Ways to cultivate kindness in meditation

Part One: Cultivating Kindness

Sometimes when people are beginning to learn lovingkindness meditation they think that kindness is something that’s to be manufactured. And so they make lots of effort to try to generate some feeling, as if they’re trying very hard to wring some emotion from the heart. This problem can be even more acute when the word “lovingkindness” is used, and if that word is explained as “universal love” or “universal friendliness.” We can very easily pick up the idea that we’re trying to experience something we’ve never experienced before.

And sometimes, if you make a lot of effort, you can become excited, and those feelings of excitement convince you that something is happening. But that’s not really kindness, and often when we do this a sense of disappointment and even despondency sets in, because you don’t get the expected result. So obviously this isn’t a very useful approach.

You can’t actually make kindness happen — all you can do is set up the conditions for them to arise and then see what happens. Kindness 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. Cultivating kindness is like that. It’s organic and natural.

In cultivating kindness we’re learning to be more empathetic and supportive toward ourselves and others. So how do we set up the conditions for doing this?

Jump to a section:

Part One: Cultivating Kindness

Part Two: Developing the Kindness Habit

The first thing is to become aware of how you actually are feeling just now. This is essential groundwork. You can only start from where you are.

Connecting With Our Feelings

If we go about trying to contact our feelings in the wrong way in our meditation practice, it can actually make it harder to feel them.

I remember once when I was leading a retreat, a young man came to me after a session of the Metta Bhavana looking rather worried, and said to me:

“You know, I got really upset during that last Metta Bhavana because I couldn’t work out how I was feeling.”

I said: “You were upset.”

He said: “So I was!” as if I’d just worked out something really hard.

It was odd, he told me how he had felt, but thought he didn’t know how he had felt. It was like he was looking for his emotions in the wrong place.

In Britain, where I come from, we have these Christmas stage shows called pantomimes. They’re really ritualized (which is part of the entertainment), and one of the rituals is that at some point the “baddie” (the Wolf, or the Sheriff of Nottingham, or whoever) is standing menacingly behind the hero. The hero asks something like: “I wonder where that big, bad wolf is?” and all the kids (and most of the adults, who enjoy these things just as much, but don’t want to admit it) shout, “Behind you! Behind you!”

The hero then turns round really, really slowly, but the baddie moves around behind him at just the same time. So the hero turns back to the audience (with the baddie moving round at the same time) and says “Where did you say he is?” And this goes on for a while.

Sometimes looking for our emotions is a bit like that. We make such a heavy-handed effort to find them that we’ll never catch a glimpse of them. To find emotions requires simply that we be receptive and open.

This kind of receptivity starts with body awareness (see the section on posture for more details). If we become more aware of our bodies and relax, then it’s much easier to be aware of those more subtle parts of ourselves like our feelings and emotions. Having soft eyes helps immensely. When the eyes are soft, relaxed, and a little defocused, it’s much easier for us to be open and receptive.

If you’re not sure how you feel, that’s not a big deal. Sometimes we just aren’t feeling very much, and being aware of that fact is perfectly OK. You can, however, ask yourself how you feel about not feeling anything. Are you comfortable and at ease with that? Are you anxious? How you feel about not feeling anything is how you’re actually feeling.

When I first started to meditate I sometimes wasn’t aware of how I was feeling, but I’d notice that my thoughts were angry or anxious, or whatever. And so by noticing my thoughts I could work out what I was feeling.

Emotional Awareness Exercise

Try this exercise, either by following the written instructions or by listening to the audio guide below:

  • Sit quietly, let your eyes be soft, and let your awareness connect with the sensations arising in your body
  • As best you can, let go of any tensions you notice
  • 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 you are feeling (good, bad, or even neutral) is fine. You can work with whatever is there, 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.
  • Lastly, gently bring yourself back to the outside world, beginning to move the body again, and finally letting the eyes gently open

Nurturing Seeds of Kindness

For the seeds of kindness to grow, they need soil and water. The soil is our awareness: we need to be aware of what we’re feeling in order to cultivate kindness. So while in the Mindfulness of Breathing practice our focus is on the physical sensations of the breath, in the Metta Bhavana practice our focus is on how we feel, and how we relate to others.

An awareness of our feelings helps nourish us so that kindness can flourish. As we stand back from our feelings in meditation — simply observing them — we find that reactive states like anxiety and annoyance begin to subside and that more wholesome states like patience and kindness begin to emerge.

There’s an intelligence inherent in the aware mind that recognizes that reactive emotions are fundamentally unsatisfactory and lead to suffering, and so energy is withdrawn from them. That same intelligence recognizes the fundamentally satisfying and enriching nature of skillful emotions such as kindness, and by dwelling upon kindness it strengthens it.

So awareness is the soil, but what is the rain? The rain is a variety of methods we can use to encourage the development of the seeds of metta. There are four main methods that I’ve found useful: using words, memories, creative imagination, and body memory.

