Sometimes when people are beginning to learn lovingkindness meditation they think that lovingkindness is something that’s to be manufactured. And so they make lots of effort to try to generate some emotion, as if they’re trying very hard to wring some emotion from the heart.
And sometimes, if you make a lot of internal effort, you can become somewhat excited and convince yourself that you’re developing lovingkindness. But more often a sense of disappointment and even despondency sets in, because you don’t get the expected result. So this isn’t a very useful approach.
You can’t actually make emotions happen — all you can do is set up the conditions for them to arise and then see what happens. Love can’t be manufactured through meditation. It can’t be squeezed out of our being.
It’s a bit like growing seeds. You can’t make a seed grow. All you can do is provide warmth, water, and soil, and then be patient.
In cultivating feelings of loving kindness we’re encouraging ourselves to wish others well. So how do we set up the conditions for doing this?
Emotional Awareness Exercise
The first thing is to become aware of how we actually are feeling just now. This is essential groundwork.
Try this exercise:
- Sit quietly, and bring your awareness into your body
- As best you can, relax each muscle as you bring awareness to it
- Bring your awareness to your heart area, and see what emotions are present, smile, and watch what happens
- If you’re not sure what you’re feeling, pay attention to the kind of thoughts you’re having. Are they anxious? Critical? Self-critical? Depressive? Joyful? Your thoughts can give you a clue to how you’re feeling.
- If you’re not sure about how you’re feeling, see if you can notice how you feel about not being sure about how you feel! Sometimes that makes it clearer.
- Remember: whatever emotions you are feeling (good, bad, or even neutral) are fine. You can work with those emotions, and you can only start from where you are
- See if you can be kind to yourself. Be patient as you attempt to find out how you’re feeling.
- Don’t try to find out what you’re feeling. Rather than a frantic search, think more of relaxing into an awareness of what’s already there.
- Gently bring yourself back to the outside world