Loving-kindness meditation has been a staple of my meditation practice for years. I don't practice it daily as I am the type of meditator that needs to fit my meditation needs to my current state. However, as I explore Loving-kindness more and more, I find it is deeper and more encompassing than I could or probably can imagine!
There are various versions, many similar and others different as the translation and personal preferences come into play. Here is how I have memorized it and how I teach it currently:
May all beings be safe and free from suffering
May all beings be happy
May all beings be free from attachment and aversion
May all beings know freedom's true joy
This has evolved, of course. I now often omit "be safe", because as I more deeply understand the meditation, I realize the true meaning of "suffering" is not just to avoid bad things happening, but to teach the mind not to attach to and create suffering. Our minds create so much suffering. Now, when I am feeling down, scared, angry, irritated, I ask - "how is my mind making me suffer?"
When I explore the second phrase, I am sometimes challenged by the impossibility of all beings finding happiness. I am challenged when I make this wish for specific people in my life. I find thoughts such as, "oh, but she will never be happy, because she clings to the past....." Going back to the first phrase, all beings have the potential to release the mind's hold on suffering and through this we find happiness. Not "happy, happy, joy, joy!" all the time, but a deeper sense of happiness in waking and living each and every day.
The third phrase contains so much great potential for peace and joy and is incredibly difficult for the Western mind. In our world, more stuff = happiness. Non-attachment as a concept means in one sense, less stuff! Or that your stuff is not what happiness is made of. But it is more than that. It is not attaching to the story of who you are, what you are trying to be, concepts we create as our sense of self. It is not believing in a beginning or an end to your life or to anything or anyone within your life experience.
The final phrase can mean freedom in body - many are imprisoned in various ways physically. However, we have examples in many - Viktor Frankl, Nelson Mandela and others who have been physically imprisoned, but kept their minds and spirits free. Freedom in mind and spirit occurs when we do not let the external conditions of life determine our sense of joy. This means incorporating the above phrases and the lessons and opportunities that come along with their practice. Also, when we send this to other beings or to specific people, there is great potential for forgiveness which gives the practitioner freedom from suffering. Letting go of the pain and anger directed at another is very freeing!
I am, of course, just touching on the gifts that loving-kindness meditation can provide. Their are entire books written on the subject, practitioners study and practice this for hours a day for years and years....the potential is infinite! I recommend beginning your practice today!
The process is to state the 4 phrases for the self: "May I be ......." Then, send to someone you love. Picture that person, "May you be..." Then to someone neutral, say the guy behind the counter at the gas station, someone you saw in the elevator today, etc.... Then to someone difficult and challenging. This is hard for folks to do, but keep at it. It isn't necessarily about the other person, it is about you healing and freeing yourself! Finally, send the meditation to all beings as is written above. Also, find a teacher! Read a book! Listen to a podcast online!
What is your experience in practicing loving-kindness meditation?