kindness

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

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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Bringing more kindness to the world

metta-sutta-nolinkWe could all do with being kinder to ourselves, and with being more patient and forgiving with others in our lives.

My forthcoming album of guided lovingkindness meditations, “Harnessing the Power of Kindness,” includes my latest teachings on how to become kinder. It’s the result of over 30 years of practice and of having taught lovingkindness meditation to many thousands of people. I’m perfectly happy to say that I think it’s very effective!

Wildmind is run on a shoestring (all of our courses are offered by donation) and the moment we’re fundraising to cover the production costs of this album, which will be available in CD and MP3 formats. Those costs include the recording and audio editing expenses, plus the design and (in the case of the CD) manufacturing costs. We use a local recording studio, a designer who lives just around the corner, and a US-based CD duplicator, since we’re keen to keep money in the local economy and keep Americans employed.

The total costs are around $2,500, and that’s what we’re aiming to raise. At the time of writing we’re 90% of the way to meeting that target, with five days left to go! (The inset image to the right will give you the up-to-date figures).

We’re not asking for something for nothing! We offer perks to each of our donors.

  • Our most popular perk is for a $25 donation: We’ll mail you a copy of the CD, anywhere in the world. (The CD will be mailed out in August.) We’ll also provide you with a link to download the tracks as high-quality MP3 files. Each file will be in a standard, abridged, and extended version, so that you have three lengths to choose from. That way you can choose which meditation fits the time you have available. You’ll receive the download links as soon as our fundraiser is completed.
  • For a $10 donation you have the choice of either getting the CD or getting a download of the album.
  • For $15 you get both the CD and the MP3 version of the album. I know, you can rip the CD yourself, but this way you get the CDs as soon as our campaign is over, and then you’ll have the CD as a backup.
  • Lastly, for a $250 donation we’ll give 50 copies of our CD to an educational project helping teens from low-income families to prepare for college. One of the challenges these young people face is developing emotional coping strategies to help them deal with challenging circumstances at home as well as in the educational system. Self-compassion and self-kindness in particular are valuable skills in this regard. Your donation can be anonymous, or we can give them in your name. So far two people have generously donated $250!

So, feel free to head over to our Indiegogo campaign page and choose your perk!

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“Lovingkindness” is simply “kindness”

woman holding butterfly

Our Indiegogo crowdfunding project—aimed at helping us to cover the production costs of our forthcoming album of lovingkindness meditations—is getting close to being 100% funded! Please do visit our campaign page to check out the great perks we offer to donors.

Although the Pali word “metta” is most often translated as lovingkindness, I think that the simple term “kindness” works much better.

“Kindness” is a more natural part part of our vocabulary than lovingkindness. We use it all the time in ordinary conversation, while we only use “lovingkindness” when we’re talking about metta. This has the effect of making metta look as if it’s something removed from our everyday experience. (It doesn’t help that, historically, the term “loving-kindness”—sometimes hyphenated, sometimes as two separate words—was used only to describe God’s love for humanity.)

The word kindness is experiential. We all know what it’s like to be kind, or to be on the receiving end of someone’s kindness. These are common experiences. On the other hand, the term lovingkindness seems more remote, as if it’s reserved for some special kind of experience that we have to strive to bring into being.

Also, the word kindness accurately reflects what metta is. What is kindness? It’s a recognition that we are all feeling beings. We all feel, and we all prefer feelings of happiness, security, well-being, etc. to their opposites. It’s an empathetic recognition that we all feel happiness and sorrow, and prefer the former to the latter.

Others’ feelings are as real to them as ours are to us. Their happiness is as important to them as ours is to us. Their pain is as real and as unpleasant to them as our own is to us. When we recognize this, we want to support their desire to be happy and to avoid suffering. We therefore think kindly, speak kindly, and act kindly.

And this empathetic attitude I’ve described—this kindness—is metta. Metta and kindness are the same.

Metta is kindness. There’s really no significant difference that I can see between the two terms.

And we all embody kindness. We may often act unkindly—as if the feelings and wellbeing of others doesn’t matter—but at least some of the time we’re kind. This manifests in a hundred small ways that we don’t even think about. We do things like hold open a door for the person behind us, we nod and smile when people are talking to us in order to reassure them, and we say “thank you” to acknowledge a favor that’s been done for us. These are all very ordinary everyday acts. In a way they’re nothing special, but in another way they’re very special indeed because they make social interaction bearable. They show us that we matter to each other.

Of course we often forget to be kind. We get so wrapped up in our own inner dramas that we forget that others are feeling beings, and act in ways that cause them suffering.

The task of lovingkindness meditation—or simply kindness meditation—is to strengthen our recollection of beings’ feeling nature. This generally starts with ourselves. If we don’t first remember that we want happiness and don’t want to suffer, then we’ll fail to recognize that others are the same as us in sharing those desires. And so, in developing kindness through meditation, we remind ourselves of our deep-rooted desire for well-being, peace, and joy. We remind ourselves also that it’s not easy to be happy; one thing that causes us a great deal of suffering is thinking that happiness is an easy thing to attain. We’re not failing when we suffer; we’re simply showing that we’re human.

Having recognized that we’re doing a difficult thing in being human, we then naturally feel the desire to give ourselves support and encouragement as we go through life. In other words, we relate to ourselves with kindness.

And when we call others to mind in our practice, we remind ourselves that they are just like us: they want to be happy; they find happiness elusive; they too are doing this difficult thing of being human; they too need support and encouragement. And so we relate to them with kindness too.

This is how we develop kindness. This is how we cultivate metta: by connecting with our own nature as feeling beings, and by empathetically recognizing that others share our deepest wishes from happiness and share our existential situation as being for whom happiness is elusive, and suffering all too common.

Our Indiegogo crowdfunding project—aimed at helping us to cover the production costs of our forthcoming album of lovingkindness meditations—is getting close to being 100% funded! Please do visit our campaign page to check out the great perks we offer to donors.

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Kindness, good. Self kindness, better

I’m standing in the kitchen talking to one of my best friends. We’re both crying. And we don’t have much time.

The kids will be home soon. The visit will end. We’ll be back to communicating sporadically via time zone-challenged texts.

“I’m having this crisis of confidence,” she says. “At work. As a parent.”

“How come you can’t see yourself the way I see you?” I ask.

“I don’t know.”

“Go and see someone. Tell them you need to change the tape in your head. Tell them …

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Don’t try to like yourself. Just be kind to yourself

girl holding flower

The way to get past not liking yourself isn’t trying to like yourself more: it’s being kinder to yourself.

Last week I was having a conversation with a friend who was experiencing loneliness. She said she liked herself, but she also said at one point, “I have a sweet dog in my life. Maybe that’s all I’m allowed.”

I suggested that she might ask herself whether that was something she would say to a friend who was lonely.

You wouldn’t do that, would you? To say to someone, “Maybe the universe doesn’t want you to have anyone in your life but your dog. Maybe you’re meant to be lonely,” would be very unkind and hurtful.

What does liking yourself mean?

First, liking means that something gives you pleasure. You like food that you find pleasurable. You like people it’s pleasurable to be with.

But what does “yourself” mean!

Your self is an incredibly complex thing, full of contradictions. It contains love and hate. It contains patience and anger. It contains compassion and cruelty, ignorance and delusion, intelligence and wisdom, happiness and pain.

“Yourself” isn’t one thing. In liking “yourself” are you liking all of the things I’ve mentioned? Are you finding all aspects of your being pleasurable? Probably not!

Maybe “liking yourself” means that on the whole you like what you see when you turn your awareness toward your own being. But what happens when you are forced to see the uncomfortable stuff, as my friend was? What happens when you see the loneliness and the neediness (as in her case)? What happens when you see harshness and self-hatred? It’s hard to like those things (and I’d argue you shouldn’t). More likely, you’re going to not like them. And that’s going to be a source of conflict and pain.

You might, in order to preserve the sense of “liking yourself,” ignore the parts of you that you don’t like, and end up with a skewed sense of who you are. I don’t think that’s very healthy.

It’s also possible, as my friend found, to “like yourself” (i.e. to find your being as a whole to be pleasing) but be unkind to the parts that of yourself you can’t like. And then, often, people switch to disliking themselves as a whole.

I think we cling to the ideal of “liking ourselves” because we’re aware of the pain that is caused by not liking ourselves (or parts of ourselves). In wanting to like ourselves we hope to find inner harmony — a break from inner strife. The aim is noble.

But I’d suggest that “liking yourself” isn’t a particularly rational aim to have in life. You can like parts, but not all, of yourself, and so we can never have self-liking without self-dislike. In fact, the pursuit of the one, as we’ve seen, can lead to the other.

But you can be kind to all of yourself, including what you don’t like.

You can see the parts of yourself that are hateful, angry, cruel, and deluded, and offer them kindness. You can see your own pain, and relate to it with compassion. And this brings the inner harmony that we try, but fail, to get from liking ourselves.

Being kind to ourselves means developing patience and understanding. It means recognizing that having hate, anger, confusion, etc. isn’t a sign of failure, but simply a part of being human. None of us asked to be born with these tendencies. We all have them. They’re something that we all have to work with. So there’s no point blaming ourselves.

Being kind also means recognizing that harshness and self-blame are counterproductive. We might think that in being harsh on ourselves we’re training ourselves to be better in the future, just as some people think that beating children or animals is “corrective.” But the best examples of child-rearing and animal training tell us that harshness and punishment tends to be counterproductive in bringing about positive change.

Self-kindness doesn’t require us to “like” the more troublesome and destructive parts of ourselves. We don’t have to pretend that they are good for us. And we don’t have to pretend they don’t exist. Self-kindness allows us to accept who we are, not as something fixed, but as something we’re currently passing through on our journey through life.

But how do we cultivate greater self-kindness?

One thing we can do that helps with self-kindness is recognizing that we are not our feelings, and we are not our habits. We are not defined by those things. They’re merely temporary manifestations within our being.

But we can cultivate kindness toward the difficult in ourselves by connecting with some painful habit or feeling, and then doing three things:

  1. We can place a hand where any difficult feeling, such as hurt, anger, or craving is manifesting in the body, and let it rest there tenderly, offering kindness and reassurance. The more primitive parts of our being respond to touch in much the same way as a frightened animal.
  2. We can look with kindness on our difficult habits and feelings, seeing them with loving eyes. You know how unsettling and threatening it is to have someone look at you with hostility, or even with a blank, emotionless gaze? You know how it makes you tense and defensive? The same applies when it comes to observing your own being. Having a kindly gaze (something I teach on my forthcoming guided meditation album) helps us to feel more at ease with ourselves.
  3. We can talk kindly to ourselves. We can say things like “It’s OK not to be perfect. We all mess up. I know you’re suffering, and I wish you well. I just want you to know that I love you and want you to be happy.

These things, done together, constitute a powerful self-kindness practice.

The funny thing is that if you stop trying to focus on liking yourself, and instead place more emphasis on being kind to yourself, you’ll find you experience less self-dislike. Our deepest fear is that we are unlovable, but when we practice self-kindness we discover that there is no part of us that is unworthy of compassion and kindness.

Self-kindness is transformative. It allows us to recognize that we can’t be perfect, and that it’s therefore OK to be imperfect. It allows us the freedom to be patient with our own being as we gently strengthen what is best within us, and as we make the effort to let go of unhelpful habits that cause us and others pain.

And if we can learn to relate kindly to what we find difficult in ourselves, then we find that we become more skillful in relating to what we find difficult in others. The kindness that begins in ourselves does not end there, but permeates all our relationships and our entire lives.

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Lovingkindness: Connection before cultivation

homepage

At the moment we’re fundraising to cover the costs of bringing out our newest CD, “Harnessing the Power of Kindness,” (publication date August 2016) which of course will also be available in MP3 format. We’re asking people to buy a copy in advance to help us pay for the upfront costs. Here’s a link to our Indiegogo crowdfunding page, where you can read about the perks we’re offering to donors.

One of the emphases in the guided meditations on this album is what might be called connection before cultivation. Basically this is the principle that cultivating kindness (or lovingkindness, if you prefer) is easier and more effective when we first connect empathetically with the person we’re wishing well (and that can include ourselves!).

This isn’t the way I was taught to cultivate metta. I was encouraged, more or less, just to connect with my experience and then to start wishing myself, and then others, well.

What I do now makes my practice much more effective and really brings it to life.

I start by empathizing with my deepest desire, which I believe is everyone’s deepest desire: to be happy, or to experience some kind of peace or state of wellbeing. I do this by simply reminding myself, “I want to be happy,” and connecting with the truth of that statement in my experience. Usually at that very moment it’s true that I want to be happy.

Now I empathize with the fact that it’s not easy to be happy. Suffering happens all the time. Happiness is elusive. I do this just by remembering how hard it can be to find happiness.

Put together, these two facts — that we desire happiness and yet happiness is elusive — mean that this human life we live isn’t easy. This is what we’re empathizing with.

This difficulty in navigating a world where we desire and need something that is elusive isn’t a personal failing. It’s an intrinsic part of being human. So I like to say that we’re doing a difficult thing in being human.

Having recognized all the above, I can now see that as I go through life I need support. I need encouragement. I need kindness. And while it’s lovely to receive these from other people, the one person I’m with 24 hours a day is myself! And so “cultivating metta” becomes the act of wishing myself well as I do this difficult thing of being human. This is how empathy and kindness work together.

