The Buddha identified four characteristics or signs of an awakened mind and these are experiences that are helpful to recognise and cultivate. The idea here is that these experiences are the natural result of an increasingly awakened mind, but also that we can train our body/mind to more easily notice and access these experiences when we have them.
The four characteristics (brahma viharas in Pali) are usually stated as loving-kindness, sympathetic joy, compassion and equanimity. There are two of these translations that don't sit quite right for me. The first, and the one I want to focus on here, is 'loving-kindness' (metta in Pali). I've even heard this translated, or should I say mis-heard as love and kindness :-). Jason Siff and others translate it slightly differently as 'friendliness'. For me, this is a much more helpful translation for the secular world. (For completeness' sake, the other one I'd like to adjust for the modern world is 'sympathetic joy' - I think 'empathic joy' communicates the meaning slighly better.)
There are two main reasons I prefer 'friendliness' to 'loving-kindness'. First, loving-kindness sounds pious to me and therefore inaccessible. It sounds like something only saints feel. It is a very strong term - not only are you feeling kindly but you're feeling loving towards the person you're being kind to. It actually conjures images for me of someone in flowing robes with a halo sitting softly above their head, gazing gently at a child. It doesn't feel realistic or accessible for a normal human being. It also feels like something that is only appropriate to show to certain people - children and other lesser beings. The idea of showing 'loving kindness' to a burly biker for example doesn't seem to fit. However being friendly with him, I can do.
That brings me to the second reason. If I don't know that feeling, if it's not accessible to me, then it's pretty hard to cultivate it. My guess is most people could point to some interaction in the past day, or at least the past week, that was motivated by and characterised by friendliness. As I've observed my own experience over the past few years I've found that whenever I'm not caught up in my own hungers for things, my natural state is actually quite friendly. This is an important point because it means I can observe the causes and conditions of friendliness in my own life, I can focus on and really take in the feeling when it's present (see some practical tips for this in Rick Hanson's 'Buddha's Brain'), and in doing so naturally incline my body/mind to that attitude. That feels very do-able because I know the feeling of friendliness. When I think of 'loving-kindness' I have nothing to work with as I just don't feel saintly enough.
There is a well known Buddhist guided meditation that focuses on metta. It too, has never felt quite right to me. It says things like 'may all beings be well and happy'. As I hear these words I always feel incredulous because I know darned well that all beings are not well and happy - indeed the very wellness and happiness of many creatures relies upon other creatures being captured and eaten. My understanding is that the idea of this meditation is to strengthen the well-wishing muscle (neural connections in our brain really). This idea isn't without its merit but I think I need to find other words that feel more realistic.
Has anyone written their own 'metta meditation' that works for them? If so, I'd love to hear it.
For more on cultivating friendliness naturally (as opposed to trying to manufacture it), see Jason Siff's recent post: http://blog.unlearningmeditation.com/.