Stage 1 – Cultivating kindness toward yourself

The metta bhavana practice (bhavana means “developing,” while metta means “kindness”) is a form of meditation in which we learn to be kinder to ourselves and others. It begins with cultivating self-kindness. Being kinder to ourselves means being understanding of our weaknesses, appreciative of our strengths, forgiving of our errors, and supportive to ourselves as we go through difficulties.

Learning to be kinder to ourselves also involves learning to see all the ways we are unkind to ourselves, through being over-critical or perfectionist, and learning to undo those habits.

Various ways that we can cultivate kindness in meditation are described on a page called Ways to Cultivate Kindness In Meditation. You might find it helpful to explore those methods before reading further here. Or you might want to just plunge in below.

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Quick Start: Guided Meditation 1

How to Do the First Stage of the Lovingkindness Practice

In the first stage of the practice, set up your posture and sit with kindness, as best you can letting the body be relaxed and at ease, and letting go of unnecessary tensions.

At the same time let the body’s posture be upright, open, and confident. Both the qualities of relaxation and the qualities of uprightness are important supports for our long-term happiness and well-being.

A word that sums this up is dignity. So see if you can sit with a sense of poise and dignity.

Now, let the muscles around the eyes soften, and let the focus in the eyes be soft, almost as if your eyes were slightly out of focus.

And remember a time when you looked with love. You may have looked with love at a beloved child, or a partner, a friend, or even a pet. As you recall this experience, notice the sensations that arise in and around the eyes. Perhaps they are sensations of warmth, softness, tenderness, or cherishing. Let those feelings become established as you continue to recall this memory.

Now, begin to turn your attention back toward your own body, and the feelings it contains, and notice how those feelings of tenderness, warmth, and kindness in your physical sense of vision also pervade your inner awareness of yourself, so that you can observe with kindness everything that’s arising within you.

Allow yourself to settle into an awareness of the sensations arising in your body, including the rise and fall of your breathing, the beating of your heart, and the contact your body is making with your seat, the floor, and your clothing.

Now, become aware of how you are feeling. What is the feeling-tone of your overall experience? Are you at ease, or are there signs of emotional tension, stress, or turmoil? Are there specific feelings arising in the heart, solar plexus, or gut? You don’t necessarily have to label these feelings, just be aware they are there.

Recognize that you are a feeling being — that your feelings of well-being and suffering are important to you.

Also recall that you’re doing a difficult thing in being human, and wish yourself well by saying:

“May you be well. May you be at ease. May you be kind to yourself and others.”

Continue wishing yourself well, practicing self-kindness for a few minutes, and then gently allow your awareness to return to the outside world again, letting the body begin to move and the eyes to open.

Being Kind to Yourself

self-kindness through touch

Friendship with one’s self is all important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.
—Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt expresses a psychological truth that the Buddhist tradition has upheld for two and a half millennia — that our attitude towards ourselves conditions our attitude towards others. It’s for that reason that in the development of lovingkindness meditation practice we begin by cultivating metta first for ourselves. Self-kindness leads to kindness for others.

The Dalai Lama expressed something similar when he said the following:

We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.

Cultivating kindness toward ourselves is therefore not something we do for ourselves only. It’s imperative that we learn to be kind to ourselves if we are to learn not to inflict our inner conflicts on others, and instead be kind, compassionate, appreciative, and supportive of them.

This is why the meditation practice for developing kindness begins with ourselves.

Exploring Stage One

I suggest learning this meditation practice one stage at a time, spending some time learning to cultivate self-kindness before moving on. After all, there’s no hurry. This website is not going to go away.

Sometimes people assume that learning a skill is same as learning information. Much of what we learn in school is information — facts that we memorize and recall. We’ve all no doubt had the experience of “cramming” before an exam and forcing ourselves to read and recall (with varying degrees of success) large amounts of information. Often we forget that information as soon as the exam’s over, but it is possible to learn a large amount of information in a short period of time.

But that doesn’t translate when it comes to learning the skills of meditation. Skills take practice. Meditation involves unlearning old habits and training the mind to work in a different way. This takes time.

So why not spend a few days just exploring Stage One for just five to ten minutes? You might even want to do it for short periods more than once a day — the more often you do it, the more effect it will have.

Listening to the guided meditations will support you in developing a regular practice and help you develop the skills of being kinder to yourself.

You can also explore some of the sections of this page. They will give you valuable information about the first stage of the practice.

Guided Meditation 2 (On Self-Kindness)

You can listen to an MP3 guided meditation that will lead you through this stage of the practice by clicking on the player below:

What’s Supposed to Happen?

Think of it like this. Every thought you have has an effect on how you feel. Those effects are often subtle, so one thought may have very little perceptible effect. But thoughts are like drips of water falling on stone. Over time they carve deep channels. So the effects of all these thoughts, even if they seem barely perceptible , are cumulative. Over time our thoughts strongly affect our habits, our behavior, and our personalities.

Most of the time we’re not even particularly conscious of what we’re thinking, never mind what effect it has on our emotions and attitudes. This is why also doing the other main meditation practice we teach on this site — the Mindfulness of Breathing — is so important. We need mindfulness so that we can learn to observe how our mind works — how, for example, thoughts and emotions arise and affect each other. Does our thinking lead to kindness (and self-kindness) or to unkindness toward others and ourselves? These are the kinds of channels the dripping water of our thoughts forms.

In the Metta Bhavana meditation practice we consciously aim to create neural pathways and habits of kindness. We consciously tap into the power of words, phrases, images, and memories to reinforce our innate kindness and to help us to let go of unkind ways of thinking and acting.

This has the short term effect of altering our moods (we can lighten up for a while) and the long-term effect of altering our personalities so that we become less prone to anger and despondency, and more prone to love, empathy, confidence and contentment.

Neuroscience shows us that the repeated practice of skills helps to rewire the brain. This is directly relevant to meditation. Through practicing meditation you build new pathways in the brain and actually develop more brain tissue in the parts of the brain connected with kindness and empathy. And, interestingly, when we’re kinder and more compassionate the parts of the brain connected with having a sense of well-being become larger and more active as well.

This all takes time, of course. Those drips have to wear away at the stone of our established habits. But practice works. Dripping water is inexorable. Water is stronger than stone. All we have to do is to keep the water dripping by practicing daily. “Drop by drop is the water-pot filled,” as the Buddha said, when talking about how we develop habits.

