Start by cultivating feelings of loving-kindness towards yourself. You can do this by using an image or a memory, or by silently saying to yourself, “May I be well. May I be happy. May I be free from suffering. May I make progress.’ See if you can feel any response.
Stage 2 A friend
Bring to mind a close friend. Try to see them in your mind’s eye. Then, in the ways I suggested above, wish them well. The Buddhist tradition suggests you choose a friend who is: • about the same age as you – i.e. not very much older or younger; • not someone you feel sexually attracted to; someone who is still alive; • someone of the same sex. This keeps the practice simple. Again, say to yourself, “May they be well. May they be happy’, and so forth.
Stage 3 Someone you feel neutral towards
Choose someone you neither like nor dislike, someone you feel neutral towards. The person you choose needs to be someone you see fairly often – perhaps at work – but for whom you don’t have particularly strong feelings.
Stage 4 Someone you find difficult
This is someone you dislike, either at the moment or generally speaking. It could be someone you get irritated by, or someone you find annoying. The Buddhist tradition suggests that you: • don’t choose someone you really loathe, as this would probably counteract any positive emotion you have developed; • choose someone you actually know, not a public figure you love to hate.
Stage 5 All four people, then all beings
Bring to mind all four people. Imagine feeling loving-kindness equally for all four. Then cultivate loving-kindness for all beings. You might want to do this geographically, spreading out from where you are now, or in terms of different states of being – the old and the young, those being born, those who are dying, people who are happy and unhappy.