We’ll look at each of these methods in turn. Some of them will work for you, and some probably won’t. It’s best to try a few methods and see which suit your personality. But make sure you give any method you try time to work. Like seeds germinating in response to water, your emotions may take time to begin unfolding in response to the method you choose.

1. Embodying Kindness

Often, the first thing I suggest when I’m leading people in a period of lovingkindness meditation is that they “sit with kindness.”

Sitting with kindness really means two things: 1. Sitting at ease, and 2. Sitting upright and open.

  1. Sitting at ease is the most obvious of these. If you’re being kind you don’t want to be holding yourself in a tense, rigid way. It’s not kind, for example, to force yourself into a cross-legged posture if that’s going to cause you pain. It’s not kind to hold yourself upright by sheer willpower in order to avoid slumping. What you ideally want is to find a way of sitting that’s comfortable for you, so that you can meditate without being constantly distracted by pain and aches. (Our Posture Workshop can help you with this.) And you want to notice unnecessary effort that you’re making in the body, and let go of that as best you can. Sitting with minimal effort is ideal.
  2. The other part — sitting upright and open — is less obvious. In fact you might think that if it’s kind to be at ease, you should lie down to meditate. The thing is, though, that if you’re really being kind to yourself then you have your own long-term happiness and well-being in mind. And while lying down helps you be relaxed, it doesn’t help you to have the kind of attentive mindfulness you need in order to meditate. Lying down to meditate promotes sleep, as anyone who’s done shavasana (corpse pose) in a yoga class will know. If you haven’t fallen asleep yourself while doing this at the end of a class, you’ll certainly be familiar with being surrounded by a chorus of snoring yogis!

The way you hold your body has a huge effect on the way you experience yourself. If you slump you’ll tend to feel sleepy, and eventually you’ll feel depressed. When you slump, your chest sinks in, your shoulders fall, and your chin moves towards your chest. The flow of your breath is restricted and your body and brain cannot function effectively. When your posture is like this it’s virtually impossible to be anything but depressed, and when you’re in this slumped, hopeless state, then it’s very hard to feel good about yourself.

Conversely, when your body is sitting upright, but relaxed, with your chest out and your shoulders back, and your head held high, then it’s much easier to feel good about yourself. It’s much easier to feel strong, and confident, and capable, and in fact it’s hard not to feel confidence when the body is sitting in this way. The breath is able to flow freely and the body seems to be alive with energy.

All of this can be summed up with the idea of sitting with dignity. A dignified posture is one while is upright and open, and also relaxed and at ease.

In a way our bodies have memories. If you remembering a time you felt confident and kind and recall exactly how your body felt at that time, you’ll find that kindness naturally arises.

Your posture, in fact, is a tool you can use at any time in order to feel kinder and more confident.

2. Kind Eyes

One of the simplest and most effective ways of connecting with our innate kindness is something I’ve borrowed from Jan Chozen Bays’ lovely book, “How to Train a Wild Elephant.” It’s an exercise she calls “loving eyes.”

She wrote:

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 at the beginning of your meditation, you can 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. Notice how you feel around your eyes and around your heart.

The sense of care, and appreciation, and non-judgement evoked in this way is transferable, so once you’ve evoked a loving gaze you can turn that sense of looking lovingly upon your own being.

You can kindly observe your breathing, for example, aware of this fragile human body as it takes care of itself with every in-breath and out-breath. You can be aware in a kindly way not just of the breathing, but of feelings (even painful ones), thoughts, and the mind itself. Regard them all with affection.

This practice, I find, is a very quick way to help a sense of kindness to emerge. And the body loves being loved! As mammals, we respond strongly to being touched or seen with genuine love. As you look with kindness upon your own body, you’ll often find that it responds by relaxing and by releasing feelings of pleasure.

Give this a try, both in your sitting practice and as you go about your daily life. You can start right now, as your eyes scan the words in front of you. Look with love. And then turn that loving gaze upon your own being. Then, carry that loving gaze into your next activity.

3. Reflecting Empathetically

I’ve found it very powerful to spend time in meditation reflecting on the situation we find ourselves in as human beings. So you could try doing the following right now:

  • Spend a minute or two first of all connecting with your breathing
  • It will help if you start with the “kind eyes” exercise above, and regard your breathing, and anything else you’re aware of, with kindness.
  • Take on board that you are a feeling being — that you feel pleasure and pain, happiness and suffering, and that your feelings are important to you. You prefer pleasure to pain, happiness to suffering. To check this out in your experience, remember times you’ve been unhappy and times you’ve been happy, and let yourself recognize which is preferable. Really feel this.
  • Let yourself take on board that life is complicated, confusing, and hard to navigate. You don’t experience as much happiness and ease as you’d like to, and you experience more suffering than you prefer. And this is not a failing on your part, but just what it’s like to be human. We’re all fighting a hard battle.
  • Having recognized all this, offer yourself some support and encouragement. Regard yourself with kind eyes. Say to yourself, “I care about you and want you to be happy. May you be well. May you be at peace.”
  • Finally, choose one other person and recognize that everything above applies to them as well. Spend a moment wishing them well, too.

