It's a lot.
I can have barriers of ill-will built up against even my dearest friends - and not know it unless I deliberately try sending them metta!
These aren't giant resentments – I tend to be aware of those – but they are places where my heart has unwittingly contracted and shrunk because my ego took offense to something my friend casually said.
Metta vs. Your Internal Meanness
Similarly, in giving metta to myself, I begin to gain insight into just how much of my usual internal monologue (filled with worries, self-criticisms, doubts – all the tastiest delicacies of self-involved neurosis) is actually motivated by ill-will towards yours truly.
Here's how this works: I'm sitting still, earnestly wishing "May I be happy" - not "May I get filthy rich so I can be happy" or "May I be transcendently perfect so I can be happy" - but just, you know - happy. With no conditions attached. Just wishing this for myself starts to make me feel happy - and then I hear the thoughts that are like, "Oh, but Carolyn, you did this and this awful thing, you really don't deserve to feel happy..." or "You're almost 29 and practically penniless. How can you have any self-respect? Really, you're pathetic....." and it becomes very obvious: those thoughts do not wish me to be happy. They wish me to feel bad. They lack metta. They're the voice of what my friend Andy has always called "Mean Carolyn," my inner relentless critic.
Mean Carolyn sucks.
Luckily, in the work of cultivation, I can quiet her down. I just need to send my good wishes to myself louder than those harsh thoughts. "Doesn't matter what I did or what I lack! - may I be happy, goddamnit!" And then – oddly enough – my smile broadens and my cheeks glow. The feeling of happiness continues and gets stronger.
The Hard Liquor of Benevolence
That's the other weird thing about metta practice - you discover just how much joy there is in the act of making positive wishes. It wouldn't seem that those little namby-pambly phrases of niceness ("May you be happy, May you be well, May you be free from suffering....") and the act of visualizing yourself and others in states of happiness would pack such a giddy punch - but after awhile it certainly does.
I've found that it's entirely possible to get drunk on good wishes. And I mean tipsy, loopy, kissing-strangers-can't-stop-singing-show-tunes drunk. It's rad. And the neat thing is, there's no hang-over. Also, it's free.
I think this propensity for giddy drunkenness to arise is one of the reasons why teachers like Ken McLeod in his in-depth teaching on the four immeasurables recommend balancing loving-kindness meditation with compassion cultivation. Because unless you're actively sensitizing yourself to the suffering of others, you might get so happy with your loving-kindness that you drunkenly overlook that suffering and become boorish.
So what's your experience with metta like so far?