Lovingkindness meditation, sometimes referred to as metta meditation (metta simply means "lovingkindness"), is a distinct form of Buddhist practice. By practicing metta meditation, one hopes to cultivate an attitude of lovingkindness first toward themselves, and then outwards, toward other people. This form of meditation is sometimes associated with Right Effort, the sixth branch of the traditional Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path.
There are many different ways to practice lovingkindness meditation. Oftentimes metta is performed as a guided meditation, with a "script" from either a teacher or a printed resource. One of the most common forms that these guided meditations take is a progression from a lovingkindness wish for oneself, to a lovingkindness wish for another person, and finally to a lovingkindness wish for a particular group or the whole world.
In the preface to Thomas Merton's Contemplative Prayer, Thich Nhat Hanh gives a traditional example of this type of prayer:
"May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May he/she be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May they be peaceful happy, and light in body and spirit."
"May I be free from injury. May I live in safety.
May he/she be free from injury. May he/she live in safety.
May they be free from injury. May they live in safety."
"May I be free from disturbance, fear, anxiety, and worry.
May he/she be free from disturbance, fear, anxiety, and worry.
May they be free from disturbance, fear, anxiety, and worry."
Many examples of guided metta meditations are available online.
In Buddhist thought, part of the spiritual path is displaying "right effort," or the use of the will to develop wholesome states of mind. Lovingkindness meditation is often associated with Right Effort, as it involves a conscious use of the will aimed at cultivating a positive state.
Traditionally, right effort is directed toward four goals:
To prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states
To abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen
To arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen
To maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen
In Lovingkindness meditation, the focus is on the final two of these goals, arousing and maintaining wholesome states of mind.