This is one form of meditation that Jack Kornfield teaches and below I’ve reprinted a short passage from the book A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life. Some people practice this on occasion. Others may practice this form of meditation for years. It can be the primary meditation practice in some people’s lives. The ultimate form is when you can practice this meditation with those who have hurt you or those that you would otherwise hate and transform all those feelings to love. It can be a life-time discipline, as you might imagine, being that truly loving one’s enemy is quite an accomplishment.
Begin by repeating the following phrases over and over for 15-20 minutes once or twice daily in a quiet place for several months. At first this meditation may feel mechanical or awkward or even bring up the opposite feelings of irritation and anger. If this happens, it is especially important to be patient and kind toward yourself, allowing whatever arises to be received in a spirit of friendliness and kind affection. In its own time, even in the face of inner difficulties, loving- kindness will develop.
Sit in a comfortable fashion. Let your body relax and be at rest. As best you can, let your mind be quiet, letting go of plans and preoccupations. Then begin to recite inwardly the following phrases directed to yourself. You begin with yourself because without loving yourself it is almost impossible to love others.
May I be filled with loving-kindess
May I be well
May I be peaceful and at ease
May I be happy
As you say the phrases, you may also wish to use the image from the Buddha’s instructions: picture yourself as a young and beloved child, or sense yourself as you are now, held in the heart of loving-kindness. Repeat the phrases again and again, letting the feelings permeate your body and mind.
Practice this meditation repeatedly for a number of weeks until the sense of loving-kindness for yourself grows.
When you feel ready, in the same meditation period you can gradually expand the focus of your loving-kindness to include others. After yourself, choose a benefactor, someone in your life who has truly cared for you. Picture them and carefully recite the same phrases: May he/she be filled with loving- kindness and so forth. When loving-kindess for your benefactor has developed, begin to include other people you love in the meditation, picturing them and reciting the same phrases, evoking a sense of loving-kindness for them.
After this, you can gradually begin to include others: friends, community members, neighbours, people everywhere, animals, the whole earth, and all beings. Then you can even experiment with including the most difficult people in your life, wishing that they, too, be filled with loving-kindess and peace. With some practice a steady sense of loving-kindness can develop and in the course of 15 or 20 minutes you will be able to include many beings in your meditation, moving from yourself, to a benefactor and loved ones, to all beings everywhere.
Then you can learn to practice it anywhere. You can use this meditation in traffic jams, in buses and airplanes, in doctors’ waiting rooms, in a thousand other circumstances. As you silently practice this loving-kindness meditation among people, you will immediately feel a wonderful connection with them — the power of loving-kindness. It will calm your life and keep you connected to your heart. (excerpted from this book)
Remember that if you start this meditation while in any sort of mental distress it’s possible that part of the meditation is holding those feelings with kindness even while you feel the opposite or worse. Hold whatever unpleasant feelings you have with the intention for loving kindness. It’s normal to have unpleasant feelings too and especially when one starts this kind of meditation.
If you like this meditation and want to learn more about this specific form of meditation practice Sharon Salzburg has a book with the title Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness which goes deeper into the discipline.
Other books by Jack Kornfield: