Effortless lovingkindness (Day 6)


100 Days of Lovingkindness

As part of our 100 Days of Lovingkindess we’re focusing on metta (lovingkindness) practice for 25 days, before going on to explore compassion, joy and equanimity (although I prefer to call this “loving with insight”).

People often think that lovingkindness is something hard. I’m going to write more about that tomorrow, but for now I want to stress the naturalness of metta, and how it arises effortlessly from certain reflections.

To begin with cultivating lovingkindness for a friend, let’s just note that the friend is someone for whom we already have metta. The Pali word (or one of them) for friend is “mitta” and you can see the obvious resemblance between the two words metta and mitta. A friend is someone whose wellbeing matters to us. When they’re unhappy it bothers us; when they’re happy it pleases us.

Metta has this same simplicity to it. With all the talk of “universal lovingkindness” it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that metta is something we already have, and that we need to first reconnect with it (it often happens that we lose connection with it in the busyness of our lives), and then strengthen it by giving it our attention.

So right at the beginning of these 100 Days I wrote about some basic reflections I use that help us connect with our inherent lovigkindness.

  • You want, generally speaking, to be happy. You don’t want, generally speaking, to suffer.
  • Happiness is often much harder to find than you think it’s going to be, and suffering is something that you experience more often than you want to.
  • Really pause for a moment and check out the truth of those statements in your heart.
  • Now, having let these thoughts drop into your mind, and having sensed the truth of them in your experience, ask yourself whether there is some part of you that can respond with support and sympathy as you do this difficult thing of being human — as you go about this task of living, hoping for and seeking happiness and finding it elusive, hoping and trying to avoid suffering and finding that it arises all too often.

Now apply these reflections to your friend:

  • Your friend wants to be happy. Your friend doesn’t want to suffer.
  • For your friend, happiness is often hard to find, and suffering is something that they experience more often than they want to.
  • Give yourself time, once again, to let the truth of these reflections sink in, because they are true for everyone. I don’t think anyone looks at their life and says, “You know, this is great, but I’d rather be a bit less happy.”
  • And with the truth of these reflections in mind, see if there’s some part of you that it prepared to root for your friend, to wish them well as they do this difficult task of living a human life.

This isn’t complicated. But if we do this at the beginning of the second stage of the metta bhavana it brings our lovingkindness practice to life. Metta — a basic kindness that values others’ happiness — arises quite effortlessly from the reflections above.

[See the previous 100 Days of Lovingkindness post : See the next 100 Days of Lovingkindness post]
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12 Comments. Leave new

  • […] Cultivating lovingkindness for a friend […]

  • I am concerned that I don’t have enough feelings for friends. When others are sad, I do feel an element of compassion but I also feel relief that I am not the only one that struggles! I think I have discovered how self centred I am. I think I also have more compassion for people I don’t know than those I do. I’m confused :-/

    • This is all natural. It’s not uncommon even to feel some satisfaction when our friends suffer. But we just have to start from where we are, and to do the practice. There’s no way to jump straight into being a selfless compassionate being. Day by day we do the practice, and like a bucket filling drop by drop, we become less selfish and more compassionate.

  • In my experience, extending Compassion and Lovingkindness to others is both selfless *and* selfish — but selfish in a good kind of way! If I am Compassionate and Loving towards you, it’s good for you, but it is also very good for me! I would rather feel happy for you and thereby feel happy in myself (which feels good) than wish suffering on you which would bring me suffering (negative feelings). I believe we can choose which we would rather feel (for others and ourselves), and that meditation gives us a ‘space’ in which to be able to make that choice. (I am not perfect! There are times that I still react to things rather than respond to them, but I am so grateful that my mind is learning to make that ‘space’ for me.)

  • Thank you. I will keep working at it :-)

  • *Do* we really generally want to be happy, and not suffer? I think this is an assumption which needs to be observed further. If we did, then we wouldn’t catch ourselves constantly doing all sorts of things which harm us. And I expect most people to agree with me that we do just that, the only variation being that some of us are more aware of doing this than others. I noticed earlier that it was easier for me to develop metta for others – even unknown others – than it was to do it for myself. I have to imagine something that automatically evokes compassion and well-meaning (say, a puppy) and then apply it to myself to sort of ‘activate’ any kind of feeling for myself. This is a struggle and belies the idea that I want myself to be well, happy and free from suffering. So maybe the self-metta practice should be taken one step before. Anyone out there sharing this?

    • I think that even when we do act in ways that cause us suffering, we’d doing it because we think it’ll make us happy. So we go out and get drunk and wake up with a hangover, but we’ve hoped that this time we’ll have the “fun” of the drinking without the pain of the hangover, or that the one will outweigh the other.

      Or we deliberately put ourselves into a situation where we know we’re going to suffer, but we assume that this will lead to happiness in the long-term. This is actually a sensible strategy — it may make me suffer to force myself to eat a healthy meal rather than an unhealthy one, but in the long-term it’ll allow me to be happier. The thing is that many strategies for finding long-term happiness through short-term suffering just don’t work. Self-criticism is a way of making ourselves suffer now in the hope that we won’t make mistakes again in the future, but it doesn’t generally work well. Certainly some people find that their self-criticism prompts them to achieve a lot, but they’re rarely ever happy with their achievements, so the strategy has failed.

      My “Kindly Gaze” exercise does what you suggest, which is to use our ability to care for others in order to evoke a sense of kindness that we can then apply to ourselves.

      This was a great question. Thank you.

  • […] Effortless lovingkindness (Day 6) […]

  • In a sense it’s like EVERYthing we do is for our well-being or to avoid suffering, and it is, like you say, natural. It’s natural for beings to feed themselves for their bodies. I like this because it follows along with the Nonviolent Communication premise that everything we say is to get a need fulfilled, or to find a part of us satisfaction, and by connecting with that the judgements and such fall away.

  • In that sense it’s like all of nature is a bundle of metta! Or maybe even the universe! I’ve been fascinated by the Buddhist conception of the six realms and rebirth where we are reborn over and over again according to our karma. Actually, I was delighted thinking about this because no matter how much I screw up, I can still get life! How wonderful!

  • […] Effortless lovingkindness (Day 6) […]

  • I have been searching and searching for the best meditation tool the perfect vehicle to help my practice be the best it can, i have read books and viewed countless videos.
    I Meditate daily and have done so for over a couple of years (apart from a month when i was really ill ) there are difficult itchy wiggly sittings disturbed by family sittings and those where i complete the time and feel a oneness with the earth that is like nothing else.
    I have finally realized that what i need is here all the time – space a good posture and my own breath.
    Why do i search and not accept that what i am doing is the best i can?


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