. There are four main methods that I’ve found useful: using words, memories, creative imagination, and body memory.
We’ll look at each of these methods in turn. Some of them will work for you, and some probably won’t. It’s best to try a few methods and see which suit your personality. But make sure you give any method you try time to work. Like seeds germinating in response to water, your emotions may take time to begin unfolding in response to the method you choose.