Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

Lovingkindness Meditation

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What if I find it hard to like myself?

flowerMany of us find the first stage of the Metta Bhavana the hardest to do, probably because some of our societal conditioning trains us to think that liking ourselves is bad. In fact we have a whole page on this very subject.

The first thing is that it’s very important to learn to like ourselves. If we don’t like ourselves we’re never going to truly love others. Nor are we likely to ever be very happy, simply because we don’t value our own happiness.

So never skip the first stage of the Metta Bhavana practice. Always do it!

If you start the first stage and don’t feel much, then don’t panic. Stay calm. It’s perfectly normal to feel very little. I remember when I was first learning meditation I spiraled down into a pit of despair because I didn’t see any metta for myself being developed. But it’s a slow process. It works, but it’s not a quick fix.

Think about things you do well. Think about achievements in the past or present. Think about what other people like in you. This will help you to realize your own good qualities.

Reflect: do you want to be happy? That desire to be happy is metta. Probably you don’t appreciate your own self-metta because it’s too familiar and close to you. So you may well have plenty of self-metta but not realized it. Sometimes we have a habit of overlooking the obvious.

Think about the qualities you would like to develop: the achievements you would like to attain in the future. What really matters to you? I’m willing to bet that you came up with some pretty high ideals for yourself. If you can have such worthy ideals then you must be, to some extent, a worthy individual. Respect that in yourself. If you do it’ll help you to develop those qualities and attain those achievements.

Comments

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Comment from Paul
Time: December 17, 2008, 9:43 pm

I read your piece called “A Meditation On Self Hatred” and have been
doing the practice you outlined there. However, I am having trouble cultivating any Metta for a part of myself I don’t like.

Recently, I have gotten into a bit of trouble that requires legal assistance.
It is too complicated to go into here, but there is a lot of guilt, shame,
embarrassment and other negative feelings inside me concerning this situation.

So as I entered the stage during the meditation where I was supposed to
cultivate Metta towards this part of myself, I couldn’t see the point in doing
so. Why should one wish happiness and wellness to awful feelings? How is this helpful? It’s quite difficult for me.

If anyone could send me any advice on this point or direct me to a blog or
something on the site that gets into it deeper, I would really appreciate it.

Thank you!

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: December 18, 2008, 8:05 pm

Hi Paul,

I think the thing to remember is that when you’re experiencing shame, embarrassment, etc, you are suffering. These are intensely painful states, and one problem with them is that we tend to have a lack of self-empathy when they arise because associated with them is the idea that we did something wrong and that therefore we are bad and that therefore on some level we deserve to suffer.

But in order to move on we have to be prepared to experience compassion for ourselves, and that means learning to understand that we’re experiencing pain, to acknowledge the pain when it arises, and to send lovingkindness to the part of ourselves that’s suffering.

The tendency can be to try to push these unpleasant feelings aside, but of course they don’t really go away and will return later to beg for your attention.

I’d suggest that what you do is this:

  • Notice the feelings of shame and embarrassment.
  • Allow them to be there and simply notice where you experience them in the body.
  • Notice the pain that you’re experiencing, and where it’s located in the body.
  • Direct thoughts of lovingkindness (“May you be well,” etc) to the pain.

What I’ve found in my own experience is that by allowing embarrassment into awareness and empathizing with my own pain, they tend to be less recurrent.

Another aspect that you don’t directly mention is your attitude to the part of you that caused you to do whatever it was you did, but that’s a big thing in itself and maybe I’ve said enough to be going on with.

I’d really appreciate if you came back here in a few days (sooner if you need to) and said something about how you’re getting on.

I wish you well.

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Comment from Paul
Time: January 2, 2009, 11:37 am

Hello again,

Thank you for responding. In terms of the attitude to the part of me that caused me to do whatever it was I did, well that is part of the embarrassment and shame. The actual details of what happened are way to long to go into there. Suffice it to say that I was caught trying to work in the UK without a permit and now I’ve been banned from entering there. What made the situation worse was my panicking at the border and revealing to much; partly because I felt guilty. I have a lot of Catholic guilt and through therapy I am trying to confront the fact that I put barriers in my way because I feel deep down that I don’t deserve happiness. My therapist calls it my “sadistic super ego.” So now because of this I am about to embark on a legal process to fix it and the stress is almost too much to bear.

I tried to focus on the part of my body where I feel the pain. This is good advice but a bit difficult because it feels that the pain is mostly in my mind and not so much a physical part of my body. What I am trying to accomplish is seeing the situation for what it really is and trying to cultivate as much mental clarity as I can to deal with it and make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.

I hope I’ve explained the situation a bit better. Anymore advice you can give would be great and I will update you on my progress as well.

Thanks again and Happy New Year.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 4, 2009, 10:20 am

Thanks for expanding — what you’ve said gives me a much better picture of what’s going on.

I think it’s worthwhile bearing in mind that your “sadistic super-ego” actually wants you to be happy. It may not seem like it, given that you’re in effect torturing yourself, but many people have been inculcated with the belief (often put there by religious authorities) that unless your disruptive tendencies are punished severely you will be damned. The idea of course is that if you punish yourself enough then you won’t do those “bad” things again. Instead you’ll do good things and you’ll be “saved.” So the idea behind torturing yourself is that in the long term it’ll save you from harm and lead to a greater state of happiness.

It just so happens that this is completely deluded. In both the short and the long term self-torture leads — as you well know — to suffering.