This way of reflecting on the human condition helps us to connect empathetically with ourselves. Instead of thinking that we’re failing when we’re unhappy, we come to see that we’re simply facing the inherent difficulties of being human. Instead of thinking that we need to be criticized for not being happy enough, we come to see that we need and deserve our own support. Kindness is now more likely to arise naturally.

And this empathetic reflection becomes the basis for having kindness toward others as well. Others, whether friends, enemies, or strangers, are in exactly the same situation as we are. Their suffering is just as real to them as ours is to us. Their happiness is as real to them as our own is to us. They’re equally struggling, and equally deserving of our support: one struggling being to another.

Just one more thing: sometimes reflecting on “this difficult thing of being human” (the title of one of my books) can bring up heartache or sadness. This is normal. It’s not a sign that there’s anything wrong with the technique. It’s certainly not a sign that there’s anything wrong with you! It’s just something that happens sometimes when we recognize that life can be difficult. The thing to do in the case of painful feeling arising is to regard them with kindly eyes, and to talk to them (see below) in a kind, supportive, loving way. What’s happening as you experience sadness or heartache is that some part of you is saying that it needs support. So give it the empathy and kindness it needs.

4. Using Words or Phrases

Using phrases is the classic method of doing the Metta Bhavana practice, and in fact I touched on this approach in the previous section.

I use this method more often than any other. There is no limit to the words or phrases you can use. Phrases for the first stage (cultivating kindness toward ourselves) could be things like “May I be well. May I be at peace. May I be kind to myself and others.”

Other phrases can be used, though. Please note that these aren’t “affirmations.” You’re not saying “I am well, I am at peace, I am kind to myself and others.” Studies have shown that for many people affirmations such as those actually make people feel worse, because on some level they know they’re lying to themselves.

So the form of the phrases is, “May I be…”

You could say things like:

  • May I be at ease
  • May I be free from suffering
  • May I be safe from danger
  • May I feel strong and confident
  • May I be well in body and mind
  • May I be healthy

Often I’ll use the second person “you” when talking to myself. You might want to try that and see if it works for you.

Above I suggested “may I be kind to myself and others.” I like to include that particular phrase because it’s helpful if we remind ourselves that the purpose of the practice is to cultivate kindness.

Three is a nice number or phrases to repeat. Any more and it can be stressful to bear them all in mind.

Leave time between each repetition of the phrases so that you have time to absorb the effect of the words. I often fit the phrases in with the rhythm of my breath. Often what I do is the following”

  • Say “May I be well” on one out-breath.
  • Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, observing the heart.
  • Say “May I be at peace” on an out-breath.
  • Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, again observing the heart.
  • Say “May I be kind to myself and others.”
  • Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, observing what’s happening in the heart.

It’s helpful to say the phrases to yourself as if you mean them.

When you’re thinking these words, you’re being active. You’re talking to the heart. When you’re listening for the effect they’re having then you’re being receptive. You’re listening to the heart. This practice needs you to be both active and receptive — actively working on cultivating kindness, and receptively watching what effect your actions are having.

Without those “silent breaths” where you’re observing the effects of the phrases, you’re likely to feel that you’re bombarding yourself with words. And you won’t be giving yourself the time and space you need to stay in touch with your felt experience, and so will lose touch with it

On the other hand, if you leave very long gaps between phrases you might find that you get distracted a lot. So choose a pace that’s most appropriate for you.

You also don’t have to use a phrase. You can just repeat a word like “love,” or “kindness,” or “gentle,” or “patience.”

Mixing and Matching

The tools outlined above are all powerful ways of helping to set up the conditions for kindness to arise. They’re even more powerful when they’re combined.

I’ve laid them out in the order that I usually use them and introduce them in guided meditations.

So first I aim to embody kindness by remembering what it’s like to sit with kindness.

Then I recall an experience of looking with love, and then bring the feelings that arise in and around my eyes into the way I’m regarding my own being.

Then I’ll connect with myself empathetically, reminding myself that I’m a feeling being, that I’m doing a difficult thing in being human, and that I can be my own source of support.

Finally I’ll offer myself the support and encouragement I need in the form of phrases such as “May you be well. May you be as ease. May you be kind to yourself and others.”

Of course I continue to sit with kindness and to regard myself with kind, loving eyes as I’m doing this.

I do something very similar when it comes to wishing others well, too. I’m call them to mind and regard them with loving eyes. And I’ll remind myself that they, just like me, are a feeling being, that they too are doing a difficult thing in being human, and that they, just like me, need support and encouragement. And then the phrases (and continued kindly regard) become my way of offering those things: “May you be well. May you be as ease. May you be kind to yourself and others.”

This might just be a personal preference, and because it works for me it won’t necessarily be the most appropriate method for you, although as my teaching has developed over the years I’ve found this approach to be helpful for most people. But try out several methods — including others, perhaps, that I haven’t included here, and see which work for you and which don’t.

Part Two: Developing the Kindness Habit

Kindness Is a River

Rivers create their own valleys. Water flowing over rock and soil cuts channels, which grow deeper with every passing year. The contours of the channel then define the course of the river. The river creates the banks, and the banks create the river.