If you start the first stage and don’t feel much (or any) kindness towards yourself, then don’t panic. Keep calm and carry on breathing. I remember when I was first learning meditation I spiraled down into a pit of despair because I couldn’t see any warmth or kindness for myself. Later I learned the important principle that whatever you feel, it’s OK. If you don’t feel anything, or if you’re experiencing uncomfortable feelings, that’s fine. That’s just what you’re working with.

The practice of learning to be accepting of and comfortable with whatever arises is itself an important part of learning to be kinder to ourselves. Accepting that we’re not perfect and aren’t always going to be kind is also an important way for us to develop kindness.

Is Loving Yourself Okay?

Loving yourself has a bad press in the West. We often associate it with being self-centered and not caring about others.

In fact, many of us have a tendency to want to put ourselves down to avoid being thought of as self-centered. If someone offers us praise for having done something well, for example, we may well shrug it off: “Really, it was nothing.”

But in the Buddhist tradition, which has produced countless outstandingly generous and selfless individuals, there is an emphasis on developing love (in the sense of kindness) for ourselves as an indispensable prerequisite for loving others.

We can also bear in mind that in the Christian tradition the injunction is to “love others as yourself.” It’s not “love others, not yourself.” In fact “love others as yourself” implies that we already do (or should) love ourselves and that we need to extend that love to others. It’s ironic, then, that people often think that loving themselves is sinful.

Buddhism has exactly the same perspective. The Buddha assumed that we already cherish ourselves and that our task is to expand that love to include others. Buddhist teachings assume that that if you don’t love yourself, then it’s hard, if not impossible, for you to love other people. And if you think about it you might find you already suspect that some of the most selfish people you know really, deep down, don’t like themselves. Their selfishness is a compensatory mechanism.

On the other hand, many warm and generous and loving people are able to be at ease with themselves without being at all narcissistic or selfish. If you think about it, you have a limited amount of time and energy. The more your time and energy are tied up in inner conflict and self-hatred, the less it’s available for others. So the person who is kind to themselves and at ease with themselves is more available for others.

If there are aspects of yourself that you hate, the tendency will be to dislike those same things in others. In fact psychologists talk about “projection” where we dislike some part of our personality so much that we actually refuse to admit it exists (if you think only other people do this then you’re projecting right now!).

But we still see the same characteristic in others that we despise and deny in ourselves, and so our self-hatred is “projected” out onto them. So a lot of our ill-will towards others is actually a dislike of ourselves. It stands to reason that if we want to improve our relationship with other people, we have to also improve our relationship with ourselves.

Of course, if our kindness started and ended with ourselves then it wouldn’t really be kindness — it would be narcissistic selfishness. So although the first stage of the practice begins with ourselves it moves on to others in the remaining four stages.

It’s important to make sure you do the first stage (don’t skip it — if it’s hard then that means you need to do it). The cosmos will not award you extra “brownie points” for leaving yourself out. But also make sure you do the other stages as well.

What if I Find it Hard to Be Kind to Myself?

Many of us find the first stage of the Metta Bhavana the hardest to do, probably because some of our societal conditioning trains us to think that liking ourselves is bad.

The first thing to know is that we don’t need to like ourselves. Or at least not all of ourselves. Despite many years of practice, I still sometimes get crabby when I’m tired or stressed. To like something means to respond with pleasure and approval. I don’t like getting crabby. It doesn’t bring me pleasure and I don’t approve of it. I don’t like my own crabbiness and irritability. I’m not even going to try taking pleasure from them or giving them my approval.

What I can do, however, is to be kind to the crabby side of myself. That doesn’t mean giving it free rein, so that I encourage my crabbiness. I’m going to continue to work at being kinder, and that means becoming less crabby.

One thing that being kind means here is recognizing that crabbiness, irritability, and so on are evolved defensive mechanisms. They aim to protect me when I’m overwhelmed. I can at least respect that, and respect also they’re not fundamentally evil, even if I don’t like what they do. I can see them as misguided rather than bad. They’re like the archetypal Boy Scout insisting on helping the old lady across the road even though she doesn’t want to go there.

Also, I didn’t choose to have crabbiness and other such defensive mechanisms. So there’s no point in my hating myself for possessing those qualities — which, in any case, would only add more hatred into the mix that is me. Instead I can learn to be kind to parts of me that I don’t like.

To the extent that we don’t learn to have love and kindness toward every part of ourselves, we’ll never truly have love and kindness toward others. Because the hatred we have for ourselves, or parts of ourselves, will inevitably be directed against others too.

We need to learn to be kind to ourselves if we don’t want to go through life creating turmoil for other people.

So never skip the first stage of the lovingkindness practice. Always do it.

Dropping Flowers in a Still Forest Pool

The most common way to cultivate kindness (or metta) in meditation is to repeat phrases. Those I currently use and teach are “May you be well. May you be at ease. May you be kind to yourself and others.” Properly used, those phrases can evoke a sense of softening and kindness. But sometimes people focus more on the words than on the emerging kindness the words are meant to evoke. And when this happens our meditation can become stale or even unpleasant.

We need a balance of activity and receptivity in the lovingkindness practice. Activity is what we’re doing to help awaken and exercise our innate kindness. Receptivity is where we’re being mindful of whatever effects our activity is having.

The Pool and the Flowers

When you’re meditating, think of your feelings and emotions as a still pool of water in a forest. The water is alive and vibrant; ready to quiver at the slightest touch.

Think of the phrases you’re repeating — “May I be kind to myself and others,” and so on — as flowers that you’re dropping into the pool.

Drop each flower slowly and reverentially. Watch it fall. Watch it land on the water. Watch and feel the ripples spread through the water, until they begin to fade away.

Only then, let the next flower fall, slowly, toward the pool’s surface.

In this way we find a balance of activity and receptivity.

Without receptivity — without an awareness of the effect of what we’re doing in the practice — we’re simply repeating phrases mechanically. Little joy or benefit arises from doing this.

Developing and Sustaining Receptivity

To develop receptivity, we need first to connect with our experience. With soft eyes we can become more receptive, opening up to whatever is arising within us. With kind eyes we can meet everything that’s arising with tenderness. We can be accepting and curious, rather than judgemental. We can simply be with whatever we find, whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant, or even if we’re not sure how we’re feeling. All of this helps us develop receptivity as we begin the lovingkindness meditation practice.

But we also need to sustain this receptivity as we work on cultivating our innate kindness. An over-reliance on “doing” — for example when we repeat the metta phrases in a heavy-handed way — tends to stop us from being receptive.

Pacing Your Activity

I’ve already suggested that one thing that can help you find this balance between activity and receptivity is to use the breathing to space out the phrases you’re dropping into the heart, and to give you time to notice the effects of what you’re doing.

So you can say “May I be well.” Then breathe in, and out, and in again. And then say “May I be at ease” on the exhale. Then breathing in, and out, and in once more. And then “May I be kind to myself and others” on the next out-breath. You’re dropping these word-flowers reverentially and mindfully into your being.

In the silent pauses, where you’re breathing in, out, and in again, you can simply observe what’s happening without trying to make anything happen. What might you observe? There may be ripples of warmth, tenderness, and pleasure in your being. You might notice a heightened sense of caring for yourself or for others. These periods of receptivity help the practice be more effective, so that our kindness flourishes.

To Develop Kindness, Work Kindly

In fact, what I’ve described is the act of working kindly with ourselves. Kindness is not just something you look for in meditation. Kindness is what you do in meditation. It’s the way you work. And by acting kindly within ourselves, we cultivate kindness.

Please feel free to bring this image of dropping flowers into a still forest pool into your practice. Doing so can be very helpful. It can help you establish and maintain a state of receptive awareness. It can help you work within yourself in a way that’s gentle and kind.

Be patient with yourself as you drop the flowers of well-wishing into your being. Don’t demand that the waters of your being start vibrating on command. Don’t expect anything. Don’t try to feel anything or to make anything happen. Just drop the flowers of words gently into your being, and then watch, feel, and listen with kindness. If you do this, kindness is already developing, because you are being kind.

Walking in the Forest of Your Mind

Working with how we feel, which is what we do in the lovingkindness practice, requires that we be receptive. We need to open up and see what’s there.

It’s common for newcomers to this form of meditation to try connecting with their experience only to find that there isn’t much experience there. They look for feelings and there doesn’t seem to be anything happening. And that lack of feeling can give rise to doubt and despair: “Why am I not feeling anything? Maybe there’s something wrong with me?”

Usually though, connecting with how we feel is just a question of patience, persistence, and gentleness of effort.

Think what it would be like to go charging noisily into a forest that’s full of shy birds and other wild animals. What would we see? Probably not a lot. If we go crashing through the undergrowth then when we finally stop and listen and look around, the forest will seem like a pretty dead and bleak place. Maybe you start yelling, “Where are you, wild animals?” That just makes things worse.

But what if we were to creep very quietly into the forest, and just wait, and watch, and listen. What if we were to be so still that we blended into the background. Well, at first our mere presence might still make some of the more shy creatures a bit evasive. But eventually, if we have enough patience and remain still, we’ll begin to see the deer, and foxes, and birds that were there all along.

Any action we take in the mind causes some disturbance, making it harder for us to become aware of our experience. The harder we try to connect with ourselves, the less it seems there is for us to connect with. Our “trying” is just making things harder.

So think of your emotions as being like very shy creatures that you’ll only see if you are patient and quietly receptive. When you meditate, think of your awareness very quietly walking into the forest of your being and standing patiently among the trees, being patient, still, and watchful. In a little while, you’ll see some of the “wildlife” that is your own emotional life.

When People React to You Changing

As you practice being kinder to yourself, you change. And some might not like you changing.

Procrustes was a character from Greek mythology who had a bed that he claimed would fit anyone – no matter how tall or short you were. And he was right, in a way. If you were too long for the bed then your feet would be chopped off, and if you were too short for the bed, then you’d be stretched until you were the same length the bed was. This was the ancient Greek equivalent of “one size fits all”.

The world that is around us can be like that bed. Our environments can evolve into a particular “shape” that will accept us as long as we in turn continue to fit that mold. We talk about this kind of thing when we say that someone is like a “square peg in a round hole”. This can be very painful when it happens to us, especially when the corners of our personalities are brought into conflict with our environment.

The Procrustean bed (or the round hole) is partly composed of other people, who have developed expectations of how we will behave. They’ve usually based these expectations on how we’ve behaved in the past, so in a way we’ve created our own environment.

Usually people will happily accept those changes. If we’ve become a bit happier and friendlier, then few people are likely to complain. There are times when changes that seem important to us will meet with indifference or puzzlement from others, which might be disappointing. So we cannot assume that there will be support or enthusiasm from others, even from those others who are most dear to us. As the poet David Whyte said, “In my experience, the more true we are to our own creative gifts the less there is any outer reassurance or help at the beginning.”

Then there are certain circumstances in which people may react with suspicion and hostility to our changing – and this includes times when we are developing more of the assertiveness that comes with increased self-esteem. By “assertiveness”, I don’t mean aggressive behavior; I mean standing up for ourselves in a kind way – a way that respects the needs of both ourselves and others. For example, if someone has become used to being unkind to us or to in some way treating us as if we don’t matter, they won’t like it when we let them know that their way of behaving toward us is no longer acceptable. They may well act like Procrustes and try to “cut us down to size”.

Diane, one of my students from San Francisco, who is the very dynamic director of a research institute, had mentioned that self metta had caused her problems in the past. I was curious and asked her to say more.

You asked about how self-love hadn’t worked for me. Obviously that is not actually the case, self-love can’t actually cause harm, but how it has always appeared to me was that any time I ever tried to act in my own behalf, or feel some self-respect, or proud of myself, I have been smacked down or reminded in some way – either directly or indirectly – “Who do you think you are?” [This happened] either verbally, or the situation I was in turned on me, or whatever.

This was very interesting as an example of how other people can resist our desire to be treated with respect. But what was even more interesting was Diane’s insight that she’d constructed this Procrustean bed for herself:

After years of reflecting on this, I have come to believe that this is an inside job. In other words, I think it’s always been more about my attitude than about what others were actually doing to me. I think my self-regard was so low that (a) it probably ended up manifesting itself as arrogance, and (b) push-back from any quarter was enough to make me retreat back into self-loathing, with every situation re-proving to me that … I was in fact worthless except as some kind of slave to work or other people or to my own dysfunction and that I might as well not try.

When Diane had inadvertently constructed a Procrustean bed for herself. When she tried to assert herself, she sometimes became aggressively arrogant rather than truly assertive, and that, not surprisingly, caused reactions in the people around her. If we’ve behaved passively in the past, it’s almost inevitable that we’ll exhibit some compensatory aggression on the way to becoming more assertive.

But even when Diane was being kindly assertive, standing up for herself in a respectful way, others would respond aggressively to her in an attempt to limit the change that she was undergoing. I mention all this because some of you have probably constructed Procrustean beds for yourselves, and may experience resistance from others as you change.

So how might we deal with this?

Let’s come back to that quote by David Whyte: “In my experience, the more true we are to our own creative gifts the less there is any outer reassurance or help at the beginning.”

David White qualifies his statement about the lack of outer reassurance that follows from us being true to ourselves by saying that this happens “at the beginning.” Later on, as our confidence in ourselves becomes more outwardly visible, other people are more likely to help us than to oppose us. But at first, our changes may meet resistance, and at those times I would counsel you to beware of the danger of retreating back into the limited form that people are trying to keep you in.

It may well be that you need extra support at such times. You may need to talk to friends or a counselor. You may feel an extra need for prayer or meditation. You may even want to think about changing your environment, which might mean changing jobs or ending a relationship. Sometimes our growth – even our very survival – can require such drastic steps and the extraordinary courage that these steps may require.

Ultimately, you are responsible for your own happiness. You have a choice about how you respond to others’ reactions to you. As Diane wisely pointed out, she came to realize that her capitulation to others’ hostility was “an inside job”. In the end, you are confined not by others – not by Procrustes’ bed – but by your own fears and low expectations of life and of what you are capable of.

Only you have the power to create the conditions that you need for happiness, and this means you should be prepared to respond as creatively as possible to others’ objections to your changing.

The Need for Nourishment

He who finds no way to rest cannot long survive the battle.
—James Baldwin.

Reflect on the way you live your life. Do you look after others, but let yourself get run down? Have you taken on board views that lead you to sacrifice yourself? This is very common.

Imagine then a field of wheat. Every year the field gives abundantly, but nothing is ever put back into the soil. For a few years the field gives good yields and sustains others, but eventually the crops become more and more meager. If the field continues giving without receiving then it will, at some point, turn into a dust-bowl.

It’s good to give. Giving creates deep connections of love and gratitude. But in order to give on a long-term basis you need nourishment yourself. Just as a field needs to be fertilized, so you need to feed yourself with self-kindness.

You are as important as anyone else.

You deserve your own kindness.

You matter.

These are phrases that you might want to drop in to the mind as you cultivate kindness to yourself, both within the first stage of the lovingkindness practice and in odd moments of your daily life:

“May I be well. I am as important as anyone else.”

“May I be at ease. I deserve my own kindness.”

“May I be kind to myself and others and remember that I matter.”

Sometimes people will say to me things like “I’m too kind,” or “I think about other people too much.” I disagree with this idea that we can have too much of a good quality. I don’t think it’s possible to be too kind, too generous, or too compassionate, and I think this diagnosis misses the point, which is that we lack some necessary quality to balance out the love, generosity, compassion, or whatever quality it is that we have in such abundance.

When someone says they are “too generous” my perspective is that they have a well-developed ability to give, but lack the ability to sense when they need to give to themselves, or lack the ability to make their needs known to others. It’s the lack of these complementary skills that is the problem, and it’s those skills that need to be developed.

I really don’t think we can have “too much of a good thing.”

What’s Next?

As you might have gathered above, there’s a lot we can explore simply in cultivating kindness toward ourselves. So please feel free to linger a while on this first stage of the lovingkindness practice.

At the same time, cultivating kindness for others helps us to be happier and more fulfilled, because connecting in a meaningful way with others is one of our deepest needs. Therefore it might also be helpful for you to also learn and practice the second stage of the practice, where we cultivate kindness for a friend.

You can also learn more about this meditation practice in the following books:

72 Comments. Leave new

  • Galen Gilchrist
    April 17, 2009 3:10 pm

    I am very interested in lovingkindness meditation and have read and listened to much about it. My question is what if you cannot achieve the physical pose for meditation? I have physical limitations that prevent the proper posture.

  • Glenn Spencer
    May 21, 2009 4:53 am

    These guided meditations are the fastest route to meditative clarity I have encountered. Your way of meditating infuses the listener, so that one can leave the meditation with new tools in the toolkit , so to speak.
    I never realized how harsh and judgemental my inner voice was! I think maybe, if you can go that easy on me, maybe I can too.

  • I find your site a great refreshing and helpful source for teaching these meditations in Poland. Thanks and really well done Bodhipaksa! Nityabandhu

  • For me i guess Stage 1 would be towards a person I like…that would be easier than me :)

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,
    I remember reading somewhere on here that if you have trouble creating metta towards yourself then you can do the different stages of metta towards different parts of yourself. the first stage, instead of towards a friend, was towards a part of you that you liked, the next stage instead of a negative person was towards something about yourself that you wanted more of, the next stage, instead of towards a difficult person was towards a difficult part of yourself and so on. I would like to read this section again to clarify the stages, but I can’t seem to find it. Can you point me in the right direction please?

  • Hi Sam,

    The page you’re thinking of is this this one:

    All the best,

  • […] More on self-metta (decent translation: loving-kindness), from Pema Chödrön: Unlimited Friendliness Rather good introduction: How Insight and Loving-kindness Free Us from Mental Parasites. (Also good, linked from that one: Taming Elephants-How To Transform Negative Habit Energies: “Negative habit energies are like ticking time bombs. These powerful imprints lie dormant in consciousness until triggered by our own or others words or actions.” A little different approach to PTSD-type stuff.) offers some observations on practice: Stage 1 – Cultivating metta toward yourself. […]

  • Dear Bodhipaksa,
    I have only just discoverd your website but woudl like to thank you for it. I have been practicing meditation for a year now, with varied results but I was really shocked at my emotional response during the self metta audio meditation. As I started saying the 3 well wishing phrases to myself all of a sudden was crying and feeling ..well, I am not sure what really! Just very emotional! It was very poweful. Not sure I can describe it as just sadness – it felt more complex than that.
    I will continue to practice the self-metta to try and investigate further!
    Thank you again.

  • Hi Denise,

    Thanks for your appreciation, and for sharing what’s going on in your practice. I look forward to hearing more!

    All the best,

  • […] metta guided real audio: […]

  • I just practiced what i believe to be metta meditation for the first time and it felt a bit amazing, although im not sure if i was doing it “right”. but i usually practice breathing-mindfulness daily and was wondering how should i incorporate metta into my routine. should i stop one and adopt the other or practice both 20 minutes each or what?

  • Hi, Rus.

    I’m glad to hear that your lovingkindness meditation took off. One thing to watch for is the expectation that a particular experience that we enjoyed is going to be repeated. The expectation, in general, just leads to disappointment.

    Usually I suggest to people that they alternate mindfulness of breathing and metta meditation, unless there’s some really good reason for choosing one practice over another (e.g. you’re in a bad mood and need to cultivate metta, or you’re especially distracted and need to calm the mind with the breath).

  • I’ve noticed that when I practice Metta vs when I practice Mindfulness of breathing, I tend to be less focused. In Metta, I often find myself getting lost in thought, whereas in Mindfulness I can control my thoughts much better. In trying to refine my practice, I’ve noticed some things that seem contradictory about Metta.

    In this section you mention making emotions the focus of our practice. But I don’t understand how to distinguish thoughts from emotions – I feel like every thought comes with emotional content. If I’m focusing on my train of thought, does that even count as meditation? How does this differ from getting lost in thought or daydreaming?

    Furthermore, should I be focusing on my emotions or rather on wishing myself and others well? How do all these concepts work together?


    • Hi, Emo.

      Thoughts and emotions are connected, and as you point out, thoughts have emotional content. But a thought like “He shouldn’t have done that!” is the words passing through your mind, while the emotion of anger is — well — an emotion. It’s something felt.

      Focusing on your thoughts is certainly part of lovingkindness practice. We need the thoughts to kick-start our emotions, and to change our attitudes so that we become more loving. Why should focusing on your thoughts not be meditation? It’s something you’re choosing to do mindfully. When you’re daydreaming you are not (generally) mindful. It is possible to have a degree of mindfulness present during daydreaming, but mostly people don’t. The mind simply wanders. We’re not conscious that we’re daydreaming. We’re not aware of the effect that the daydreaming is having on how we feel, so we may well be creating distress, depression, etc. Again, in mindfully focusing on your thoughts you know what you’re doing, you know why you’re doing it, and you’re aware of what it’s doing to you.

      To deal with your last question: I see the focus of the lovingkindness practice as being on the emotional relationship you have with yourself or the other person. The thoughts are simply being dropped in so that they have an effect on the quality of the relationship (hopefully making it more metta-ful). So it’s a complex practice, because you have the image of the person you’re cultivating metta towards, your emotional state as it relates to that person, and the thoughts that you’re dropping in to your mind in order to affect that emotional relationship.

  • It is easy for my mind and heart to be in sync when I am wishing well to those whom I love and those whom I like. However, when I say in my mind I wish you well to someone who has terribly wronged me more than once I feel very insincere and it is difficult to really wish that person well. Is this normal and in time will my emotions follow the words. I’m sure I am not alone in this dilemna as some people have suffered horrendous cruelty at the hands of others.

    • I find it useful to start my lovingkindness practice by acknowledging that I want to be happy, yet happiness is often hard to find, and that I want not to suffer, yet causing myself suffering is hard to avoid. I acknowledge the truth of this, and then I can ask whether some part of me is prepared to root for me as I do this difficult task of trying to find happiness and escape causing myself suffering. I then do this for the friend, the neutral person, and the person I have difficulty with. You don’t have to like the person you have conflict with. You don’t have to love them. You don’t have to think they’re a nice person. You don’t have to forget bad things they’ve done for you. But you can acknowledge that they want to be happy and find happiness hard to attain, and want not to suffer but cause themselves a lot of pain. And it’s not hard, recognizing that they’re just like us in this regard, to want to support them.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa
    I’d like to thank you for a wonderful website, which I am enjoying very much and I am sure will help me, as it evidently has others. The recording on this page is a great help, your voice and intonation are just right for me!
    Thank you

  • Hello Bodhipaksa,
    Thank you very much for your informative and very comprehensive and easy to understand website. It came to me when i really needed it! I have a question on self-metta meditation. I am just beginning with it, but whenever i try it, my heart starts beating very fast. I was just wondering if it’s normal and what could it mean.
    Thank you again for your wonderful work, wishing you well :-)

    • Hi, Laura.

      Thanks for your kind comments.

      It’s hard to say what it might mean that your heart races when you cultivate lovingkindness for yourself. It could be that some part of your mind has encoded that it’s bad or dangerous to do this. Sometimes we take on board a lot of guilt. Or maybe you’re excited because on some level you think it’s a good thing?

      In any event, I’d suggest regarding the racing heart not as a bad thing but just as a “thing.” Be kind to your heart. Direct lovingkindness to those sensations, not to try to get rid of them but just because they’re a part of you and may be connected with some kind of suffering.

      Do feel free to let me know how you get on.

      All the best,

  • Thank you very much for your answer, i guess it is indeed a feeling of guilt. I will keep on meditating and just accepting it as it is.
    All the best!

  • […] We actually have a fairly extensive guide to lovingkindness practice on this site, and you can start with cultivating lovingkindness toward yourself here. […]

  • I have been reading Lovingkindness and want to pursue metta meditation. I have found it difficult to meditate without it being guided. How long should I do each stage of the meditations? A few weeks or a month spent on each stage? Thank you in advance for your time.

    • Usually after two or three weeks people are doing all five stages. You can use a meditation timer set for five minutes per stage, so that’s 25 minutes in total. There are some great timers for smartphones and available online.

  • Deborah Lane McGuire
    February 2, 2014 8:12 pm

    Slow going for me. I’ve listened to this introduction twice, each time my emotions were all over the place due to events of the day. I was able to obtain a sense of peace over time and acceptance…that is good for today. I will repeat the mantra daily, many times per day: May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering.

  • Have been looking for a lovingkindness mediation that resonated with me for over 18 months with little success, until finding this, via the current email bulletins. Could previously only appreciate the value of lovingkindness in the abstract, but now it is finally starting to make a bit more sense to me. This meditation felt extremely beneficial and I plan to regularly incorporate it into my newly established meditation routine. Thanks so much for continuing to provide all these wonderful resources.

  • Hi,
    The emotional awareness ecxercise mp3 plays on my computer but the ones for stage 1,2,3,4 don’t. Maybe there’s something wrong with them?

    • The files work just fine. It may be a bug in the media player plugin that we use. I tried renaming the file for stage 1. Could you try that again and see if you get the same result? I seem to remember one time having a silly problem relating to file names.

  • Stage 1 is playing now. Stage 2,3,4,5 are not.
    Thank you very much, I appreciate this site a lot.

    I have maybe a suggestion for the site. I have been dealing with many difficult “negative” emotions for a long time basically a mix of anger and anxiety. I think it’s important for people with these kinds of problems to learn to alter our relation with them. Instead of repressing them or acting out on them. Learning to let them be there, embracing them with our mindfulness in the vain of what tich nhat hanh teaches. This is so difficult, could use help with that.

    • Thank you, Tim. So it may well be that it’s the file names that are causing the problems. I’ll change the rest today and see if that works with them as well. Could you stop by later and let me know?

      We have a lot of resources in our blog on dealing with anger and resentment. If you use the search field at the top of the page you’ll be able to find them, or if you look at the foot of a post and see a relevant tag, like anger, or resentment, you can click on that and see other posts with the same tag.

    • I’ve updated the file names now. I’d very much appreciate if you could check and see if they’re working.

  • So, I’m talking about making, for example, anger the object of meditation. It’s very difficult to not make stories adding to the anger. But I do feel that meditating on those emotions can be really transformative if you can keep the bare attention on it for long times.
    I think in this respect it’s important to build up some concentration skill with something like mindfulness of breathing..

    Anyway, thank again.

  • Ok, I’ll look around some more on the site.

    The mp3’s are working now. Greetings

    • So that was it. Weird. Anyway, thank you for letting me know. I’ll fix the rest as soon as I can.

  • Hi

    Are these files, or others available as downloads? Or are they on the CD?
    I’d like to listen to them on the train.
    Thanks for producing a remarkable tesource.

  • Hi bodhipaksa,
    I am new to meditation and specifically self mettta practice.i am currently recovering a emotionally after a miscarriage..hence turned to meditation.i find that this meditation churns up feelings of sadness of all my limitations and I find that the meditation brings it to surface but I don’t get any insights to deal with them.its been 5 days since I have been it normal to feel old insecurities resurfacing..kindly let me know..many thanks neela

    • Hi, Neela.

      This kind of thing isn’t unusual. I’d suggest a few things:

      Being very aware of what your mind is doing. Probably there’s a feeling of sadness coming up and then your mind is getting caught up in stories about that, and you’re thinking about your “limitations” and this is causing further pain. So notice the tendency to tell yourself these stories, label it “storytelling,” and then let go of the thoughts.

      When you let go of the stories, pay attention to the feeling of sadness. Notice where it is in the body, its size, shape, etc. Accept that it’s OK to feel sad. It’s a normal feeling. It’s not a sign that there’s something wrong with you.

      Then, wish the sadness well. Pretend you’re the adult and the sadness is like an upset child. And be reassuring. You can just use the standard lovingkindness phrases, of you can say something specific, like “I love you, and I want you to be happy.”

      Keep letting go of the stories!

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,
    Thanks for such a wonderful response. I tried wishing the feeling of sadness, my fearful reactive patterns well. I felt a feeling of wanting to wrench myself off the reactive patterns…sort of aversion to having those thought patterns. It further resulted in fear of having such a wrenching feeling and I was gasping for breath and I suddenly was very afraid of feeling this emotion of fear. My old negative thoughts came back with a bang and now I am afraid to do this very meditation.
    Is this feeling alright? I am afraid.Please help me.

    • Hi, Neela.

      I think this is all fine.

      Anything painful that happens — the fear, the fear of the fear — just notice where the discomfort is, and send it your love.

      There’s just a reactive habit established, and so when you notice you have that reactive habit you have a reaction to it. This happens. Just keep seeing all these events as normal and OK, which they are. Thoughts arise. The mind tries to spin stories. None of these are signs that something is wrong or that there’s something wrong with you. They’re just experiences, and the more you can accept them and wish them well, the less they’ll happen in the first place.

      Much love to you!

  • Thanks Bodhipaksa so much for that response. I feel a sense of relief now. It gives me some hope to rediscover the rough edges of my mind/emotions and accept them with compassion. ..though sometimes I feel the compassion not arising in me.
    My mind generates Obsessive Compulsive thoughts that I have difficulty accepting and sending love to.
    Thats my struggle and the physical sensations of anxiety are unpleasant to bear and my mind races with the same negative story again. So I guess it is consistent, persistent effort to send compassion to these fearful thoughts(or the physical sensations or emotions??) that I get.
    Am I right?? I am sorry for asking so many questions…I am new to this and am clueless.
    Thanks a lot for your service to humanity!!

    • Hi, Neela.

      I’d suggest sending compassion mainly to the painful feelings that arise in the body as you have those obsessive compulsive thoughts. The word “emotion” isn’t actually very useful from a Buddhist point of view… But I think you can get also in touch with a sense of kindness and warmth, as if your mind is a warm space, and regard your thoughts as passing through that space, and being touched by the kindness that’s there. It’s a bit like hearing a toddler having their first tantrum. It’s kind of cute. Despite the fact that they’re raging, you can feel more love for them…

  • Thanks a lot Bodhipaksa!! I had a good one yesterday when I truly let discomfort in the body be..just there. I watched as the mind raced urging me to act which I let go.
    Thanks a lot!! I like the analogy to a toddler having his first tantrum…will use that every time.
    Thank you so much,
    Peace to every being on earth!

  • Hi Bodhipaksa…I am able to bring about some kindness to the sensatioons that the obsessive compulsive thoughts generate most of the time.but I am unable to have compassion for the thoughts themselves…still consider them as the horrible thoughts that make me want to avoid certain situations. do I have to send kindness to them as well? Thanks. .Neela

    • Hi, Neela.

      Sorry for the long delay, but I’ve had a rather busy week and weekend.

      Thoughts are so fleeting that I think it would be hard to direct lovingkindness toward them. I think it would be better to keep focusing on the feelings, which are more stable. When you’re sending messages of lovingkindness to those feelings, in a way you’re communicating with the fearful part of you that’s giving rise to those thoughts, and giving it reassurance.

