Note: This meditation is thousands of years old and is Buddhist in origin, although secular in practice. It also has various forms. The one below is similar to the one we practice in class on Monday mornings and Thursday nights. Some of the descriptions of each part have been adapted from Sharon Salzberg.
You can begin by moving into a comfortable position, closing your eyes. It’s common practice to sit upright without being strained or overarched, allowing your shoulders to relax down your back. Take a few deep breaths to release tension in your body and mind. Feel your energy settle into your body and into the moment.
1) Think about what you wish and intend for yourself: See if certain phrases emerge from your heart that express what you wish and intend most deeply for yourself. Phrases that have meaning for you in the moment that you are meditating, are the most powerful. A few example phrases are, “May I live in safety. May I be loving. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.” You can gently repeat these phrases over and over again and have your mind rest in the phrases. Whenever you find your attention has wandered, just bring yourself back.
2) Think about what you wish and intend for somebody that you love —a good friend, a family member, someone who’s helped you in your life or who inspires you. You can also include someone who has passed on, a pet or any sentient being. You can visualize them, say their name to yourself. Get a feeling for their presence, and then direct the phrases of loving kindness to them.
3) Think about what you wish and intend for someone who plays a neutral role in your life–someone you don’t know very well, that you don’t have particularly strong feelings about, positive or negative. For example, think of the checkout clerk at the supermarket, your mail delivery person or somebody that you noticed waiting at a traffic light that day. Now, imagine them sitting in front of you, and offer these same phrases of loving kindness to them, “May you live in safety. May you live in peace. Be happy. Be healthy, live with ease.” As we connect into these phrases, aiming the heart in this way, we’re opening ourselves to the possibility of caring, rather than being indifferent. Observe your heart space when doing this part of meditation and note what happens when you become conscious of meaningfully wishing someone you don’t really know, positivity for their life.
4) Think about what you wish and intend for someone you are having some difficulty with or are in conflict. Focus on what you can genuinely wish—start as small as you need to and if you find yourself moving into the negative, breathe and bring yourself back to thoughts of loving kindness. If you can only authentically intend for that person a good night’s sleep, so be it.
5) Think about what you wish and intend for all in your presence right now, and all beings in the Universe. “May all beings live in safety, be happy, and be healthy, live with ease. May all people, all animals, all creatures, all those in existence, near and far, known to us and unknown to us, all beings on the earth, in the air, in the water–may all beings everywhere live in safety, be peaceful, be joyful and live with ease.” When you feel ready, you can open your eyes and see if you can bring this energy with you throughout the day.