Similarly, our thoughts and emotions condition each other. They become habits. Our emotions give rise to thought, and our thoughts reinforce our emotions.

For example, when we’re in an irritable mood, our thoughts tend to find fault. The sense of being surrounded by faults reinforces our irritability. Our irritability makes us ignore good things that are happening around us, and causes us to focus on what we don’t like. So our emotions shape our thoughts (the river bank), and our thoughts influence our emotions (the river). It’s disturbingly circular.

How do we ever escape from a mood once we get into it? It seems that some people never do. I’m sure you’ve seen elderly people whose faces have fixed in a mask of disapproval and resentment. They’ve spend their lives conditioning themselves to find fault in everything. As a result they’ve conditioned themselves to be unhappy and unloving.

Fortunately there are influences on our emotions that we have a certain amount of control over. What a relief! This means that we can act to change our emotional states and escape from the kinds of ruts in which we sometimes get stuck.

More good news is that kindness too can become a more deeply worn habit. With practice, the parts of our brain to do with empathy, warmth, and compassion become more active and even expand in volume. And so lovingkindness meditation is not just about temporarily inducing a kinder state of mind. It’s about changing our brains so that kindness more and more becomes our default response in every situation.

There are several influences you can choose, that help you to be kinder:

  • Your environment
  • Your body
  • Your thoughts
  • Your decisions
  • Your communication

We can use each of these in our meditation practice in order to help us break old emotional habits and to develop greater positive emotion.

It’s tremendously encouraging when we realize that we’re able to change how we feel. No longer do we have to be victims of our own emotional responses. No longer do we have to be compelled to repeat old and unhelpful patterns of feeling and action. With mindfulness — and with the tools for change that lovingkindness meditation offers us — we become happier and freer.

Developing the Kindness Habit Via Your Environment

Our environment has a strong effect on how we feel. I notice that an untidy living space makes me feel bad about myself. And feeling bad about myself leads me to think that spending time tidying the space I live in is time wasted — after all I’m not that important (getting things done is the important thing. Conversely, when I spend time tidying up and cleaning my living space, I feel happier. So simply making a change in your environment is both a way of showing yourself kindness and a way of developing kindness.

If you’re in an emotional rut you can take a walk in the park, or in the woods, or take a hike in the hills, or take a different route to work. You can eat your lunch somewhere new, or go to a new coffee shop. These little things can help to shift a settled mood.

When you meditate, you can make your environment supportive of your efforts to develop kindness by creating a beautiful space to practice in. You can make an altar that is both pleasing and expresses your ideals. Candles, incense, flowers, and images that are meaningful for you can all help to create a sense of calmness and uplift. You don’t have to use Buddhist images of course. You can use images from nature, or pictures of figures that inspire you.

Developing the Kindness Habit, With the Body

How you hold your body has a big effect on how you feel. When you’re depressed or feeling defeated, you collapse. Your chest caves in, your shoulders slump forward, and you end up staring at the ground in front of you because your chin is coming down to meet your chest. And when you hold your body like that it’s almost impossible to feel happy or at ease. When you’re anxious, you might well find that you shrink, so that you’re physically taking up less space. You might wrap your arms around yourself or otherwise hold them close to your body in a protective posture.

On the contrary when you feel strong and positive and confident you have your chest open, your shoulder back, and you look the world right in the eye. When you’re feeling confident you do the opposite of shrinking. You take up more space.

The really important thing about this is that it works the other way around as well. If you consciously change your body’s posture, you’ll change the way you feel. Having a more upright and open posture helps you to develop confidence and feel good about yourself.

This is one of the reasons why posture is so important in meditation. It’s not just a matter of being comfortable — you’re working directly on your mind through your body.

So if you struggle with being kind to yourself, and tend to get stuck is depressive states where you don’t value yourself or think that other people don’t value you, your posture is an easy place to start changing things. Keep noticing when you’re slumping and shrinking into yourself, and make a gentle effort to open up and take up more space. Take up more space with your arms, moving them a little away from the body. take up more space with your legs, for example standing with your feet apart. Make sure that your back is straight and that your chest is open so that you can breathe freely.

Studies show that just a few minutes of a more upright, open, and expansive posture can help you feel better about yourself and act in ways that show more self-confidence. This is very good news if you want to move from being down on yourself to being kind to yourself.

Developing the Kindness Habit Through Your Thinking

What and how you think has an effect on how you feel about yourself. If you’re constantly criticizing yourself, or finding fault with the world around you, you’re going to feel unhappy. If you have thoughts that are more forgiving, kind, and appreciative, then you’re going to be much more at ease with yourself.

Fortunately we have some degree of choice about what we think about. This is largely the basis of the Metta Bhavana practice, where we encourage the conscious development of thoughts such as “May I be well” that will give rise to kindness and feelings of wellbeing. If nothing else, while we’re saying things to ourselves like “May I be well,” we’re not indulging in self-criticism, worry, and so on. The lovingkindness phrases prevent the mind from doing so much negative thinking. But these thoughts have a positive effect as well. In wishing ourselves well we start to feel kinder toward ourselves.

