What methods can I use?

flowersWhen you call your friend to mind, you might find it helps to see them in your mind’s eye.

Imagine them smiling and happy.

You can repeat “May you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering.” Or you can tell your friend what you like about them.

You can imagine giving your friend a gift.

You might want to remember a time when you were with them and you felt particularly close. Recalling this will help strengthen the feelings you have for them.

You might invite them into your creative visualization — take them scuba-diving on the Great Barrier Reef, or to a natural hot-spring in the Rockies.

You might want to think about very specific things in your friend’s life. Perhaps they’re having money worries or problems with a partner. And you can have those things in mind as you wish the friend well and even incorporate those things into the phrases you use:

“May you be free from debt.”

“May you and your partner be in harmony.”

Of course there are some things that are unlikely to change. You can say “May you be well” while cultivating metta for a friend who has a terminal disease, and you can really mean it even though you know that complete wellness is not really an option for that person.

You could however change the phrase to something you think is more appropriate, like “May you have the strength to cope with your health difficulties.” But if that all gets too clumsy you can just say “May you be well” and have a sense that what you really mean is something more like “May you be as well as possible given the circumstances.”

However I believe that being realistic is not the goal! I’ve sometimes imagined a very sick friend of mine dancing on a mountaintop, even though that’s not really an option for her. The important thing to me is that that’s what I would like for her to be able to do. Imagining this is an expression of my love for her.

8 Comments. Leave new

Hi, I have a bit of a problem with lovingkindness at the moment which is where I find it difficult to develop it for my friends who arleady seem quite are already confidendent and happy. Actually sometimes I can get kind of annoyed thinking about how happy they seem to be (maybe ina jhealous kind of way). I don’t really know how to fix this and it makes me wonder about how genuine the other lovingkindness I thought I was feeling was if I have to feel “better” than the other person in order to feel loving kindness for them. Is this a normal problem? I guess it comes from low self-estewem, or fear of some kind, but I don’t know how to fix it! I guess actually it is when they have attributes that I am envoius of (that I think would make me happy) rather than happiness itself – ie money, confidence, freedom to travel etc. Though then I am wary of the trap of using this thought that what they have isn’t worth as much as happines just to console myself and feel better than them again! If anyone can help me with this I would really appreciate it, I find it is interfereing with my meditatation and also with my interactions with my friends.


Dear Matt,

I’m wondering if perhaps your image of metta is maybe a bit too lofty. Yes, in its ideal form it’s completely altruistic and unconditional. But we’re human, and humans have mixed emotions. It’s not at all unusual to feel a twinge of envy when our friends seem to have things that we want, for example. There is nothing “wrong” with that. If you aren’t enlightened (and my apologies if you are), then expecting to live up to an ideal of an enlightened person seems unreasonably demanding to me! So the first point I’d like to raise is that you don’t need to “fix” it. You don’t need to get rid of these feelings. Having such feelings doesn’t make you a “bad” person. You’re human.

When you are in Stage 2 and calling to mind your good friend, well, just that fact that you chose the person you did tells me that you care about him. So clearly you do have metta in your heart. I’m also guessing that you do want your friend to be happy (regardless of what they have or don’t have in comparison to you — that’s a separate matter). If your friend came to you and was hurt or in trouble, wouldn’t you want to help him out? So how about sitting with that simple and uncomplicated thought — that you want your friend to be happy? That’s really all it is. Other thoughts might also be present, but there is that one strand in there, mixed in with all the rest, where you really DO care. That’s the one we focus on. It’s like bringing that one thought to the foreground, regardless of what others may be present.

If thoughts of envy come up, don’t try to fight them off. See if you can treat them as any other thought that comes up in meditation. Label it as a thought (without adding any judgments) and let it go, as best you can. If it refuses to go away, then so be it. Let it be there, but don’t allow yourself to be seduced by it into thinking other follow-on thoughts (such as that you’re doing something wrong, that you need to “fix” it, that your metta is not genuine). They are also just thoughts. Above all please don’t beat yourself up with any of them.

When you’re not meditating, it might be worthwhile to examine some of those feelings more closely. What does your heart feel it’s missing? What leads it to feel envy when your friends are happy? How might you look at these questions without judging or labeling things as right or wrong, good or bad, but simply as a part of you that’s feeling hurt inside and needs listening to?

These feelings, when they come up, are voices from within you telling you that something is out of balance. Some part of you inside is needing to speak up and be heard. How might you listen to those voices (that’s YOU!) with patience, kindness, and compassion?

with metta to you,
Sunada Takagi


When practicing loving kindness towards others for the second stage, does that have to be a friend or can it be a cousin or sister too?



I think as long as you actually feel friendship with your cousin or sister then that’s fine.


Hi there! I seem to be having a lot of trouble with the second stage. Whenever I start thinking about my friend and things I like about her, slowly I’ll start remembering things that I DON’T like about her without meaning to. Of course this adds a lot of guilt because I feel like a bad friend that’s doing the meditation all wrong and I also sometimes feel irritated with my friend by the end of it. I’ve been doing mindfulness meditation for close to a year now so I’ve come to depend on those breaks in my day to relax and feel good. Should I not expect the same from this one for a while? I’m very negative at times and don’t usually feel I connect with others, so I’ll probably have to work harder at this one! Do you have any advice?


Hi, Deborah.

If you have a tendency to be critical then I suppose it’s not surprising that when your mind wanders during the practice, fault-finding what it does. It may be that this is just going to be part of the practice for you: watching for an letting go of critical thoughts, including those in which you portray yourself as “guilty” and call yourself “a bad friend.” It’s OK that thoughts like that come up. But you don’t have to believe them, do you? And you don’t have to participate in them; you can just observe them and keep going with the practice.


Hi there!

I find it a lot easier to get distracted during the second stage. When I was cultivating metta towards myself I would wish myself well for a few minutes, and then spend time imagining something nice. For some reason now that there’s another person involved my thoughts don’t feel as simple and I start daydreaming about them and their qualities and memories we have, but none of it seems controlled and it usually leads to thoughts of something completely different than my friend. Are there any sort of anchors I could use to pull my attention back (like the counting in mindfulness of breathing)? I find emotions don’t make a good anchor like breathing.


Hi, Shelby.

The metta bhavana is a more complex practice than the mindfulness of breathing. You might want to think of “the anchor” as being the connection between you and your friend. You’re talking to your friend, sending them messages of kindness, support, and encouragement. Think of that as a line, stretching from you to them. Then you have (potentially at least) a feeling response to the act of wishing them well. Think of that as being a line coming from them, back to your heart. It’s the connection that’s the anchor.

If you have a sense of thoughts being in your head and feelings in the heart, then there’s a kind of triangle: head, heart, friend. If you see things this way (and perhaps you don’t) then the relations between these three things are the anchor.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *