Metta is the all-purpose brahmavihara (divine mind state). I’ve been told by a reliable source that there is never a wrong time to generate and radiate metta; and I’ve never been in, or been able to imagine, a situation in which metta would be a wrong response.
Metta has been particularly useful in situations where I feel helpless, frustrated, or otherwise powerless.
Recently someone close to me has been suffering a mental health crisis. We’ve been here before and the pattern is unfolding with the relentlessness of a tidal wave. Every attempt at mitigating action has so far been fruitless, in this and previous instances. It’s like watching an imminent car crash in the moments before it occurs. This time, the response that I keep coming back to is metta, mixed with equanimity. There is nothing I can do to prevent this person’s karma from unfolding in the way that it’s unfolding. No perfect words to say (no one’s listening), no perfect actions to take. But I can stand by with genuine metta, compassion and equanimity. “May you be well, may you be happy, may your suffering diminish until it is gone”, and “Your actions belong to you and no one else.” With this as the default, my own unhappiness in response to the suffering is diminished (not eliminated), and it also has the advantage of not amplifying the problem. The crisis will unfold as it will, and then it will pass.
Directing our thoughts towards metta can be especially useful whenever there’s nothing in particular going on. If boredom arises – “May I be well, happy and peaceful; may all beings be well, happy and peaceful.” If we feel stuck, waiting for someone or something – same phrases. If we or someone we love suffers a disappointment – same phrases. When we are surprised by something pleasant – “May all beings share in this joy.”
Of course, practicing like this will not be effective if we’re just mouthing empty phrases. By adding a bit of introspection, we can locate the intention within ourselves where we truly DO wish freedom and happiness for this particular being and all others. Try it; it’s a universal salve.