We can of course do this outside of meditation as well. In fact since we spend far more time not meditating than we could ever spend in meditation, it’s particularly important to learn to recognize when we’re engaging in unkind thoughts. If you find yourself being self-critical (“Oh no, I messed up again. What an idiot I am!”) you can come back to the body instead of continuing with the criticism. You can turn your thoughts around so that they move in a more patient and kind way. How might you respond to a friend who said aloud, “Oh no, I messed up again. What an idiot I am!”? You might point out that everyone makes mistakes. You might suggest that in the great scheme of things the mistake they made doesn’t matter very much (will anyone care in 100 years?). You might suggest that it’s more important for them to look at what they can learn from their mistake.

So you can do this with yourself as well. Treat yourself as a friend. Talk to yourself as you would a friend. And do it in a kind, encouraging, friendly tone of voice, in contrast to the harshness and sarcasm of the way you criticize yourself.

Mindfulness helps us to observe how we’re thinking and how it makes us feel. As we begin to pay more attention to this relationship, we start to see how often we indulge in thoughts that make us unhappy by generating anxiety, ill will, feelings of powerlessness, etc. And that give us more choice and freedom. It gives us the choice to be kind. It gives us the freedom to let go of thinking that diminishes our sense of well-being.

Each time we decide to let go of a thought that we know to be unhelpful we make a small change in our habitual way of being. These changes actually shape the brain, helping us to create and reinforce neural pathways of kindness and patience. Each change is small, but we can make hundreds or thousands of such changes every day.

These thousands of small changes, over time, create a huge change in our emotional life. Watch the stories you tell yourself. And ask, are they helpful? If they’re not, then change them.

Just keep coming back to the question: “Am I being kind to myself and others right now?”

Developing the Kindness Habit by Choosing Your Attitudes

At every moment of your existence — any moment in which you are mindful, that is — you have some degree of choice about how you relate to yourself and the world.

When I find myself unhappy, one of the things I often do is to ask a simple question: “Is there anything you’re doing right now that’s inhibiting your well-being?” And I’ll simply check out my whole being — body, heart, mind — and see what’s going on.

Maybe there will be some tension in the body or find that I’m slumping (if sitting) or rushing forward (if walking). Or I’ll find I’ve been emotionally pushing back against something, or emotionally clinging to something I want. Or I’ll find that my thoughts are irritable or anxious.

And then I’ll just let go of anything I’ve been doing that it’s helpful in that moment. All of those little things I do that inhibit my sense of well-being are forms of unkindness, either toward myself or to others.

Immediately I’ll feel a lightening, and be more at ease.

And then it’s possible to let more gentleness, patience, and kindness arise through simple things: taking a full deep breath and then letting go; smiling; connecting with the heart; remembering what it feels like to be kind; offering a few words of reassurance (“It’s okay. It’s okay not to feel good. We can deal with this.”)

In any moment of our lives, there’s a choice between being kind or unkind. Moment by moment we can learn to make kindness a habit.

Developing the Kindness Habit Through Connection

You’re a feeling being: someone who feels, and for whom feelings are important.

So is everyone else. You’re just like them. They’re just like you.

Your feelings are real to you, and there’s a big difference between being happy and unhappy.

The same is true for everyone else. Their feelings are as real to them as yours are to you. Their joys and sorrows are just as vivid to them as yours are to you.

All things considered, you prefer happiness, ease, and peace to misery, turmoil, and conflict.

So does everyone else. You’re just like them. They’re just like you.

Your deepest desire is to be at peace and to escape suffering.

This is every being’s deepest desire.

You’re doing a difficult thing in being human, going through life desiring happiness but all too often suffering in one way or another.

So is everyone else. We’re all doing a difficult thing in being human. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

So every time you’re talking to someone, watching them, or even just thinking about them, bear this simple thought in mind: “This person’s feelings are real to them, just as mine are to me. Let me remember that so that I can support their well-being.”

That simple empathetic perspective can begin to create a habit of empathy that will transform your relationship with others, and with yourself.

It’ll take time. It’ll take practice. But it will change you in ways you can’t imagine.

What’s Next?

If you’ve been reading about these ways to cultivate kindness, you really should try the meditation practice, starting by cultivating kindness toward yourself.

39 Comments. Leave new

  • “You can only start from where you are.”

    This one concept helped me immensely in cultivating metta.

    Brilliantly simple.

  • I agree completely — I felt the same way, hearing those words.

  • I have just listened to your emotional awareness exercise. During the exercise I felt sorrow in my heart area that I didn’t know was there. What do I do now? Just continue with the exercise daily and see what happens do I just observe it. I have only just moved on from the mindfulness of breathing meditation.

