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June 7, 2021

Our world is in need of a wave of loving kindness. As tension increases across the globe (due to everything from pandemic stress to geopolitical strife and in-between), we can serve our collective wellbeing by coming back to the heart. Loving kindness meditation is one way of cultivating the compassion that we need. It is a powerful practice that can help to quiet the analytical mind and attune our hearts to love for all.

In this comprehensive guide on the power of loving kindness, we will explore:

  • What Is A Loving Kindness Meditation?
  • Examples of Loving Kindness Phrases
  • The Benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation
  • How to Cultivate Loving Kindness: A Loving Kindness Script
  • 7 Mindfulness Exercises for Compassion
loving kindness meditation, The Power of Loving Kindness & How to Cultivate It

“To reteach a thing its loveliness is the nature of metta. Through lovingkindness, everyone & everything can flower again from within.”

- Sharon Salzberg-

loving kindness meditation, The Power of Loving Kindness & How to Cultivate It

What Is A Loving Kindness Meditation?

Loving kindness meditation, also known by its original name ‘metta bhavana’ from the Pali language, is a practice of cultivating love, friendliness, or kindness. Broken down, ‘metta’ is translated as ‘love’ and ‘bhavana’ as ‘development’ or ‘cultivation’. Love, in this sense, is non-romantic, inclusive, and unconditional.

During a loving kindness meditation, we call to our awareness a sequence of different people, typically beginning with ourselves. While holding each person in mind, we repeat a sequence of loving kindness phrases. Once we have repeated these loving phrases to each person, we conclude the practice by sending these same well wishes to all humans or to the earth as a whole.

For example, a sequence of beings that you might move through while practicing loving kindness meditation is the following:

  • Your own being
  • Someone you love
  • Someone you feel neutral towards
  • Someone you have difficult feelings towards
  • All beings or the earth as a whole

When offering loving kindness to someone you have difficulties with, it can be helpful to start with someone with whom the difficulties are minor (especially if you are new to the practice). This might be someone you care for but whom you feel frustrated by for one reason or another. Start small and allow your practice to grow.

Explore 8 mindfulness exercises for love and compassion.

Examples of Loving Kindness Phrases

Typically, you will repeat around four different loving kindness phrases when practicing this type of meditation. The phrases chosen vary across loving kindness guided meditation practices. If you are self-guiding this meditation, you can choose the phrases that most resonate with you. Some examples include:

  • May I/you/all beings be safe.
  • May I/you/all beings be well.
  • May I/you/all beings be loved.
  • May I/you/all beings be cared for.
  • May I/you/all beings be happy.
  • May I/you/all beings be healthy.
  • May I/you/all beings be protected.
  • May I/you/all beings be at peace.
  • May I/you/all beings be free of suffering.

When practicing on your own, choose three to five statements. As you call each person or the collective to mind, repeat these statements in sequence at least once.

loving kindness meditation, The Power of Loving Kindness & How to Cultivate It

“The heart is like a garden. It can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?”

- Jack Kornfield-

loving kindness meditation, The Power of Loving Kindness & How to Cultivate It

The Benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation

These well wishes sound beautiful, but how much power do they really hold? Studies have shown that words do, in fact, hold immense power to shift our feelings and emotions[2]. As our feelings shift, so do our interpretations and our actions.

Furthermore, loving kindness meditation (or metta bhavana) has been studied widely to better understand its individual and collective impact. Research has observed the following potential benefits of loving kindness meditation:

  • Enhanced social and nature connectedness
  • Reduced depression, anxiety and stress over the long-term
  • Increased activity in parts of the brain critical for empathy (insula cortex, somatosensory cortex)
  • Increased positive emotions, such as joy, awe, contentment, and hope
  • Reduced implicit bias towards stigmatized social groups
  • Reduced self-criticism and increased self-compassion
  • Reduced PTSD symptoms

In its essence, loving kindness meditation helps us to ease our assumptions and judgments and tune into the humanity of ourselves and others. When it comes to mediating our relationships with other people, it facilitates our ability to set differences aside – even if just for a moment.

