Metta means: loving-kindness,friendliness, joviality, benevolence, altruism, goodwill.
Traditionally you start training by practising it for yourself. By becoming your own best friend and being kind and compassionate toward yourself. Which is not easy. Once you have got the hang of practising metta for yourself, you start practicing it for others, usually in this order: someone you love, then a neutral person, then an enemy, and then all beings everywhere, radiating the energy outwards in all directions. It is an energetic practise, the first of the four Brahma viharas.
There are lots of tricks one can use to get metta going. Sometimes the sea brings it up in me or the singing of a songbird, even fresh air and a nice breeze can do it. One can also use imagination to invoke the feeling, such as imagining a famous spiritual figure like Jesus, Avalokitishvara, Maitreya, a saint, or the Buddha.
The idea is to invoke the feeling of metta within and then keep it going. Cultivate it, strengthen and increase it.
Saying phrases can help, such as "May I be happy. May I be safe and well. May I be serene and boundless. May I be relieved of suffering. May I be at peace." (Obviously just replace the word 'I' for the name of a person or 'all beings' when practising metta for others). Make your own words and phrases up that help you generate it. In time you won't need words to invoke it, it becomes a warm sensation in the heart area that radiates outwards.
Sometimes praying for those you love can invoke it. When I ask angels and devas to help with stuff, that can invoke it. Memory can invoke it, most of us have experienced metta at some point in our life, popping an ecstasy pill (MDMA) at a rave and feeling pure empathy and love for everyone is a memory that helps me invoke it at times. Metta (once it builds up momentum and gets going) can feel a bit like that in the first jhana (first stage of meditative absorption). And gradually settles, becoming more tranquil, serene and still, till it reaches equanimity.
The four Brahma viharas are: Metta (loving-kindness), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (joy in another's happiness), Upekka (equanimity).
Karuna and Mudita both come from Metta. Karuna is loving-kindness for one who is suffering. And Mudita is loving-kindness towards one who is happy.
For example, today I saw my crow friends when out walking, this brought up metta within me, I felt compassion for them so gave them some peanuts this made them happy and I felt mudita as I watched them enjoy eating them. Then I continued my walk and feeling satisfied and content in the crow's happiness I settled into equanimity.
Metta and equanimity compliment each other like a knife and fork.
Metta, Karuna, and Mudita can take one up to the third jhana (third stage of meditative absorption). The fourth jhana is always equanimity regardless of the meditation object used, so it is said that metta, compassion, mudita can only take you to the third jhana, but to reach the fourth jhana you have to let go of them, as the fourth is pure equanimity. Well technically speaking it is mindfulness purified and born of equanimity. Equanimity actually begins in the third jhana, and the fourth is where it is refined and isolated by itself. In the fourth jhana there is neither pleasure nor pain. The fourth jhana is said to be the ideal state of mind to gain the liberating insight which leads to nibanna. But one does not have to wish for insight, apparrently from that lucid state of mind insights naturally arise. Then once one has fully realised nibanna there is no turning back and the liberation cannot be reversed and one never incarnates ever again in any world. Yet the mind still exists, it is like what fire becomes when it is no longer held captive by its fuel. The fuel being (greed, hatred, and delusion).
Greed covers lots of stuff such as lust, craving for intoxicants, eating a little more than you needed to, to the extremes of hoarding wealth and stealing - there's many different levels to it.
Hatred also covers many things such as boredom for example which is aversion to the present moment, or aversion from lack of stimulation. Hatred also covers conceit, being boastful, as well as the more obvious extremes such as arguing, fighting and murder.
Delusion can also mean ignorance. It is a lot about the stories we tell ourselves about reality. The excuses we make to justify different behaviour. Or just believing in misinformation, disinformation or acting out of ignorance due to lack of information. The mind is a delusion generator. And delusion is the hardest of all to remove. Greed and hatred sprout from delusion. They also feed delusion. The four Brahma viharas can be helpful at weakening the power of greed and hatred, enough at least to be able to get to the root of the problem which is delusion.
When one has fully uprooted greed, hatred and delusion from the mind that is the state of mind known as nibbana and one becomes a Buddha (fully enlightened being).
I chant the metta sutta sometimes to help me invoke Metta.
You can be creative with Metta, it is like a craft; and yes it can be a magical practise. For example, when walking along the street I will get focused while walking and invoke the feeling of metta and then think of Maitreya (Bodhisattva of metta and the next Tathagata) and as I do I become a channel and imagine multiple copies of Maitreya coming out of my heart in all directions, holding a bell shaped object that when shaken fills all those around with loving-kindness. I have a weird imagination lol.
But I am sure you can think of your own ways of radiating metta. Sometimes I imagine it as energy waves radiating outwards, and sometimes I don't need to imagine at all it just radiates out if I set the intention to radiate it to all beings and it happens. Different moments require different methods, you have to learn to be spontaneous and do what naturally feels right in each given moment.
I have different mood cycles. And sometimes during the negative cycles there are days when I can't invoke Metta at all, I feel nothing. It isn't easy and equanimity and patience can help here, although they can be hard to generate too. Patience can be invoked sometimes by imagining the depressed cycle as me retreating from the world and being in a womb of sorts. In a state of becoming. Like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, or a nymph becoming a dragonfly. It can be very painful and challenging. And it may take a while and fill me with doubt and stagnation. Then when the cycle changes and I feel better energy arise and feel well again I am able to practise metta once more, but I find this time it has mysteriously grown deeper, like some part of the unconscious during the gestation period has been working things out and changing things, rearranging them, almost like the mind is rewiring itself. It is unpleasant and can really test one's endurance, shake you to the core, demolish your beliefs and perceptions. But afterwards one gains a new found clarity and freedom, and develops in the eight-fold path. This conscious part of me, let's call it the ego mind has very little to do in the process of becoming, you just have to be patient. Most of the growth happens outside of one's awareness in the deeper hidden mind. Another way of looking at it, is as being like pearls of wisdom.
Also it seems from my experience that there is a malevolent outside agency that will try its utmost to deter you from the path, so be prepared for a bit of a fight. The sceptic can think of it as a trickster part of the mind. But my experience is there is both an internal and external enemy that will do what it can to make you lose your way. This energy is very tricky, and it can be oppressive as well as seductive. In the suttas this being is known as Mara.
So don't despair if you can't do this right away, it takes years of practice, perhaps lifetimes for some. You have to persevere, pick yourself up after every failure, brush yourself down and try again. If you do this you will get a bit stronger each time and eventually get there. But don't burn yourself out, try to find a balance between laziness and over-doing it; look for a nice middle setting that works for you, and be prepared to be in it for the long game.
Also remember to take refuge in the Buddha. The dharma. And the Sangha whenever you need to. These three are known as the triple gem and it is a powerful jewel. And don't dismiss the power of doing this. There is lots of grace out there I am discovering. And I find whenever I take refuge in any one of these, (again depending on the moment and what feels right), helpful energy and support will come to my aid. I think there are spirits and other beings seen and unseen who are devoted to this practise, and like angels, will help when you struggle. The sangha also includes all Buddhists everywhere, and those who practise Buddhism in the deva worlds as well.
Metta itself is also protection if you can generate it suffiently enough, the good energy will protect you and make you fearless.
I am not enlightened yet, see my previous blog posts and rants for proof of this. But I will keep trying.
This is the spiritual path I have set for myself, even if it takes me lifetimes to accomplish I will get there one day, although I am aiming to do it in this very life if at all possible.
Peace, metta and good luck on your own journey to nibanna.
Here's a great collection of talks and Q&As done by Ajahn Sona on the topic of Metta: