meditation and compassion

Keep calm and cultivate compassion

keep-calm-compassion“Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased.” — The Dhammapada

The weeks leading up to the US presidential election were a real emotional roller coaster for me. I’m still a “Resident Alien” rather than a citizen, and so I couldn’t vote. But of course I had opinions and feelings about the outcome of the election, which directly affects my life in many ways.

The election is of course now over, and it didn’t go the way I’d hoped. It was unthinkable to me that Donald Trump could possibly be elected. Even though polls have been wrong in the past, the fact that a large majority of people considered him temperamentally unsuited to be president and dangerously lacking in knowledge, and his tendency to alienate large groups of voters, gave the impression that he was never going to win.

Because of the uncertainties, however, I’d been anxious for some time. As the results came in, however, and it became almost certain that Clinton was going to lose, I felt strangely calm. After all, what’s done is done.

Today, after waking up to find that Trump had indeed triumphed, I was of course aware of many different responses from non-Trump supporters. Some are stunned. Some are angry and looking for someone to blame. Some are embarrassed for their country. Many are of course deeply worried.

We will soon have a president who has given hatred and callousness the green light. He’s mocked a disabled reporter, boasted about sexually assaulting women, defrauded contractors, will soon be in court on fraud charges relating to “Trump University” (and soon after that for child rape), has all but given Russia the go-ahead to invade its Baltic neighbors, has given the nod to violent supporters, and is the darling of White Supremacists. And that’s to say nothing of his attitude towards Muslim-Americans and undocumented migrants.

Yes, he may end up trashing the economy, ending health insurance for millions of people, pulling out of trade treaties (and precipitating trade wars), and ignoring global warming (which he thinks is a hoax). But it’s the hatred that most bothers me and causes most anxiety.

How to respond to all this?

First, to those who are in shock, realize that as of now, little has changed. True, global markets are on edge, but that doesn’t directly affect most of us in the short term. Right now we’re still here, still breathing, still eating, still living, still doing the same things we were doing yesterday. As of now, nothing much is different on a practical level. Our main problem now is responding with fear. It’s envisioning what might go wrong in the future that dominates our minds and causes us acute suffering. Our own minds often do us more harm than our enemies.

So I’d suggest taking a deep breath, counting your blessings, and (as best you can) let go of catastrophizing. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. Trump may not even become president, or his presidency might be short-lived, given the rape and fraud trials he faces. He may not be able to enact all of his promises. He may not even try; the man is an inveterate bullshitter who says what he thinks people want to hear.

What’s different for you right now, in this moment? Not much, in all likelihood.

You’re scared. I get that. I was experiencing anxiety and dread this morning. Offer yourself some kindness and compassion. You need it. We all need a source of unconditional love and support, and we can be that source.

Second, remember that politics is a long game. Stay confident. We may be in for a rough time, perhaps for another generation. It’s possible that a lot of freedoms will be rolled back. But the world is changing demographically. The US (and other parts of the world) is becoming more diverse and more interconnected. The world, despite what you might think from watching the news, is becoming more tolerant and less violent.

Third, offer kindness and compassion to those you love. This morning I had a phone call with my girlfriend as she waited in class for her students to arrive. We had a loving conversation. I told her that I was imagining hugging her. My heart was filled with love and joy. Yes, there may be difficult times ahead. But no, we don’t have to make ourselves and others miserable. Let’s support each other.

Fourth, practice empathy toward those you disagree with. When one of the problems we face is a president-elect who espouses hatred, adding more hatred to the mix isn’t going to fix anything. So feeling contempt for Trump’s supporters isn’t going to help.

Many who voted for Trump did so out of desperation. Hatred is a response to fear. Many Trump voters are financially insecure and poorly educated (which is not a criticism!). Many of them are white. They see the world around them changing, and it frightens them. Economically they are left out. Racially, they are becoming a minority. Neither Obama nor Hillary Clinton has given them much succor or spent much time directly addressing this group of people, even though their policies have generally been helpful to them. They want change. They’re even desperate for change. And Trump (although he was born into an economic elite and treats ordinary working people with contempt — regularly stiffing contractors on his real estate properties) talks about change. Some of what he says makes no sense — he’s not going to bring manufacturing jobs back from China or elsewhere) but at least he’s talking about their problems in ways they can understand, even if they’re in line to suffer more than most as a result of his policies.

These are people who need our compassion, not our contempt.

Even Trump’s White Supremacist supporters need compassion. Yes, they are filled with hatred. But it’s hatred based on fear. They see themselves as witnessing the death of centuries of white privilege. And that’s true! They simply can’t understand how to see living in a racially and culturally diverse country as a positive thing. They cling to their sense of superiority and specialness. It’s all based on fear. And fear is a source of suffering.

Perhaps his supporters will settle down now that they feel they’ve won. But if we do see an upsurge of hatred, this will largely take place at a local level. Already I’ve heard from local people who’s racial-minority children are experiencing higher levels of bullying and taunting. My own children, who are African-American, are terrified that they’ll be separated from their white parents, as America slides back into racial segregation.

When hatred is local, each of us is placed to meet it with love. Stern love, if necessary, but love. responding with hatred simply creates more hatred. What we need are empathetic responses. When you see someone acting out of bias, remember that you too, in your own way, lash out when you feel threatened, at least sometimes. Empathize before you act. And when you do act, perhaps it can be in the form of reminders that we are all in this together. We live, work, and study together. A world in which we live in antagonism toward each other is a world in which none of us will truly thrive or be happy.

We all suffer. We all need freedom from suffering. The problem is that all too often our attempts to deal with suffering simply cause more suffering.

The world seems crazy. It’s full of hatred, misogyny, and racism. But these are strategies for dealing with fear. Underneath these strategies are suffering hearts — blind hearts that need to be educated and shown better ways to live. Modeling love, compassion, and wisdom is perhaps the best way we can provide such education and help heal our society.

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Practicing mindfulness through kindness and compassion

Deniz Ahmadinia, NAMI: Between recent world events and the upcoming presidential election, there has been much discussion around themes of hate, racism, bigotry and differences among people. While we may see the occasional story of kindness, the notion of being compassionate is all too often drowned out in our society.

We hold all these misconceptions about what it is to be compassionate and kind, including that it makes us weak, that it’s a form of self-pity, that it’s indulgent, and that it gets in the way of success. Our competitive, tech-driven, busy …

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Bodhipaksa is teaching in Australia, March 2017!

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Rainbow at Vijayaloka

Rainbow at Vijayaloka

Bodhipaksa is teaching in Australia in 2017! He’s been invited by the Sydney Buddhist Centre to lead a week-long retreat on lovingkindness and the other three “divine abidings” at Vijayaloka Buddhist Retreat Centre, at Minto, just one hour from the centre of Sydney, on a plot of largely pristine bushland above the upper reaches of the Georges River.

This week-long retreat is an opportunity to enjoy my innovative and even provocative take on the “divine abidings” or Brahma Viharas — four inspiring and transformative practices that progressively expand our sphere of concern to include all beings.

The divine abidings are a path to insight, blending compassion and wisdom.

On this retreat we will delve progressively deeper into the divine abidings, developing an unselfish concern as deep as the world itself: a love that leads ourselves and others toward awakening.

These teachings have grown out of over 30 years of practicing these meditations, and of helping literally thousands of people to explore them. The retreat is suitable for people who already have some meditation experience. It’s not an event for complete beginners.

  • Metta is kindness, or an empathic recognition that just as we desire happiness, other beings desire happiness; therefore we wish for the wellbeing of others.
  • Karuna, or compassion, is the desire that beings be free from suffering so that they may experience happiness.
  • Mudita, or joyful appreciation, is far more than “being happy because others are happy.” It begins by recognizing that true happiness does not arise randomly, but as the result of skillful actions. Therefore we rejoice in the good we see in ourselves and the world, and encourage its development, living as much as possible from a basis of gratitude and appreciation.
  • Upekkha is often translated as equanimity, or balance. But it goes much deeper. The root meaning of upekkha is “to watch intimately.” It begins with the recognition that the deepest and truest form of happiness is the peace that arises from spiritual awakening; therefore if we truly want beings to be happy we should rejoice in and encourage the cultivation of insight in ourselves and others.

In cultivating upekkha we must look deeply into the hearts of beings and recognize their need for awakening. And we must look deeply into the nature of reality itself, so that we know what awakening is, and can help others to attain it. Upekkha, in its essence, is identical to “The Great Compassion” (Maha-Karuna) of the Mahayana, that seeks the enlightenment of all beings.

The divine abidings, ultimately, are a love as deep as life itself.

The retreat runs from Friday, 3 March until Friday, 10 March, 2017.

Click here to register for Bodhipaksa’s retreat in Australia.

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The components of self-compassion

sunflower like the sun in hands isolatedThis post is taken from one of the emails from our online course, How to Stop Beating Yourself Up: Learning the Art of Self-Compassion.

Self-compassion is treating ourselves with the kindness, respect, and gentleness that we would offer to those we most love.

There are four components of self-compassion.

There’s mindfulness, which is the ability to observe our experience rather than merely participating in it and being swept along in it. Mindfulness requires that we stand back from our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and see them as objects separate from ourselves, rather than as what we are.

There’s equanimity, which involves accepting difficult experiences rather than denying them, ignoring them, or obsessing and ruminating over them.

There’s self-kindness, where we treat ourselves with gentleness, understanding, and compassion. Self-kindness requires that we recognize that we are feeling beings and that happiness and well-being are states we desire. These states can only arise when we treat ourselves kindly.

There’s the ability to put our suffering in perspective, which is where we recognize that we, like everyone else, are doing this difficult thing of being human. We all desire happiness, and find happiness elusive. We all wish to be free from suffering and yet encounter suffering over and over again. When we lack perspective, we tend to assume that there’s something uniquely inadequate and even broken about ourselves. We see our difficulties as a sign of failure. When we have a wiser perspective, we don’t judge ourselves, and in fact we may find that we have compassion not only for ourselves, but for others too.

These four factors work together in order to produce self-compassion. They’re not entirely separate from each other, but are manifestations of each other. For example, mindfulness, equanimity, and perspective are all expressions of self-kindness. When we’re kind to ourselves, these three other qualities are how we act.

These four qualities will be woven into all of the writings and guided meditations in this course, although at different times some will be emphasized more than others. Our first meditation, the “kindfulness of breathing” from yesterday’s email, principally brings together mindfulness, equanimity, and kindness.

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Compassion: universally misunderstood

Paul Gilbert OBE, Huffington Post: When people hear the word compassion, they tend to think of kindness. But scientific study has found the core of compassion to be courage.

Rather than defining compassion, kindness is just one way of being compassionate. Imagine a fire officer who regularly puts his or her life in danger to save others. That act in itself is certainly compassionate but, outside of work, he or she might be standoffish, have an irritable temperament or consistently fail to remember birthdays. The point is that kind people don’t always …

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Kindness contagion

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Jamil Zaki, Scientific American: Witnessing kindness inspires kindness, causing it to spread like a virus.

Conformity gets a bad rap, and it often deserves one. People abuse drugs, deface national parks, and spend $150,000 on tote bags after seeing others do so. Peer pressure doesn’t have to be all bad, though. People parrot each other’s voting, healthy eating, and environmental conservation efforts, too. They also “catch” cooperation and generosity from others. Tell someone that his neighbors donated to a charity, and that person will boost his own giving, even a year later. Such …

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The wake-up call that transformed neuroscientist Richard Davidson’s life

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Rebecca Shapiro, Huffington Post: Richard Davidson had been studying the brain for more than a decade when he was asked a question that quite literally changed his life.

“Why have you been using the tools of modern neuroscience just to study anxiety and stress and fear and depression?” Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, asked the neuroscientist in 1992. “Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?”

The question, which Davidson described as “a total wake-up call,” caused him to refocus his research. One of the first ways his team studied kindness and compassion was by flying Buddhist monks from Tibet and Nepal to his lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

“What we found was remarkable,” Davidson said in a HuffPost Originals video. The brains of advanced Tibetan meditators were significantly different, both during meditation and after. “These differences reflect the enduring traces … and it gives us some clue that, in fact, the baseline state of these individuals is transformed as a consequence of their practice.”…

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Mindful leaders are effective leaders

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In June, the Director of the National Centre for Strategic Leadership, Nigel Girling, will be running a free webinar raising awareness about and talking through some approaches to mindful leadership. The following post was provided by the organizers of the webinar.

We live in a world of unprecedented pressure to be productive, complete tasks and stay in constant contact. For leaders, this can lead to a working environment that is fragmented by thousands of distractions and disparate demands. Attention spans are, unsurprisingly, becoming shorter as leaders struggle to find their way through this minefield.

It might all sound a bit hippy and New Age, but mindfulness might be just what leaders need at this point.

Many cultures have embraced this kind of thinking for centuries, but applying it to leadership and business, especially in the West, is rather more recent. There are five major aspects of effective leadership than can be developed through mindfulness.

Self-awareness

In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, it’s essential that leaders remain aware of how they are perceived by others. Being conscious of your own emotional and mental state, and of your behavior, is key to ensuring that you are the leader you want and need to be at all times.

The ability to see and experience yourself as others will is crucial in understanding the impact you have. It begins by being alert, listening to yourself, and observing the way you think, feel, speak and behave.

Presence in the moment

The modern leader needs to be able to experience situations clearly and without prejudice or emotional baggage. With so much complexity in every context, the ability to remain focused on the reality of a situation and the core purpose of any action is of significant benefit.
This is part of the wider topic of ‘critical thinking’. It could be as simple as paying attention to what is actually happening. People who multi-task often spend much of their time thinking about the thing they need to do next, or worrying about problems… mindfulness asks that you think about what is happening right now.

Resilience

Leaders are starting to recognize that their ability to withstand major trauma, bounce back from setbacks, and cope with pressure, all without becoming stressed, is a key factor influencing their capacity for providing engaging and confident leadership.

Stress is often the natural enemy of rational and considered behavior, and mindfulness can help a leader to treat setbacks and failures as learning experiences that can be analyzed to guide future action.

Compassion

Some traditional management thinking would have you believe that it is necessary to be tough and hard, demanding results and driving performance. In the 21st century, talented staff want a leader who is human and who understands that work-life balance is not just some wishy-washy fad, but a source of renewed commitment, engagement and enthusiasm.

The effective modern leader knows that their job is to enable their people to bring the best version of themselves to work, not just to squeeze them dry and discard them when they fall apart.

Gordon Gekko was a fictional character, just like Sir Alan Sugar or the Dragons. Leaders who really behaved that way would almost certainly find their best people jumping ship, and those that stayed being stressed, unwell and underperforming.

Calmness and rational thinking

In recent years, some excellent work has been done on developing our understanding of neuroscience, and the role of emotion in thinking patterns. Organizations like HeartMath have demonstrated the way emotional responses affect the ability to remain rational, and have shown just how important calmness is in sending out the right messages through deliberate, conscious behavior and unbiased decision-making.

In summary, mindfulness isn’t about finger-cymbals and chanting (not that there’s anything wrong with either of these), nor do you have to sit cross-legged in front of your guru… it’s just a hefty dollop of common-sense, applied to an area that is often rather short of it.

To find out how to harness the power of mindfulness to achieve these essential features of effective leadership, join the webinar.

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Step eight: Helping others to share the benefits we have gained

Eight Step Recovery

When the Prince Siddhartha glimpsed the Fourth Sight, a mendicant begging for alms in the streets, he was inspired to go forth from his life in the palace. You could see this as literally going forth, or the prince going forth from the palace of his mind that had kept him in imprisoned in deluded thinking.

Until he was able to go beyond the four walls of the palace that the King his father had built for him, Siddhartha thought he was never going to age, get sick or die.

Upon seeing the first three sights; an aging person, a sick person and a dead person, he experienced a spiritual crisis and felt compelled to find the way out of all this suffering. The mendicant offered him a way out, the Prince witnessed somebody radiating stillness, simplicity and contentment. This mendicant did not seem concerned about worldly attachments or worried about the demise of his youth, health and life. Siddhartha thought this person may have the answer.

The Eight Steps

This mendicant was sharing the benefits he had gained. And we too can do the same. Just as this mendicant will never know that it was he who inspired the prince to go forth and attain Buddhahood, we too can inspire people by the way we live our lives.

Helping others to share the benefits we have gained does not mean we have to write a book, or set a meeting up or blaze the trail. This is a difficult task, even Shakyamuni when he gained enlightenment hesitated to share the benefits he had gained, as he thought nobody would understand him. Nobody would believe how simple it was to find a way out of suffering. Thankfully he did share the benefits.

All of us are teaching. We teach by the way we live our lives. We teach by the way we integrate our talk with our walk. When we help others we help ourselves. And when we help our selves we help others. This month I am helping others by teaching an Tricycle Magazine Online Retreat. I hope some of you will join me. I continue to help others so I can help myself. Helping others brings my recovery right to the for front of my daily practice. I thank you all for this gift.

For a free sample of the first chapter, book study and 21 meditations of “Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction,” please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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The surprising benefits of compassion meditation

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Stacey Colino, USNews: In recent years, mindfulness meditation has garnered loads of attention for its beneficial effects on the body and mind. Now, there’s a new star on the block: compassion meditation, a less well-known but increasingly popular contemplative practice that aims to strengthen feelings of compassion and empathy toward different people (both those you care about and those who are difficult).

“It’s deeply rooted in Buddhist philosophy, which has taught us a lot about how people are connected and what is the purpose of our existence,” explains Stefan G. Hofmann, a professor of psychology in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University. “Compassion is the fundamental idea at the root of Buddhist philosophy – if life is suffering and we can’t avoid it, we need to embrace it and be compassionate toward the suffering of others. It brings us closer to others.”

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More than just a feel-good practice, compassion meditation leads to improved mood, more altruistic behavior, less anger, reduced stress and decreased maladaptive mind wandering, according to recent research. A 2013 study at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle found that practicing loving-kindness meditation (a form of compassion meditation) for 12 weeks reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, as well as anger and depression among veterans with PTSD. A 2005 study from Duke University Medical Center found that practicing loving-kindness meditation for eight weeks reduced pain and psychological distress among patients with chronic low back pain. And a 2015 study from Brazil found that practicing yoga along with compassion meditation three times a week for eight weeks improved quality of life, vitality, attention and self-compassion among family caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. …

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