As we connect with our shared humanity and with feelings of love for the earth itself, who knows what we might accomplish. Since our thoughts become feelings and our feelings translate into actions, what might our actions be like if we cultivate in loving thoughts? Loving kindness is a radical practice that can help us to create a more peaceful and beautiful world.

loving kindness meditation, The Power of Loving Kindness & How to Cultivate It

“You hold in your hand an invitation: to remember the transforming power of forgiveness and loving kindness. To remember that no matter where you are and what you face, within your heart peace is possible.”

- Jack Kornfield-

How to Cultivate Loving Kindness: A Loving Kindness Script

The following loving kindness script invites you to cultivate feelings of compassion. Read this script prior to closing your eyes and practicing for yourself. You can also use this script as a guide for leading others.

  • Find a comfortable place to sit for approximately ten minutes, and after reading through the instructions, close your eyes.
  • Take a few long, mindful breaths to settle in. Ground into the seat or floor beneath you and invite your physical body to relax as much as possible. Maintain a long, relaxed spine and an open heart
  • Once you feel grounded, call to mind an image of yourself or simply hold the felt sense of your being in your awareness. Once you feel connected to yourself in this way, slowly repeat the following loving kindness phrases to yourself three times:

May I be loved.
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be at peace

  • When you are ready, let the image of yourself fade. Take a few moments to breathe naturally and then call to mind the image of someone you love. Repeat to them the same loving kindness phrases:

May you be loved.
May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be at peace.

  • Repeat the above step while calling to mind someone you feel neutral towards, someone you have minor difficulties with, and then our collective community. Take as much time with this as you need to.
  • When you are finished, let all imagery fade as you come back to the gentle rhythm of your breath. Ground into the surface beneath you and open your eyes when you are ready.

Instantly download 200 guided meditation scripts.

loving kindness meditation, The Power of Loving Kindness & How to Cultivate It

7 Mindfulness Exercises for Compassion

If you are looking for a loving kindness guided meditation or a loving kindness script to support your practice (or to teach this technique to others), consider the following resources.

First, if you wish to learn more about what loving kindness entails, this talk by Guy Armstrong delves further into this traditional practice. In this talk, Armstrong notes hindrances to practice and how we might overcome them.

This loving kindness guided meditation is a twist on the classic practice of metta bhavana. The focus of this meditation is on cultivating love and tenderness towards ourselves.

This 15-minute loving kindness meditation is a soft and soothing metta practice to enhance compassion for oneself and for others. It is a more traditional version of this type of practice.

Wes Nisker guides a loving kindness practice that expands outwards to hone in on this beautiful planet of ours. Can we offer compassion and kindness to all beings of this planet, and to the planet as a whole?

Another helpful resource is this guided script, which focuses on cultivating a sense of whole-bodied care. In fact, it is a hybrid version of a self-compassion meditation and a body scan practice.

Another practice, which is different from the loving kindness meditation but cultivates compassion nonetheless, is the Just Like Me practice. This practice serves as a powerful reminder that despite our differences, we all share a common humanity.

Lastly, this loving kindness script is a practice to enhance our ability to be present with the child within. How would we love and comfort our inner child? And furthermore, how might they love and comfort us?

Key Takeaways

  • Loving kindness meditation is also known as metta bhavana in the Pali language. ‘Metta’ means ‘love’ and ‘bhavana’ means ‘cultivation’.
  • During metta practice, we call to mind a variety of beings (typically beginning with ourselves and ending with the entire collective) and offer well wishes through select loving kindness phrases
  • The benefits of loving kindness meditation include increased social and nature connection, increased positive emotions (such as hope and joy), reduced implicit bias, and lowered self-criticism.
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About the author 

Gillian Florence Sanger is a writer, meditation teacher, and certified hypnotherapist in Depth Hypnotherapy. She finds inspiration, insight, and solace most readily during her walks in the woods. Gillian has roots in Toronto but currently lives in the Swedish countryside.