The Buddha, and many teachers after his time, recommended practicing mettā (loving-kindness) regularly as a remedy for the hindrance of ill-will. In this practice, we meet ill-will with mindfulness when it’s present, and when it’s absent, we practice mettā. If we make mettā our default mindstate, our go-to when nothing much is happening, we can lay a strong and beautiful foundation for dealing with whatever comes. Eventually when we encounter episodes of ill-will we may remember that mettā is an attitude available to us.
From the Ajahn Chah lineage comes this mettā chant:
May I abide in well-being, in freedom from affliction, in freedom from hostility, in freedom from ill-will, in freedom from anxiety, and may I maintain well-being in myself.
If we’re feeling physically tense, it’s important to try to relax and let the chant resonate in our torso – heart or belly – to release energy from our intellect into a more general experience. Letting go of whatever we’re clinging to clears the way for metta; in fact, the more we let go, the more ease and friendliness will naturally arise, creating a virtuous cycle. It may help to say the chant out loud, especially with others, to feel the breath and the vibration of our voices.
We could add:
May everyone abide in well-being, in freedom from hostility, in freedom from ill-will, in freedom from anxiety, and may they maintain well-being in themselves.
In this way, we recognize that just as we want to be free from hostility, ill-will, and anxiety, so does (pretty much) everyone else. We are not unique in this desire.
If we’re experiencing pain or suffering, we can also apply mettā directly to the difficulty, or to ourselves as we experience a problem. This is similar to feeling compassion for someone in distress.
Here is one way to apply mettā when we’re caught in ill-will. It’s an imagined conversation between mindfulness (M) and the self (S):
Mindfulness says: ‘There is some pain there.’ The self says: ‘Yes, but I don’t like it.’ M: ‘Hey, there’s more to this pain than meets the eye. And it’s very interesting.’ S: ‘Really?’ M: ‘Yes, take a look.’ S: ‘How do I do that?’ M: ‘Relax your defensiveness, be more friendly and it will start to show itself.’ S: ‘Hey, it is interesting, and this friendliness is not too bad. Actually, it’s quite nice. And I notice that what I thought was painful is not as extreme as I first imagined.’ (p. 107, Working with the Five Hindrances by Ajahn Thiradhammo)
We can make up our own mettā mantra. One I like to use is: “May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from harm and suffering. May all of my good purposes be fulfilled.” And then, “May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm and suffering. May all of their good purposes be fulfilled.” We can experiment until we find a phrasing that actually touches our heart and helps it to open.