The Metta Bhavana: A Meditation for Developing Lovingkindness.
"Bhavana" means "cultivation" or "development," and "Metta" is a word that means "love," "friendliness," or "lovingkindness." So this is a meditation practice where we actively cultivate some very positive emotional states towards others, as well as to ourselves.
This practice helps us to bring more harmony into our relationships with others, so that we experience less conflicts, resolve existing difficulties, and deepen our connections with people we already get on with. It helps us to empathize more, and to be more considerate, kind, and forgiving. We can also learn to appreciate others more, concentrating more on their positive qualities and less on their faults.
In this meditation practice, we also cultivate Metta towards ourselves, so that we experience less internal conflict, and learn to appreciate ourselves more.
The idea of cultivating emotions might strike some of us as being a bit odd: after all, don't emotions "just happen"? It often seems like they well up inside of ourselves unbidden, and come and go like the weather. A lot of the language we use to talk about emotions suggests a lack of control. For example, we "fall" in love, or we are "overcome" with anger, or we feel "depressed" (who's doing the depressing), or we feel "overburdened" with stress.
From a Buddhist point of view it is not the case that emotions "just happen". Emotions are habits, and are actively created. It seems like they have a life of their own because we aren't conscious of exactly how we create them. If we can bring more awareness into our emotional life then we can cultivate the emotions we want to experience (those that make us and others happy), and discourage the arising of those we don't want (those that make us unhappy and generate conflict with others).
We cultivate emotions all the time. An example of how we unconsciously generate emotions is this: imagine you're with a group of people, and you get to talking about all the things that are wrong with the world -- hatred, war, intolerance, child-abuse, pollution etc. As the conversation goes on, and we get more and more involved, what happens? The chances are that we get angry, or depressed, or feel self-righteous. By focusing on things that anger or depress you (without creatively trying to see what you can actually do about these things), you cultivate these emotions.
Imagine if you did that with things that encouraged a sense of love and well-being? That's what the Metta Bhavana practice is about.