In past years, when I have tried loving-kindness (metta) meditation, it has seemed coercive—like a painting-on of false compassion that made no sense to me. It felt like my mother telling me to be nice, when I didn’t feel like being nice. Fake.

Now, however, my understanding of this practice has begun to deepen and I’m finding it useful to begin my meditation sittings with a little loving-kindness practice. Even just a minute or two seems to set the tone for being able to feel less reactive towards myself, kinder towards myself when my mind wanders.

Instead of focusing on feeling bad about the fact that my mind has wandered, I now focus on the wonderful feeling of coming back to the breath. So this practice seems to help loosen the tendency of the mind to make itself feel like a failure. It helps stop the sense of self-defeating ill-will towards oneself.

A couple of differences between what I do and traditional metta meditation is that I’ve pretty much done away with the words that are normally used, and I also don’t force myself to go through the whole scale of types of people, from myself, through loved ones, through acquaintances, through Donald Trump, unless I’m feeling like it. No rules.

I use wording that makes sense to me… wording that gets in there and scratches the itch. So I might say, May I be happy. May my mind feel clear and concentrated. May I feel strong and empowered. May I feel calm and friendly. And then when I switch it up to other people I tailor the words to fit the person.

And in dealing with people I’m not so enamored of, I find it easier and easier to sincerely feel my good wishes towards them and release myself from the binding quality of resistance. I use words like, May you feel safe. May you feel open-hearted. May you feel free of hatred. That’s enough. I don’t linger.

Metta practice reminds me of this quote from Abraham Hicks, which I have had tacked up at my work station for years:

“We would like you to reach the place where you’re not willing to listen to people criticize one another… where you take no satisfaction from somebody being wrong… where it matters to you so much that you feel good, that you are only willing to think positive things about people…you are only willing to look for positive aspects; you are only willing to look for solutions, and you are not willing to beat the drum of all of the problems of the world.”