Expanding the meditation
If you are interested in extending this meditation you may want to follow this general guideline.
Metta practice begins with you. You begin by directing the warm friendly phrases to yourself. In a very serious traditional metta practice you would continue this for several weeks or even months under the guidance of an instructor. But it is perfectly fine to extend your practice whenever you wish, including in a single sitting. When you are ready, you begin to offer the phrases to another, again staying with that person until you are ready to move on. Typically these are offered in an order, beginning with a close person and gradually moving to someone you find quite challenging. Many meditators simply begin by extending the phrases more or less right away. You might want to direct the phrases to yourself for a week or two as you become comfortable with the practice and take in the depth of meaning expressed by the phrases.
Metta is offered “unconditionally.” We don’t offer love and good wishes in exchange for the same from someone else or as part of some other kind of barter. Metta is given freely and without expectation of getting anything in return.
This is the traditional order for extending metta.
A mentor or benefactor. Bring to mind someone who has supported you in some way that is meaningful to you. Imagine them in your mind or say their name, reflecting on what they have brought to your life. This person may have come into your life when you were a child or an adult. You may wish to thank them. Let the image of this special person fill you, then begin to say your metta phrases. Start your meditation by saying the phrases for yourself and then begin directing them to this special person:
May you be filled with lovingkindness.
May you be safe from inner and outer danger.
May you be well in mind and body.
May you have ease of being and happiness.
A close friend. Bring to mind a person you are close to and reflect on the qualities you like about them. (In traditional practice the first such special friends are not someone with whom you share sexual intimacy. As a parent, you may wish to think of your partner and that is fine.)
A neutral person. Bring to mind someone you encounter in daily life, but who you do not know well, such as someone you see at work or a clerk at a store. Imagine this person and think about how they are very much like you: they want to be loved and valued, they want to be happy and appreciated. As you hold this person in your mind, begin saying the phrases you are using and direct them to this neutral person.
The Difficult Person (sometimes called the enemy). Bring to mind a person with whom you have a significant conflict, or someone who fills you with anger, fear or rage. You may want to try this first with someone who is mildly irritating and then progress to someone who is truly difficult for you. It may help to imagine this “enemy” as a helpless infant or as someone in a vulnerable position (at the edge of a cliff for example). As you hold this person in your awareness, repeat the metta phrases directing them first toward yourself and then to this challenging other. Be patient with yourself. It may seem peculiar to offer such benevolence to someone who has challenged or harmed you. Think of it this way: if this enemy were filled with lovingkindness and felt well and happy, he or she would no longer be a threat to you.
Other Extensions. You can expand this lovingkindness practice in any way you wish — directing the phrases to neighbors; world leaders; unknown others suffering with homelessness, disease or oppression; colleagues; animals; all people; all beings. Whomever you wish.
A series of extensions for parents might progress in this way:
your child (each child separately if you have several children),
a mentor or special friend,
You might also select various people in your personal world to extend lovingkindness to during different meditation sessions. For example, you might direct the phrases to one of your child’s teachers, a co-worker, a coach, perhaps with a feeling of gratefulness or sensing that they are struggling with something.
Finding out more about LovingKindness
If you would like to learn more about metta meditation and the practice of loving kindness you may want to explore the writings and website of Sharon Salzberg. Sharon is a best selling author and one of the most accessible and gifted teachers of Buddhist meditation in the United States. Her 1995/2002 book on Lovingkindness stands out as a thoughtful, supportive and informed discussion of metta.
Salzberg, S. (2002). LovingKindness: The revolutionary art of happiness. Boston: Shambala. (original copyright, 1995). ISBN 1-57062-903-X