      Think of the part of you that’s creating these thoughts as being like a scared dog that’s barking aggressively. You could yell “bad dog” over and over, or you could cower in fear. But neither of those things would make the dog any less fearful or aggressive. If, on the other hand, you take a confident stance and send reassuring messages to the dog, then it’s more likely to relax, calm down, and become friendly. Some parts of the brain are quite primitive and behave just like wild, or poorly domesticated animals.

  • I have to admit, the first time I tried this and was aware of my emotions, it left me out of control. What I mean is, all of a sudden I had a rush of emotion and then it took me a day to calm down and try to sort through everything. Powerful stuff. Sometimes when I do the focusing exercise though, I don’t think I’m feeling anything. I’m trying, but I’m the type that buries emotions deep down inside so sometimes I don’t become aware of emotions until they come spilling out and I can’t control them any longer. I was hoping that this meditation could help with that.

    • This is all normal. Sometimes our feelings are easily activated and we get thrown off balance, but with practice we learn how to accept and allow them.

      I have to say I no longer think in Freudian terms of emotions being “things” that can be buried. Freud lived in the steam age, and so his metaphors were all based on that kind of engineering — emotions are repressed, build up pressure, have to be released. That’s not how Buddhism sees things at all, and in fact it doesn’t even have a word that corresponds very closely to “emotion.” I also don’t think modern neuroscience would provide any evidence that emotions function in that way.

      Anyway, mindfulness of the body will help you in having an awareness of your feelings (which may be experienced at times as more intense than you’re used to), and being able to experience them without being thrown off balance. It’s a nice complement to lovingkindness practice.

  • Hi there! First of all I’d like to thank you for making meditation so much easier for a beginner like myself. I’ve been practicing the mindful breathing exercises for about a month and a half now and it has been life changing! However in the past week or so I began the self-metta meditation and I can’t seem to get into it. I feel fine before the practice but once I start tuning into how I’m feeling I begin noticing pain and anxiety. I tried saying to my pain “I love you, I want you to be happy” and then repeating “May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering” but I can’t seem to feel anything different except frustration because I’m finding it hard to believe that talking to my pain will work. I find that each day I try again, it’s harder for me to go in with an open mind because I know I will be experiencing feelings that are uncomfortable, overwhelming and confusing. Will using words or phrases start to work with time or should I switch to another method, such as memories or imagination?
    Thank you.

    • Hi Shelby.

      Apologies for the delayed reply, but I’ve been on vacation for the past two weeks and trying to stay away from “work” as much as possible.

      I’d suggest that you not think of self-compassion as a “fix” for your pain and anxiety. Ideally, we respond to pain with compassion not because it makes the pain go away but because the one bearing the pain needs compassion. In the case of talking to your pain, you’re talking to the part of you that’s suffering, and that needs to compassion. When we approach our pain with an attitude of “Hey, I’ve given you compassion, now scram,” then that doesn’t really help :)

      So I’d suggest bearing with your discomfort. You can say to yourself, “It’s OK to feel this. Let me feel this.” We can end up discovering that most of the pain we feel comes from the resistance we have to feeling discomfort, and that once we are able just to be with our discomfort, we’re actually quite happy.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa

    I just came across, or was guided!, to you wonderful website. I’m grateful for that and thank you for the wisdom you are sharing.

    A quick question. Would it be beneficial to alternate my mindful breathing practise and metta by time of day? For example, breathing in the morning and metta in the evening.



    • Hi, Tony.

      If you have time to meditate twice then alternating in that way sounds like a good idea.

      All the best,

  • Bodhipaksa,
    Thank you of all this information. These are simple steps to take towards a clear view of oneself and our relationship to the world.


  • Hi Bodhipaksa

    I have been practising my sitting practise as well as trying to incorporate mindfulness into everyday tasks. At the start I felt like a child seeing the world for the first time. Plants, animals, clouds etc all looked new. (I found myself sitting quite happily for about 15 minutes smiling as I looked at a seagull one day – probably sounds crazy?!) But recently its as if my mind has rebelled. Im not seeing the beauty now. My mind is racing a lot. Is this perhaps repressed feelings Im bringing up or what do you think?



    • Hi, Tony.

      I don’t really believe in repressed feelings, but feelings come and go. It sounds like you had a very enjoyable time seeing the world as if for the first time, but all joys are impermanent, and we just have to accept their arising and passing. Paradoxically, doing this leads to greater joy, which hankering after past joys just makes us miserable.

      So I’d suggest that you start by accepting whatever feelings are arising right now, whether they’re pleasant or unpleasant. And accept the change that you see happening. You can never arrange the world so that you have an uninterrupted flow of pleasure. But you can experience peace when you allow pleasure to come and go.

  • I just tried this for the first time; apparently my emotion was overwhelming sadness, and quickly I had tears running down my face. But then it went away.
    Thank you for this site.

  • Hello. I have used your site to learn meditation and it has been very helpful for me. I have a painful past and because of that I am emotionally unstable. I have trouble feeling emotions and I have only recently learned how to cry. I have terrible mood swings about three times a day where I dip for no reason, and whenever I feel happy I soon shut off and stop feeling anything. I want to be able to feel and I think meditating will help. In fact, I was happy for the majority of a day, and this never happened before I meditated. I want to take mood stabilizers, but breathing meditation is helping.
    I don’t think of myself as anxious, but I really do have a lot of stress in my life.
    Luckily, I am self-confident and love myself, but I don’t know how to cultivate metta. I was feeling negative emotions, but the instant I tried to cultivate metta they disappeared. It was like I didn’t feel anything. I sat calmly and tried to experience emotions, but there was nothing there. It’s scary, it’s like I don’t have feelings like a robot or something. I feel blocked and I hope you have advice on how to experience metta.

    • Hi, Yuki.

      It sounds like you’ve fallen into the trap of “trying to make something happen.” Really we need to start metta bhavana by accepting whatever is there, without “trying” to experience emotions. The effort involved in the trying will just get in the way.

      I’m curious about those “negative emotions” that you were experiencing, because often people label things as negative that are merely uncomfortable, and sometimes they label things as emotions that from a Buddhist view aren’t really emotions at all. Can you say more about what you were feeling?