    • I’d suggest that sorrow, while not exactly pleasant, is often actually a positive emotion. I see it as the heart-feeling we have when we’re separated from something we love and appreciate, and so it’s a reflex of love in much the same way that compassion is the reflex that appears when love meets suffering. I think it’s something to be accepted and valued. I don’t think we need to do anything with it – we don’t need to make it go away and we certainly don’t need to indulge in it. We just need to experience it while it’s there. Like all experiences, it will pass in time. I think we can, if we want, send thoughts of lovingkindness to our sorrow – you might want to dip into the lovingkindness section of the site to get a better idea of what that means.

  • If it is true that our emotions are all equally valid, then bringing them to the consciousness of metta can only be a good thing. So whatever emotions one is experiencing when the heart opens and the unexpected occurs, can we simply introduce these emotions to lovingkindness and help them to heal? I know fear and love cannot live together, so if we give love to our fears, can we begin to feel Buddha’s healing power? Lovingkindness to me would be a way of life, of being, as close to all the time and with every breath as we can get, but anger overtakes me sometimes, and I have to breathe and sit in meditation to find my loving center again. Yes?

  • Hi Tara,

    You’re exactly right. In the end, all we have to do is to embrace all “difficult” emotions with mindfulness and lovingkindness and they will heal themselves.

  • I feel fear and panic and the image of a little girl sitting in a corner hugging her knees looking scared and alone (me as a child). I think this is very relevant to the problems I am experiencing in my marriage currently. Comments that I (and most people would) find hurtful are magnified as they echo my previous circumstances and I then feel panic that I shouldn’t ‘put up with this’ as I am acting as a victim again.
    I am sending love to my inner child and we are going for couples counselling to try to change the pattern without any blame.

  • Hi Sue,

    I’m sorry to hear about the difficulties you’ve been experiencing in your marriage. When I experience the kind of imagery you’re describing, I take it to be a part of myself that I’m seeing as a separate person because I’ve not been fully acknowledging those feelings. So it’s very good that the image of the scared younger you has come into consciousness and that you’re sending her lovingkindness. May you all be well, happy, and free from suffering.

  • Thank you for your kind words and thoughts.
    I too see it as a positive thing and would prefer to be brave and move forwards than stay ‘stuck’.
    Luckily I have a husband who is willing to come on the journey with me despite it being well out of his comfort zone.

  • Good for both of you. When we run from fear we avoid growth. When we turn to face our fear we’re already growing.

  • Sue – thank-you for sharing this. I have also gone through a difficult childhood and have found that my relationships now suffere
    The imagery you described is very close to what I have visualized and the emotions you described is what I have been feeling
    but not acknowledging. Your note has helped me embrace those emotions and start understanding my hypersensitivity and
    pain that comes from what other’s would experience as minor incidents. In the past I have blamed the other person for making
    me feel this way and just like you I have vowed never to feel like that or let someone abuse me again. Your words are helping me
    move forward from this and I’m currently working through the resentment and pain that has build up over the years. Thank-you so
    much for sharing and helping others.

  • I like your site, but many people will not install Real player, I have been trying for 20 minutes to find a way to listen to the audio with out installing Real player.

    • Sorry for the inconvenience!. Normally RealPlayer’s not necessary, since we have a flash plugin that plays the guided meditations. But, alas, the plugin stopped working and the developer has not yet suggested a solution or fixed it. We’ve replaced some of the meditations with the aid of YouTube, but putting that together takes time.

  • might i suggest the realplayer alternative codec which includes a browser plugin. it can be downloaded here for free https://www.free-codecs.com/download/real_alternative.htm

    i’m so very glad i happened across this site. i’ve been trying to meditate and deal with many of life’s problems past and present and to rediscover, and essentially reconnect with my inner self, for the good of self and others. unfortunately, most of the material i’ve read was generally confusing and left me even more so, with little care given to the important details you have so extensively and thoughtfully covered.. thank you again for providing an invaluable resource and for being so open with this knowledge.

  • Hi Ciaran,

    Thanks for your kind comments. I’m only too happy to share what I’ve learned.

    The plugin sounds useful — it seems to be Windows-only, though. I created those files on very primitive equipment a long time ago when RealPlayer was the only viable format. I’ve long planned to update them all, but the business of making a living keeps getting in the way!

  • Thank you for this site. I’ve been practicing insight meditation only for a few short months, and have just recently been introduced to the concept of metta. In my first metta meditation the other day, I discovered that extending metta towards others near and far from me is not hard, but I am having exceptional difficulty with the first part: loving/forgiving/having compassion for myself. It was a surprisingly painful discovery. What would you recommend for a new practitioner who would like to develop (uncover?) metta towards oneself?

  • Hi, “Searching.”

    I’m sure I wrote about this somewhere on the site, but I’m not sure where… At one time I had a big problem with self-hatred. To deal with this I came up with a special form of the metta bhavana, where all of the first four stages were ways of cultivating self-metta. The first stage was as normal. In the second stage I called to mind specific aspects of myself that I liked. I’d name them, and wish them well. In the third stage I’d call to mind qualities that I thought I hadn’t yet developed, and wished them well. In the fourth stage I thought of aspects of myself that I didn’t like, and wished them well. The final stage was as normal. For a long time — perhaps a year or so — this was the only form of the metta bhavana that I did. I found it very effective.

