Lovingkindness Meditation

Lovingkindness meditation both allows us to look directly at ourselves and extend goodwill to others. By sitting still, eyes open or closed, repeating silently phrases like, “may I be happy, may I be safe, may I give and receive appreciation,” and taking the time to be present in a moment of self-compassion, we guide our attention to a bigger picture of ourselves and others as we extend our goodwill. It takes practice to understand that we are not simply a collection of mistakes and missteps. Lovingkindness meditation is said to give rise to more resilience, a greater sense of happiness, and an extended ability to draw on inner resources.

View Our Introductory Article


An Introduction to Lovingkindness Meditation

Most of us have heard that meditation is a good practice to start, with many different benefits to both physical and mental health. Nowadays, there are so many different kinds of meditation out there that it can seem overwhelming to consider which one to choose. In this article, we’ll break down one of the most popular types of meditation: lovingkindness.

What is lovingkindness meditation?

Merriam-Webster defines “lovingkindness” as “tender and benevolent affection,” and the practice of lovingkindness meditation involves extending feelings of tenderness, kindness, and love toward oneself and others. This can sometimes be difficult, as many people don’t find it easy to feel kindness toward themselves or others. But with practice, your ability to both feel lovingkindness toward others and genuinely receive your own self-compassion can increase, helping soften the tumult of your mind and gradually cultivating a more open heart. 

How does lovingkindness meditation work? How do you do a lovingkindness meditation?

Most lovingkindness meditations are done as sitting meditations, though they can be done in any position. The meditator starts by focusing on the present moment, then brings their attention to themselves, either beginning directly to send lovingkindness to themselves, or if that is too difficult, imagining someone they know who loves them sending feelings of love and compassion toward them. This could be a person they know personally (either living or passed on), a prominent benevolent figure such as the Dalai Lama, or even a beloved pet—whatever works best for the individual is fine.

In some meditations, the meditator just continues focusing on sending lovingkindness to themselves, whether directly or through their loved one, until the end of the meditation. In others, the meditator begins sending lovingkindness back toward their visualized loved one, or to another person they love. Eventually, they may choose to shift their focus to another subject, which could include a person they have neutral feelings toward, or to all living beings in the world—or in an advanced practice, toward an individual or group for whom the meditator has decidedly negative feelings. 

Experienced practitioners suggest that you start with sending lovingkindness to yourself or to close loved ones first, then work up to sending it to more difficult subjects. You can also choose to practice lovingkindness in everyday moments, like when you’re waiting in line or stuck in traffic.

What is metta? How do I send metta?

Metta is the Pali word for “benevolence” or “good will,” and metta bhavana is the name for a particular form of lovingkindness meditation. In order to send metta to others (or to yourself!), a mantra is usually repeated while holding the person or group of people in your mind:

May I/they be happy.
May I/they be safe.
May I/they be at peace.
May I/they be free from suffering.

Other similar phrases can be used in the mantra, such as “May I/they be healthy,” “May I/they be at ease,” etc. Using a mantra is a good option for people who have a difficult time with the visualization method mentioned above, or it can be used in conjunction with the visualization method for added structure.

What are the benefits of a lovingkindness meditation?

There are a wide variety of scientifically proven benefits to a lovingkindness practice. A 2011 scientific review concluded that lovingkindness meditation can be a useful addition to other therapies in the treatment of depression, social anxiety, anger issues, and caregiver burnout. It also noted that the practice stimulates the centers of the brain involved with emotional processing and empathy. Other studies have shown that lovingkindness meditation increases positive emotions while decreasing negative ones, that it can increase empathy and social connection, and that it can reduce the symptoms of chronic pain, migraine, PTSD, and schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. Directing lovingkindness toward yourself and improving your self-compassion can even decrease feelings of boredom!

Are compassion meditation and lovingkindness meditation the same thing?

While the concepts of compassion and lovingkindness are almost interchangeable in modern parlance, there is a slight but significant difference between the two terms according to Buddhists. 

As previously stated, “lovingkindness,” or “metta,” means “good will” in Pali. Compassion, or karuna in Sanskrit, takes a more active stance; as American monk Bhikkhu Bodhi states, “Whereas lovingkindness has the characteristic of wishing for the happiness and welfare of others, compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free from suffering, a wish to be extended without limits to all living beings.”

Because these two terms are so often conflated, some compassion meditation scripts amount to about the same thing as those for lovingkindness meditations. However, a common compassion practice called Tonglen meditation (which is Tibetan for “giving and taking”), is slightly different. In Tonglen, the meditator breathes in while visualizing taking on all the suffering of an individual or a group, then breathes out while visualizing that they are sending out relief for that suffering. As with metta practice, it is advised that you start practicing Tonglen either for yourself and your own suffering or that of a close loved one, then work your “compassion muscles” up to the more difficult practice of taking on the suffering of people you don’t like—or the suffering of the world as a whole. 

Both of these practices can be equally beneficial to meditators when it comes to reducing stress and anxiety, as well as a host of other conditions, including chronic pain, PTSD, or even just handling everyday stressors on the spot

You Might Also Like Our Content on These Topics: Self-Compassion, Mantra Meditation, Mindfulness

Close Introductory Article
FindCenter Video Image

Kindness: How to Be Nicer to Yourself

Cultivate feelings of compassion and learn to judge others less harshly.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness

Throughout our lives we long to love ourselves more deeply and find a greater sense of connection with others.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

Personalize Your Loving-Kindness Meditation

Self-compassion is one of the greatest gifts you can offer yourself. Use this guide to craft loving-kindness phrases that feel meaningful for you.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

FindCenterIf we try to practice meditation without the foundation of goodwill to ourselves and others, it is like trying to row across a river without first untying the boat; our efforts, no matter how strenuous, will not bear fruit.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

Awakening Joy with James Baraz and Debra Chamberlin Taylor

From the Awakening Joy course with James Baraz and special guest Debra Chamberlin Taylor.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

The Heart of Unconditional Love: A Powerful New Approach to Loving-Kindness Meditation

The unconditional love that we all long for—in our own lives and in the world around us—can be awakened effectively with this unique approach to the Tibetan Buddhist practice of loving-kindness meditation.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

Why Loving-Kindness Takes Time: Sharon Salzberg

It's only after we've practiced many times that we'll begin to notice a habit developing—namely, letting ourselves off the hook once in awhile.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

Lovingkindness with Sharon Salzberg

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

The Healing Power of Loving-Kindness: A Guided Buddhist Meditation

All Buddhist traditions teach that the practice of loving-kindness can transform our lives. Here, Tulku Thondup offers a step-by-step guide to a Tibetan Buddhist approach to loving-kindness meditation, which focuses on connecting to Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

The Buddhist Practice of Loving Kindness (Metta)

Loving-kindness is defined in English dictionaries as a feeling of benevolent affection, but in Buddhism, loving-kindness (in Pali, Metta; in Sanskrit, Maitri) is thought of as a mental state or attitude, cultivated and maintained by practice.

FindCenter AddIcon


FindCenter AlertIcon

The information offered here is not a substitute for professional advice. Please proceed with care and caution.