I prepare myself for metta meditation by imagining a little kitten. I like cats, especially kittens, so my imaginary kitten is to lovingkindness as gas is to a flame. I need only to think of my little kitten and my heart lights up with metta.
I continue to visualize my imaginary friend, picturing it as abandoned, hungry, and very afraid. In its short span of life it has known only rejection, violence, and loneliness. I imagine its bones sticking out from its emaciated body, its fur soiled with grime and some blood, and its body rigid with terror. I consider that if I don’t care for this vulnerable little being then no one will, and it will die such a horrible, lonely, terrified death. I feel that kitten’s pain fully, in all its forms, and my heart opens up, releasing a flood of compassion. I will care for that little kitten. I will protect it and feed it. I imagine myself looking deeply into its anxious eyes, trying to melt its apprehension with the metta flowing through my own eyes. I reach out to it slowly, reassuringly, never losing eye contact. Gently, I pick up that little kitten and bring it to my chest. I remove the kitten’s cold with the warmth from my own body, I take away its fear with the softness of my embrace, and I feel the kitten’s trust grow. I speak to the kitten on my chest:
“Little being, never feel alone again. Never feel so afraid. I will always look after you, be your protector and friend. I love you, little kitten. Wherever you go, whatever you do, my heart will always welcome you. I give you my limitless lovingkindness always.”
When I do this, I feel my kitten become warm, relax, and finally purr.
This is but an outline of how I begin my meditation on metta. I usually take much more time. I use my imagination and inner speech to paint a picture in my mind, to create a scenario where the first flames of metta can arise.
At the end of the mental exercise, my eyes still closed, I focus the attention on the region around my heart and feel the first warm glow of the emotion of kindfulness.
Excerpted from Kindfulness by Ajahn Brahm© 2016 Buddhist Society of Western Australia. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., wisdompubs.org.
This article was originally published in 2017.
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.