    These days I often identify some aspect of myself that I think needs lovingkindness. For example whenever there’s any negative emotion present, I’ll look for the underlying sense of hurt, and wish it well. I also find that to be very effective.

    It can be very useful as well to think very specifically about what being “well” or “happy” means for you. So think specifically about what’s going on in your life and use that as a phrase. So something like “May I have compassion for myself” reflects a very specific need you have, and is more likely to be meaningful to you than a generic “may I be happy.”

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,

    Firstly thank you for your CD Meditations for Busy people – it has really helped me focus on relaxing when i’ve been quite stressed out in the past.

    I have recently (this week) done your Emotional Awareness exercise and have been really emotional as a result – i haven’t cried much or felt emotional about anything for a few years and have found it all a bit surprising. I have been feeling extremely vulnerable, but content at the same time – a strange combination i think…

    I will continue with the excercises and meditation, but can you suggest how i will regain control of my emotions? or what the process might be.

    Many thanks.

  • Hi, Shelley.

    Really the answer to the situation you’re in is mainly more mindfulness, which leads to an experience of equanimity. This means that we learn to accept our experience without trying to escape it. Even when experiences are painful, we learn just to be with them, and to accept them.

    I don’t know what kinds of meditation you’re familiar with, but lovingkindness meditation can also be very helpful in relating to painful experiences, so that we can appreciate them and even welcome them.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,

    Yesterday, I became aware of how much I truly hated myself and have endured much suffering because of it.

    I decided that enough was enough and was tired of being sick and tired of the shame that kept me from many wonderful things in life. So, after coming across your site and discovering what I felt would help me reverse this situation I purchased the “Guided Meditations for Calmness, Awareness, and Love” mp3 album.

    I made some time before I went to bed to listen and found them very helpful and, literally, mindblowing. I don’t know how I am supposed to do them. One track a day or what but I listened and did the first two and man I had an amazing experience that lasted past the 40 minutes that the two tracks take up.

    Anyway, I had such an outpouring of emotion that I found painful and exhilerating atll at the same time. Both were profoundly deep. I felt the intense pain of shame and then after about an hour of that I found wells of joy and merriment exuding from my deepest being. It was absolutely powerful. Afterwards, found myself calling up faces of people from my past that I expressed a wish for wellbeing, happiness, and freedom from suffering. It was a powerful experience for me that left me feeling light and deeply authentic for the first time in my life.

    After about three hours of this intense activity, I went back inside to my home and slept like a baby.

    I actually feel optimistic about myself and my future. I am feeling much more grounded and open to cultivating more of this lovingkindness for the benefit of myself and others around me.

    I slept so well last night that I actually woke up this morning without the nagging feeling of pain that I used to feel in my belly upon waking.

    I hope to continue to practice this meditation and make it a part of my beautiful life.

    There is still so much more I could share about this one experience but I just wanted to take the time and express my gratitude to you for making this recording and making it available to the world. Clearly, an expression of loving kindness.

    Thank You and peace and wellbeing to you.

  • Hi Daniel,

    I can’t tell you how much it pleased me to hear your story. May you continue to grow in happiness and compassion.

    All the best,

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,

    Thanks for your post in response to my post. I’ve been doing the lovingkindness and breathing meditations and feeling like I am getting some good results.

    But, I was wondering about something I have been noticing that has been happening lately. It seems that I am becoming more and more impatient and “checked out” from my interactions with the world and people around me. Where I once was, seemingly, attentive to others, I know seem to have a “I don’t care” attitude. This is surprising to me.

    Do you have any idea as to why this may be happening? Am I really a selfish, bastard underneath? I would appreciate any direction and insight you can share with me about this.


  • Hi, Daniel.

    Well, it could be that in the past there was some ulterior motive for your paying attention to people, such as wanting to be liked, or fearing them in some way. And if those reasons for paying attention to people are gone, you need to find new reasons.

    In general, I’d encourage you to delight in the small things in life. Every moment is precious and unrepeatable. Every person is a work in progress, struggling (often blindly) to find happiness in an unstable world. Sometimes (often, in fact) we lose touch with this and the world seems irritating or boring.

    Also, try taking your lovingkindness practice into daily life. As you drive, or walk, or sit on the bus, or have lunch, or as you pause at your work — in everything you do, at least some of the time — repeat the metta phrases and direct them to the people around you. The world can start to seem like a tender place.

  • Thank you.

  • Just to say a few words about appreciating the small things in life. It’s important just to slow down, to look, and listen, and to pay attention to one thing at a time (some of the time, anyway). Doing this several times a day will have a definite effect on the quality of your experience.

    It can also be good to have a “gatha” (verse, or phrase) that you can repeat in order to help evoke a sense of appreciation. Thich Nhat Hanh is very good at this sort of thing, with gathas like “In, out; deep, slow; calm, ease; smile, release; present moment, wonderful moment.”

