Bringing kindness to mind (Day 1)

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Lotus, isolated on whiteIn one of the Buddha’s teachings on purifying the mind, he said that the basic attitude we should be cultivating can be summed up in the thought:

‘May these beings be free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble, and may they look after themselves with ease.’

Traditionally this kindly and loving attitude starts with how we relate to ourselves. If we carry around a harsh attitude inside ourselves, in the way we talk to ourselves internally, then it’s harder for us to have kindness for others.

So apart from doing some sitting metta practice today as part of 100 Days of Lovingkindness, I’d encourage you to cultivate kindness toward yourself throughout the day.

The phrases I most often use in cultivating lovingkindness towards myself are:

  • May I be well
  • May I be happy
  • May I feel at ease

Try saying those to yourself now. Let the rhythm of the words sink into your mind. Build that intention to be kinder!

And see if, throughout the day, you can keep coming back to dropping those thoughts into the mind at odd moments. I was doing it this morning as I was walking to the office. From time to time as I’ve been writing this article I’ve paused for a moment and dropped in one of the phrases. Every time I do it, I feel happier. Now I’ve been doing this practice for 30 years, so you may or may not feel happier, kinder, and more at ease as you repeat these phrases, but they will have an effect, and often quite quickly.

Apart from anything else, these phrases, when we have them running through our minds, reduce the normal stream of thoughts — often critical or self-critical — that tend to bubble up all day long. With less of that critical thinking going on we feel happier.

But the phrases also work in their own right, not just because they reduce critical thoughts. Every time you are dropping one of those thoughts into the mind, you’re strengthening your desire to be kind to yourself. And this has effects. When we use particular parts of the brain repeatedly, those parts actually get bigger. So when you cultivate loving thoughts for yourself, you’re strengthening pathways in the brain, and bringing about long-term change. You can trust this process! It works.

So keep coming back to these thoughts at odd moments. You’ll forget to do it for long periods. That’s all right. Every time you do actually remember, you’re building an intention to be kind to yourself. And that’s going to benefit not just you, but everyone you’re in contact with.

What are you doing to be kinder to yourself today?

[See the previous 100 Days of Lovingkindness post :: See the next 100 Days of Lovingkindness post]
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