kindness

Why teaching kindness in schools is essential to reduce bullying

Lisa Currie, Edutopia: Phrases like “random acts of kindness” and “pay it forward” have become popular terms in modern society. This could perhaps be best explained by those who have identified a deficiency in their lives that can only be fulfilled by altruism.

It seems there are good reasons why we can’t get enough of those addictive, feel-good emotions, as scientific studies prove there are many physical, emotional, and mental health benefits associated with kindness.

As minds and bodies grow, it’s abundantly clear that children require a healthy dose …

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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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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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