Without this kind of empathy as a basis, it’s much harder to wish ourselves well.

Having empathized with myself, it becomes much easier to empathize with other people. Everyone else is in the same situation as myself. They all want happiness and find it elusive. They’re also all doing this difficult thing of being human. When I reflect on this my heart becomes tender. Seeing that we’re all in the same existential situation, I want to offer kindness, support, and encouragement to others. And that’s how metta arises.

This is just part of the approach I take on “Harnessing the Power of Kindness.” I’m pleased with the guided meditations on it since they include my latest and most effective approaches to cultivating metta. I’ve been doing this now for over 30 years, and I’m always looking to see what works.

We have 13 days of fundraising left, and we’re getting close to our goal! I’d really like to see this project succeed, and I hope you do too! I do hope you’ll help support this crowdfunded project to help bring more kindness and compassion into the world.

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Kindness and personal responsibility

Ryan James Lock, Huffington Post: Lady Gaga and the Dalai Lama recently gave a talk about the importance of kindness and personal responsibility recently and the response has been amazing.

I’ve always been pretty interested in personal development and conscious living. Over the last few years, I’ve read more self help books than I can count- most of which were extremely helpful and some of which were….less than.

Whatever belief system the book, workshop, class audio or course was based on, one common thread ran through nearly all of the material and that …

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“The Kindness Cascade”

woman doing yoga

Meditation and mindfulness are frequently in the news, mainly because of the dramatic increase in research projects showing the many benefits these practices bring. In the graph below you’ll see that from around a dozen scientific journal articles on mindfulness being published in the entire decade of the 1980s, there are now several hundred papers being published each year, with the numbers increasing annually.

mindfulness journal publications

Although most of the focus in this research has been on mindfulness, there’s now an increasing emphasis on exploring the benefits lovingkindness (metta) meditation. Lovingkindness is really just the very familiar quality of “kindness.” Kindness is a recognition of ourselves and others as feeling beings — we all want to be happy, it’s good to be happy, and none of us wants to suffer. When we recognize that a person we’re with feels, and that they, just like us, prefer happiness to unhappiness, then we naturally want to act in ways that help them and don’t want to act in ways that cause them unnecessary distress. In other words, we act kindly. We value them. We treat them with respect and consideration.

The difficulty we have is that we get so wrapped up in our lives that we forget about all this. We forget that we want to be happy, or that it’s even possible. Forgetting that other people have feelings, we fail to empathize with them and to take their wellbeing into account. And so we act unkindly, to ourselves as well as others.

Kindness meditation trains us to keep in the forefront of our minds an awareness of the fact that we are all feeling beings. It helps us to empathize and to desire the wellbeing of ourselves and others.

This makes a huge difference to our lives—not just to our emotional states, but to our bodies, our relationships, and the entirety of our experience.

  • One study at Duke University found that an 8 week course in lovingkindness led to significant improvements in back pain, even after the study had ended. In other words, when we’re kind, we’re less stressed and physically feel more at ease.
  • An Emory University study showed a strong relationship between the time spent practicing meditation and reductions feelings of distress, but also a decrease in inflammation. When we’re more at ease, we produce less adrenalin and less cortisol, which is a stress hormone. This leads to decreased inflammation in the body. That’s why the participants in the Duke study had less pain.
  • At Stanford University it was found that just a few minutes of lovingkindness meditation increased feelings of social connection and positivity toward strangers. This leads not just to us feeling more at ease with others, but to them feeling more at ease with us! They see us as less threatening, and as people they want to be with. And so they offer us more kindness and social support. In this way, our entire social experience changes. It’s not hard to see how this then leads to other benefits. For example, if others want to help us we may benefit through receiving advice and encouragement, and even through job offers and material assistance.
  • A University of North Carolina study found that not only does lovingkindness practice increase our daily experience of positive emotions, it heightens our mindfulness and leads to improved health, reduced illness symptoms, greater emotional support, and an enhanced sense of purpose in life. What we see here is a cascade effect.

The conscious cultivation of kindness leads to a chain reaction of wellbeing. I call this effect “The Kindness Cascade.” It’s a transformative shift that starts within. Wellness and wholeness are developed inside us, but radiate out into the body and into our lives and communities, bringing benefits that are physical, emotional, social, material, and spiritual.

To begin developing kindness is easy: just visit the lovingkindness section of our website, where you’ll find a step-by-step guide to the practice, including guided meditations.

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