  • This time I tried meditating along with your recording. It was very relaxing. Thank you for having it available freely. I realized that I experienced a sense of calm and peace. This usually occurs in the midst of meditation for me yet I start out with negative emotions. What I mean by this is I feel a darkness within me. It’s weird putting it like that because I don’t want to make it seem alive, but…it’s more a darkness than a feeling. I wake up with this darkness and meditate and pray right away. Throughout the day it manifests in unreasonable sadness, so talking to people is grating. It’s probably unhelpful that I get mad at myself for feeling sad because I have no reason to be sad; I am very happy with my life and hobbies and job and friends. But in the past, I really didn’t feel anything. I could watch a movie about murder and I wouldn’t feel compassion. I would understand the compassion, but I wouldn’t feel it. Also, it took me sixteen years to learn how to cry. So I did feel emotions, but they were buried so deep inside it was as if I didn’t have any.
    It intrigues me when you say that from a Buddhist view they aren’t emotions. What do you mean by that?
    Thank you for your quick response.

    • Hi, Yuki.

      “Emotion” isn’t a Buddhist term and doesn’t correspond very closely to anything in Buddhism, as far as I’m aware. Buddhism talks about vedana (feelings) and cetana (volitions). These are very different from each other. Feelings are non-volitional; the “darkness” you’re talking about is a vedana. It’s not really “darkness,” of course, but an unpleasant feeling of some sort (something like sadness). You can’t choose not to be sad — to let go of sadness. That’s what I mean by vedanas not being volitional. They’re not under our direct control. Volitions are things we do in response to vedanas. So getting mad at yourself for feeling sad is a volition. Volitions may seem to arise without our choosing them, because they are very habitual, but we can notice ourselves having an angry thought, attitude, or bodily expression and choose to let go of those things. It might take a little while for the volition to subside, but we can do it.

      Feelings (vedanas) are ethically neutral. They’re neither good nor bad, neither positive nor negative. They’re just pleasant or unpleasant. Volitions, on the other hand, are ethically loaded. Buddhism talks about anger as being an “unskillful” volition, while things like patience, kindness, and compassion are skillful. (Buddhism tends not to use terms like “good” and “bad.”)

      So, vedanas are “received” and cetanas are “generated.” Vedanas are ethically neutral while cetanas are ethically active. They’re almost opposites. And yet the English word “emotion” includes both of these, which for me makes it almost useless as a category.

      A large part of Buddhist practice involves accepting vedanas/feelings — especially unpleasant ones – rather than reacting to them. So the thing to do with your sadness is to allow it to be there, but not to let is give rise to unskillful volitions — that is, volitions like anger, resistance, craving, etc., which make you even more unhappy. I even wonder whether you labelling this unpleasant feeling as “darkness” might in itself be an unhelpful volition, because that label carries a weight of metaphor: “darkness” representing badness, evil, etc. It might be more helpful just to call it an unpleasant feeling!

      I hope this is helpful.

  • Thank you! This does help.

  • Hi, I just did the first meditation and the emotions that came up where black and intense and I got a feelin of needing to vomit. The feeling when you don’t want to but it’s unstopable. This feeling increased my thoracic blockage and I got a burning sensation. I kept on wishing myself well, but couldn’t change it. What is the goal with the upcoming emotion in a meditation? It was scary to feel that, it felt no good. It was dark and depressed, very strong. What do I do with it?

    • Hi, Eli.

      Sometimes you’re going to experience unpleasant feelings, whether in meditation or otherwise. In meditation, because you’re focusing internally, those feelings can be experienced more strongly. And if your mind has a reactive tendency — for example to be scared of unpleasant feelings, then this can make them more intense. And then you may respond to those heightened sensations with yet more fear. What can start as a sense of mild unpleasantness can escalate into something quite overwhelming.

      But this is all just the working ground on meditation. What you’re working on is accepting unpleasant feelings, not trying to make them go away. You were trying to wish yourself well, but in an attempt to banish an unpleasant feeling. The part of you that was suffering was not being treated with kindness and compassion — it’s as if a friend showed up at your door in a state of distress and instead of inviting them in, sitting them down, and being a compassionate presence for them you slammed the door in their face in order to get the unpleasantness out of your life. So let those feelings be there. Send them your love. Invite them to stay for as long as it takes until they naturally move on.

  • Donna Raskin
    March 1, 2015 8:22 am

    I am writing for some advice. I have a lot of trouble not talking about people behind their backs. I’m not doing this to be mean, but to get validation about my perception of others; to see if other people see the world and people the way I do. The problem is that I do it a lot (in other words, I often talk about others when I know I should be talking about something else) and also that I do it with the wrong people (so I’ll talk about one friend with another). I know that people feel close to each other when they talk about others (it is a way to bond) but I need to set limits and I need to do it appropriately. But, honestly, when I’m NOT talking about someone, I feel frightened…like something is happening and no one is acknowledging the elephant in the room. And that’s crazy. It’s like a form of paranoia. I grew up in a world of gossip and chatter…it’s very familiar to me and, like I said, a way to bond, but this habit is not working for me on a number of levels, and I want to untangle it and release it for everyone’s benefit. Thank you. I really just laid my heart on the line right there.

    • Hi, Donna.

      Many of us are driven to unhelpful patterns of behavior by anxiety. Changing the behavior actually helps to deal with an anxiety. For example, I’m online a lot and I get anxious sometimes when I can’t access the internet. But if I go on retreat and unplug, I start to feel much calmer. So I’d suggest sticking with a personal precept of not talking about another person in their absence unless it’s to say something complimentary, or something you’d be comfortable with them overhearing. The anxiety will settle down.

  • Question: I am sending love to my fears, to my dark places. I give value to the love I send to those places, I will not give value to my fears. Can this be considered compassion towards myself? Release from suffering and the source of suffering?

    • It certainly sounds like self-compassion, Cathy. It’s good to remember that the bits of you that fear are not “bad” but are simply caught up in delusions, much like children terrified that there are monsters under the bed. They need kindness and reassurance rather than judgment and harshness. So as long as what you’re doing is along those lines, then I think what you’re doing is fine.

  • Thanks!

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,
    I thank you immensely for the teachings that you bring upon men and women, and know that you are of great value to me. I wish you all the best.

  • This is a wonderful meditation. It put me into a great state. Thank you kindly. I will return to this meditation a few times before progressing to the next stage. Thank you.


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