Uncovering the ‘Love’ in Loving Kindness

How the practise’s ‘wanting well’ mantras encourage connection with oneself

When I first stepped out and started teaching meditation in 2020, I was full of awe and excitement. Joining an impressive lineage of teachers before me, I was going to be another conduit for bringing these practises out into the world. I never imagined reaching out to the masses — who am I to do that? — but I thought: if I can help a select few, who would hopefully, like me, find what they needed out of these great tools, I’d be very content. Maybe I will be a stepping stone for them, on their path towards a greater sense of connection and wellbeing.

It took me a good year (or was it more?) to realise that what I was teaching wasn’t quite right, however. I unconsciously had been pushing mindfulness at the top of the agenda, ignoring a panel of other important — or should I say essential — practises because, well, it was harder to talk about them. Or rather, harder to get ‘buy in’ from students. 

You see, I was taught the two wings of mindfulness, as it’s sometimes referred to: mindfulness and compassion. We, myself and the other young graduates of the MMTCP (the Mindfulness Meditation Certification Program led by Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield), were taught to teach both wings, it was never meant as an either-or situation. But to put it simply, I got caught in a blind spot in my first teaching year: it felt easier to lean on guiding breath meditations and body scans for my burgeoning online community of students. 

Science has been all over mindfulness for a while, and in those early pandemic times, as you yourself may have noticed, the media was all over it, too. Despite the fact I had deep respect for the panel of meditations and contemplative practises I’d studied, I jumped onto what a teacher of mine calls ‘the McMindfulness’ bandwagon. 

Of course, it wasn’t all bad that global circumstances had turned a huge part of our population towards an openness to meditation: I had less pitching and convincing to do to get people through the virtual doors of my classroom. Yet all the while, I was forgetting to put forward and do the hard work of telling students the story of the practise that made the most impact in my life. And that is Loving Kindness. 

I assume that you already know about Loving Kindness, also known as Mettā, its original name in Pali, because I’ve written about it before. If this is new to you and you wonder what I’m talking about, head over here for more.

This feels top of mind because every Friday lunchtime, I teach online for a corporate startup focused on developing resources for mental and physical wellbeing. And I couldn’t help but notice one week I will have a huge attendance for a mindfulness session, and the following week I’ll get only a third of that group if I announce I’ll teach Loving Kindness.

Why is that, you may wonder? 

Well I heard some time ago two well-known men, podcast and TV personalities in an interview telling renowned Loving Kindness teacher Sharon Salzberg how the name of the practise ‘loving kindness’ made them feel iffy to start.  

One of them even chose to hide the cover of Ms Salzberg’s first book (“Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness”) on a flight, because he didn’t want people to see it. 

It’s the word love, I assume, that has people baulk against the meditation (and the book). Or is it the idea that because it has the word love, the practice is soft? It’s anything but, matter of factly. How do you feel about these words? 

This response isn’t reserved to men, of course. By and large, I have witnessed that people will choose to commit to the more ‘rational’ meditation that is mindfulness, with all its scientific backing. Also, unlike the assumption that love includes working on our hearts, mindfulness has the word mind. And, especially here in the West, we’re comfortable working on our minds, over our hearts.  

That’s why I call Mettā (or Loving Kindness) the RomCom of meditation practises. Like RomCom, it tends to make us feel good despite the fact it’s not meant to be state altering. Regular practitioners often perceive a shift, from the beginning to the end of the meditation, and sometimes report a positive tingling energy by the end. Hope? Connection? A sense of belonging? I’m not sure. Perhaps a little bit of all the above. 

I’ve been pondering on how can I, Anne the brand new teacher, break the stigma and encourage people to engage with this practise? After all, it changed my life! It’s my ‘precious’ practise.

For this reason, I’ve decided to explore with you the benefits of Loving Kindness, and to get under the hood of that problem we have with the semantics, the translation, the words love and kindness. And share my personal experience!

This Pali word, used by the Buddha 2600 years ago, Mettā, translates in several ways, and they all give us a different lens to understand what this meditation is meant to have us work on. 


It can mean ‘friendliness’ and indeed ‘love,’ just not romantic love, and the term that I came to like the most is ‘connection’. But that’s the word I find most suitable in English. Italian offers an even better translation: ‘voler bene’ which does mean a caring form of love. It also literally translates as ‘wanting well,’ or wishing well. And the phrases we silently repeat in Mettā practise are just that: wishing ourselves and others to be well. 

When I started to analyse my own experience with Loving Kindness (and I’m writing a book about it, so this is  ongoing work), what I recognised was indeed that I’d developed a deeply caring connection to myself (and to others), the result of repeatedly practising this form of  ‘wanting well.’ 

If you wonder what that looked like, I’d start by telling you that I upgraded my living arrangements. I like to think we all have an ‘inner roommate’ (the name I like to use to describe that main narrative voice in our heads). It’s probably not a single voice, but for the sake of simplicity, I grouped ‘them.’ 

Earlier in my life, my inner roommate was harsh, difficult, so damn judgemental. It’s not that she was relentless in her criticism so much as the fact she seemed so unhappy with me at all times. And you know, we live together 24/7. 

It turns out that while I was doing Mettā and mindfulness, I wasn’t just doing it for myself: I was teaching her, my inner roommate, mindfulness and Loving Kindness. 

The first time I noticed a shift in myself, it wasn’t in me as much as in her. One morning, I was in the kitchen and I spilled a whole bag of rice on the floor. And instead of cursing at myself, I heard ‘it’s okay.’ Huh, I thought. 

You see, over time, when we practise loving kindness, we practise this ‘wanting well’. And the inner roommate — whether it’s a he or a she or a they — is the one who learns to chill, to get calmer, to give us a break. After a longer time of practise, they even shift from calm to, well, caring. 

So first I heard ‘it’s okay.’ And that voice was soothing, and nice (the tone is important). Then, last year, sadly, I buried a dear one. That day, I got home and started to frantically clean my house. You know, trying to get some control of my environment. When I was done, I sat at my desk and I remember vividly hearing this inner voice of mine say:

‘That’s it, it’s just me now.’ 


Such a sad thought. Painful thought, right? 

But instead of breaking into sobs, which honestly I was expecting of myself, I heard: 

‘It’s okay, I like me.’

‘That’s it, it’s just me now… it’s okay, I like me.’

I don’t know whether you can feel how revolutionary that is. I only wish you could have seen my face, which I was able to observe in the reflection of the large computer monitor as I heard that thought. My mouth opened wide into a silent ‘WOW.’

My inner voice (as I am sure yours does, too) has often switched from ‘I’ to ‘you.’ As In: ‘you are so stupid, or so silly, or whatever.’ 

That day, there was a display of caring unity, somehow reclaimed, reconnected, whole. And it (or I) was saying to myself ‘it’s okay’ — but on a much deeper level. 

From the early days of meditating on my sofa, feeling quite lost, to studying to become a teacher, to teaching, to that day of feeling deeply whole despite my heart exploding with the powerful feeling of love that is behind grief, That’s just part of the arc of my practice of Loving Kindness, eight years on. 

Of course, there’s a whole lot more to say about this. Look for my next email and instalment about the benefits of Mettā meditation. 

In the meantime, I invite you to ponder about your own response to the words loving kindness.

How do you feel about them? Do you think that this is a practice that you would try? Imagine how powerful it would be if someone were to do this every day.



Try Loving Kindness Meditation via my meditation channel, Out of the Clouds Waking Heart or on Insight Timer.

My ‘why’ and the story of how I got started with Mettā you will find in this link.

Subscribe to Out of the Clouds Waking Heart for more guided meditations on your favorite podcast apps.