    I’d be very interested to hear how you get on, and I would love it if you would give us an update in a few days.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,

    Things have seemed to normalized a bit. I think you were right about how, perhaps, I had ulterior motives for caring in the past. I remember at one point just saying out loud that “I don’t care” with regards to someone talking to me about their problems. I became aware of the fact that I truly was not concerned with the things happening to others. I had no control over what they were dealing with and them telling me about it wasn’t going to make any difference. I have my life to live and have enough troubles of my own. That was the “true” feeling that I had.

    After some reflection on this state of affairs, I am starting to measure out my concern. I am becoming aware to the fact that I am not responsible for every bit of suffering going on around me. Plus, why should I be. That is not to say that I am not concerned or aware of the fact that those people may be suffering but I am becoming aware of the fact that it isn’t my responsibility to make it right or to be at it’s beck and call. I don’t know if this is making any sense.

    Anyway, I have decided that I choose how I parcel out my compassion and not be reactive to the world and people around me. I cannot “fix” everything nor should I worry that I cannot. There are many people around me who are more capable, and intelligent enough to take care of those issues. When I did this, my attitude changed and I feel much better about myself and I realized that I am just like everybody else. I am not a savior to anyone. I have needs that need satisfying just like everybody else and it’s okay to say so.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is that I’m truly becoming aware of the fact that I am, indeed, human. Wow, imagine that. I don’t have to care about other people’s concerns. I can live my own life and that is okay. At times I feel like a selfish bastard but I have to remind myself that it is okay because this is my authentic self and not the deceptive self that I was presenting to others previously.

    I know that I am a work in progress and that the path is difficult and sometimes easy but, either way, I am much more happier and content with who I am discovering as being me.

    Hope this all makes sense. Your thoughts on my experience would be appreciated.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,

    i’ve been keeping a fairly regular practice of meditation and i’ve been noticing something that keeps coming up during my sessions. Sometimes as I relax and focus on my breathing, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I will start to giggle and just feel silly and playful. Out of all this I have been able to get some insights on other things that I noticed that need work on but I have noticed that I am much more humorous and playful with others in my regular life. All in all, I am feeling much more calm and serene in my everyday life. I still feel the stresses of life but now, instead of reacting and resisting, I notice what I feel and how it affects me and I just go with it and try to listen to my body as to what I need to do to ride it out and “be with it”.
    Anyway, that’s what I’m currently dealing with. Hope all is well.

  • […] I cobbled together the exercise below after reading the information found on the Buddhanet.net and Wildmind.org sites.  I’m not a practicing Buddhist by any means nor do I have any training.   Go read […]

  • Is there a reason why I cannot access the audio on these pages? S son as I click on the player it disappears. I am finding the written info very helpful though thank you.

  • Hi,
    For what it’s worth, I too am unable to play the audio files, they disappear when I click on them.

    I’m using a Mac with Firefox (up to date) and Snow Leopard. When I click on the link to play the file it disappears, when I reload the page it returns but then it goes away when I click on it again. It doesn’t tell me that I need a missing plug-in, etc, in order to access them.

    I’m going to try and use a different browser, Chrome because it uses a different Flash player than Firefox or Safari. I’ll let you know if that works.

  • This is interesting. I am able to access the audio meditations on this site with Chrome but not with Firefox. And yet with I’m able to access DIY Dharma Audio files using Firefox but not with Chrome.

    Huh! Don’t you just love modern technology. ;-) Though it really doesn’t surprise me with all the updates and problems with Adobe Flash Player and Java.

    I hope this help someone else access the files. Chrome works, at least for me.

    • Thanks for this. It’s a WordPress plugin issue, but I haven’t had time to investigate it yet…

  • During the emotional awareness exercise, I noticed a frightening face. However, later when I smiled I experienced an extreme sense of euphoria (almost as if I was floating?). What does this mean?

    • It’s not uncommon for dream-like imagery to arise in meditation, Ray, and I don’t think it actually means anything.

      Your question about what this all “means” suggests a kind of grasping after spiritual results, and I suspect that you’re pouncing on happiness when it arises, getting excited about it, and building it into something euphoric. Euphoria is a kind of excitement at feeling joy, which is not what we’re after. Try just to let things arise more naturally, without grasping after change. When joy appears, see if you can find a way to just let it be, and accept it for what it is.

      We’ve all been there :)

  • Hi I have just come across your web site. I have returned to my meditation after a long absense and find strong emotions popping up such as grief (i think its that) It wont stop me practising though. I just love your audio as usually I do a Mantra as in the Cloud of unknowing. I will also follow the one on your audio as I found your voice just right , it was great. thank you.

    • Hi, Lilias.

      I have some suggestions here for dealing with grief. Why not read (and practice) that and then let me know how you get on.

      All the best,

  • Hi there,
    I too just stumbled on it after looking for some guidance on metta. For many years I have been struggling with self confidence and fear and am now trying to get a handle on it. I figured becoming friends with myself would be a good start. Any other suggestions would be very welcome……it’s a bit of a journey for me

    Thanks for your care


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