Anyway, the reason I point this out is that you can learn to see your “sadistic super-ego” not as evil but as deluded. Within the frame of reference it’s learned (presumably from nuns and priests in your past) what it’s doing makes perfect sense and will lead to your happiness. Part of its delusion is that it just doesn’t appreciate the consequences of its actions. It doesn’t recognize that its actions can’t have the effect it desires, and it can’t appreciate that your current suffering would not in any case be worth it even if it did prevent you from doing the same actions again. It’s just deluded. It wants you to be happy, but is simply going about it in a spectacularly ineffective and counterproductive way.

Does that perspective make it easier for you to send metta to the part of you that is causing you pain? Your “sadistic super-ego” is probably suffering as well, because it’s fearful that it can’t control the rest of you. I’d imagine that’s why it’s making such strenuous efforts.

Is that at all helpful?

Back to focusing on your pain and developing compassion for your suffering: I’d suggest that if your pain is in the mind then you could try to locate where it is in the mind, and then wish it well. The notion of exactly where it is located “anatomically” isn’t so important as having a sense that you are in touch with your pain and are sending it love.

I wish you well in your efforts to find peace.

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Comment from Paul
Time: January 4, 2009, 8:12 pm

Dear Bodhipaksa,

Thank you so much for your response. I think I do understand what you were saying. I will meditate more on this and try to figure out how to incorporate this fearful part of myself into my whole being. Perhaps sending love to it is the way.

I wish you all the best as well.

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Comment from Anonymous
Time: February 13, 2009, 1:32 pm

Hi Bodhipaksa,

I am a very jealous person. I always have been and it brings me nothing but misery. I am trying via meditation to become unattached to it, to simply recognize it, and try and see if my jealous side is trying to tell me something.

I think I am a supportive and generous person with my friends, but especially with those that are in the same professional field as me, I become quite envious and insecure when I suspect they are achieving something I want. I am also single now and can become quite possessive and jealous when friends of mine find a partner.

Can you, or anyone out there, suggest advice, a book, specific meditation, etc..that can help me accept, love and deal with what I consider a huge personality flaw?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 14, 2009, 6:21 am

Hi Anonymous,

The short answer is “lovingkindness” or metta bhavana meditation but with the practice continuing off the cushion as well as on it.

I’d add one twist, though. Well, two, actually.

The first is that you bring more of an element of “Mudita” — or rejoicing in the good fortune of others — into your metta practice. Traditionally, mudita (often called sympathetic or empathetic joy) is what arises when our metta encounters others’ good fortune. We’re happy for them because they have the causes of happiness or because they’re happy. So in the cultivating of mudita (mudita bhavana) we do more or less the same practice as in metta bhavana but we consciously dwell upon the good fortune and happiness that others experience.

This can lead to what’s known as “rejoicing in merit” which is when we make a practice of noticing good things about other people (good qualities they have) and good things that happen to them, and we put that into words, sharing our appreciation either with them or with third parties.

The other twist is that I think you’re on the right lines trying to see if your jealous side is trying to tell you something. Your jealousy is in fact a sign that some need is not being met. I’ve often found that when I fail to appreciate others it’s a sign that I don’t really appreciate myself. So I’d suggest you ask yourself whether you rejoice in your own merits. And if you’re not being your own source of appreciation, then spend extra time on the first stage of the metta/mudita bhavana not just generically “wishing yourself well” but actually naming to yourself positive qualities that you have and appreciating those qualities.

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Comment from Katherine Masis
Time: March 1, 2009, 10:07 pm

Keep up the good work. This is one of the best websites around with specific, down-to-earth advice on metta and mindfulness meditation around.

Best wishes and metta.

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Comment from Barry Lemon
Time: February 9, 2010, 5:14 pm

Hi Bodhipaksa,

Firstly thanks for sharing all this information about metta meditation, i’ve read several books on metta but come back to your instructions frequently as they are so succinct and easy to digest.

I suffer from social anxiety stemming from an irrational but deeply felt fear of rejection / need for approval, I also suffer from intermittent depression.

I’ve been practicing metta meditation for at least half an hour every day for just over 2 months to give myself some much needed self compassion.

At first it was very difficult, many feelings of worthlessness and self indulgence came up but over time i’ve found it easier to wish myself well and at times feel genuine warmth and compassion towards myself.

My experience so far as been like this: sometimes I don’t feel a thing, sometimes I feel great resistance, sometimes real acceptance, feelings of warmth (often physical) and safety, sometimes I feel excited.

As interesting as this is and at least it sometimes helps me relax i’m not experiencing much outside of meditation, I think i’m slightly more self compassionate but I still get alot of automatic self critical thoughts and there have been times when I’ve had a peaceful session only to get up and be in a bad mood again almost instantly.

Is my experience common? the more I practice will it start to filter out into my day to day life?

I will continue to practice as i’ve read about the neuroplasticity research and Paul Gilbert’s Compassionate Mind Training studies so I know it works but i’m a little bit disheartened as I had hoped to feel more self compassion and generally happier by now.

I look forward to reading your thoughts.

Thanks

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 16, 2010, 11:58 am

Hi Barry,

Everything you describe sounds like normal “work in progress” and I’m sure that the lovingkindness you’re developing will continue to filter into your life. Sometimes it’s hard for us to see changes in ourselves because we’re too close to the source and because the changes are so gradual, so have patience.

One suggestion about a need for approval from others — I think this often happens when we don’t sufficiently appreciate ourselves. Because we don’t appreciate the good things we do, we need others to give us appreciation. For a while I had a slogan, which was “I am my own source of validation.” This slogan reminded me to appreciate myself, and to congratulate myself whenever I’d done something I thought was worthwhile. You might want to try doing that in addition to the metta practice.

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