The Urban Retreat, Day 8: Developing compassion

November 25, 2013

urban retreat 2013

I’m going to write less today, because sometimes I go on a bit, and I know we’re all bombarded with information. So here are just a few words about the practice of compassion, and especially of self-compassion.

What is compassion? Like lovingkindness, it’s a volition (something we desire or will or intend). While lovingkindness is the desire that beings find happiness, compassion is the desire to relieve suffering. Compassion flows directly from lovingkindness; we want beings to be happy, yet they suffer, and so we want their suffering to be relieved so that they can find happiness.

Compassion is not a sentiment. It’s not just a feeling. Volitions are what lead to actions, and so … Read more »

The Urban Retreat, Day 7: The practice of gratitude

November 24, 2013

urban retreat 2013

One quality that’s closely related to metta is appreciation. We often take things for granted when they’re going right, and then focus on what’s not going the way we want it to. And that makes us unhappy and makes our relationships with others less warm and appreciative.

At our worst we’ll say things like “Nothing ever goes right in my life.” And in the moment we’re saying those words we’ll ignore that we have air to breathe, we’re alive, we’re probably healthy, we’re living in a fairly civilized society (it’s far from being Mogadishu), we’re sheltered from the elements, we have water, electricity, the internet, friends, family, etc. The specifics of what we have change … Read more »

The Urban Retreat, Day 6: The tender heart of lovingkindness

November 23, 2013


In previous posts I’ve suggested an approach to cultivating lovingkindness that begins with contacting our innate lovingkindness. Now the expression “contacting our innate lovingkindness” is a problem for many people, because they look inside themselves, don’t see anything at that moment that they could call “metta” or “lovingkindness,” and then conclude they don’t have these qualities. Which can start a downward spiral of rumination and pain: I don’t feel any love; Therefore I don’t love myself; Therefore I must be unlovable; Therefore no one will ever love me; Therefore my life is horrible.

I think almost everyone has experienced that kind of emotional nose-dive at one time or another.

But I think that when this … Read more »

The Urban Retreat, Day 5: Looking with loving eyes

November 22, 2013


I’d like to share a way of relating that I call “loving gaze.” This is borrowed from Jan Chozen Bays, who writes in How to Train a Wild Elephant of the practice of “Loving Eyes.”

In her book she says:

We know how to use loving eyes when we are falling in love, when we see a new baby or a cute animal. Why do we not use loving eyes more often?

So what we can do is to recall, or even just imagine, the experience of looking with loving eyes. You can recall (or imagine) looking at a beloved child, or a lover, or even a pet. I find that the sense of care, … Read more »

The Urban Retreat, Day 4: “Protecting oneself, one protects others. Protecting others, one protects oneself.” The Buddha

November 21, 2013


The Buddha said, “Protecting oneself, one protects others. Protecting others, one protects oneself.”

Lovingkindness helps us protect others, and it helps us protect ourselves.

At one time I used to have the New York Times delivered to my house every morning. It was one of my great pleasures to have a leisurely breakfast with a cup of tea, toast, and some intelligent analysis from the Op-Ed pages. But first I had to get the newspaper, which was tossed onto (or near) the front porch every morning by the delivery driver.

It was always an awkward moment for me walking out onto the porch in my bathrobe and slippers, with my hairy legs and knobbly ankles … Read more »

The Urban Retreat, Day 3: When the rubber hits the road

November 20, 2013


When the rubber hits the road is a great time to practice lovingkindness, and I mean literal rubber and a literal road.

There’s a lot of irritation involved in driving, even far short of the extreme of road rage. It can be irritating to be in slow traffic, or busy traffic, or to be cut off, or to be held up by roadworks, or stuck at traffic lights.

We’re emotionally cut off from other drivers because we’re all in our own semi-private metal boxes, and so we don’t have access (usually) to their body language and facial expressions. So we often take things personally that aren’t necessarily personal. As comedian George Carlin said, “Have you … Read more »

The Urban Retreat, Day 2: Authentic lovingkindness

November 19, 2013


In yesterday’s post I talked about the fact that many people have misconceptions about what metta (lovingkindness) is, and how those misconceptions can lead to disappointment, despair, and to giving up on the practice. The main misconception I addressed is that lovingkindness is an emotion. Actually, lovingkindness is a volition. It’s classically defined as the intention that beings be happy. So it’s something we want, not something we feel. Although the volition may lead to certain feelings, like warmth, an open heart, a sense of cherishing, joy, etc., the feelings are secondary.

Another thing that often happens is that we try too hard to make something happen. This may have happened to you if you’ve … Read more »

The Urban Retreat, Day 1: Demystifying lovingkindness

November 18, 2013

urban retreat 2013

This post is part of our Urban Retreat, running from Nov 9 to 16, 2013. To subscribe to our Urban Retreat posts, which will be delivered to your inbox each day of the retreat, go here.

The Urban Retreat is set up to help you bring more depth of practice into your life. In particular we’re focusing for the week on lovingkindness (metta) practice, so that we can move towards having a heart that “blazes like the sun.”

I was surprised recently on a retreat, when I asked how many people practiced lovingkindness meditation regularly, to find that fewer than half the participants did. I’d expected almost every hand to go up, since in … Read more »

Words of kindness, words of compassion

November 1, 2013

Buddha Close UpThere are many ways to develop metta (kindness, or lovingkindness), which is the desire that beings, ourselves included, be happy. Kindness arises from a basic realization that all beings want to be happy, and that their happiness and suffering are as real to them as our own happiness and suffering are to us. Recognizing those facts, and knowing that we ourselves want to be happy, we naturally wish happiness for others.

Kindness is inherent in us all, and in the meditation practice we’re strengthening what’s already there, not bringing something entirely new into being.

The most well-known way to cultivate metta is drop phrases into the mind that strengthen and develop our kindness. When I … Read more »

What do you give?

October 23, 2013

Hanson_thGiving – to others, to the world, to oneself – is deep in our nature as human beings.

When our mammalian ancestors first appeared, about two hundred million years ago, their capacities for bonding, emotion, and generosity were extraordinary evolutionary breakthroughs. Unlike reptiles and fish, mammals and birds care for their young, pair bond (sometimes for life), and usually form complex social groups organized around various kinds of cooperation. This takes more smarts than, say, a fish laying a swarm of eggs and swimming away – so in proportion to body weight, mammals and birds have bigger brains than reptiles and fish do.

When primates came along about sixty million years ago, there was another … Read more »