kindness

Lovingkindness: Connection before cultivation

heart-shaped stone on a sandy beach, close to the foam of an incoming wave

One of the emphases in my teaching of lovingkindness 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.

Read More

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 …

Read the original article »

Read More

“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.

Read More

The power of self-kindness

photo-1477408326134-9b64b5934e46-1

How we look at ourselves makes a huge difference to how we feel. I’m talking principally about how we regard ourselves internally—how we each relate to ourselves as an individual human being—rather than the way we look at ourselves in a mirror, although the two are of course related.

For a moment, think what it’s like to sit having a conversation with a friendly person. We get lots of little signals from them, acknowledging us. They smile. They nod. They make little noises to let us know we’re being heard. They look concerned when we talk about our difficulties.

Now think of what it’s like to talk to someone who is staring blankly at you, not giving you any feedback. Although it’s a neutral gaze, we perceive neutrality as hostile. The other person is failing to acknowledge your reality as a feeling being. It may become difficult to speak. Your bodies produces adrenalin, and you’ll feel our heart racing, there will be butterflies in your tummy, and you’ll feel shaky.

An actual hostile encounter, where we’re faced with contempt, sneering, eye-rolling, and put downs, can leave us emotionally reeling for weeks.

Now, which of these three scenarios — the positive, neutral, or overtly hostile encounter — best describes the way that you relate to your own being?

For many people it’s the third. Our self-talk can be brutally contemptuous. “Oh, I’m such an idiot. There I go again! I’ll never get this right.” Imagine if we had someone following us around saying, “You know you’re going to fail. There’s no point trying. Nobody likes you anyway.” We’d describe such a relationship as abusive. And yet, for many of us, that’s the way we talk to ourselves. Most of us are in an abusive relationship with ourselves.

This is something we can undo.

Jan Chozen Bays, in her lovely book of weekly mindfulness exercises, “How to Train a Wild Elephant,” suggests a practice called “Loving Eyes.” It’s a beautiful and simply way to evoke a sense of kindness, so that we’re looking at ourselves in the way a dear friend would, rather than the way a neutral interviewer or a critic would.

Chozen suggests that we recall an experience of looking with love, kindness, or affection. I usually think about what it’s like to look at my children while they’re sleeping, but you can think of looking at a lover, a dear friend, or even a pet. As you recall an experience of that sort, notice how it feels around your eyes, and around your heart.

Now, stay in touch with those feelings as you turn your attention toward yourself. Looking with the “inner eye” of awareness, become conscious of your body, and the sensations arising within in. Regard your body with friendliness, with kindness, with love.

Try placing a hand gently on your heart, and say to yourself things like, “I care about you. I want you to be happy. You deserve happiness. I want to support you and offer you kindness.”

What we’re doing here is being a friend to ourselves. Rather than treating our own being as if it were an enemy that needs to be relentlessly criticized, we treat ourselves as someone whose happiness and wellbeing is important to us.

Treating ourselves this way is not selfish. When we treat ourselves with kindness, this naturally becomes the way we treat others too. And letting go of self-criticism frees up our emotional energy so that we can be more engaged with and concerned about others.

Remember the way that you feel when someone is looking at you in a friendly, encouraging way, smiling, nodding, and giving visible signs of support and encouragement? You can access that anytime, just by changing the way you look at yourself.

Read More

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

wildmind meditation news

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.”…

Read the original article »

Promo for Wildmind's meditation initiative

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Click here to find out about the many benefits of being a sponsor.

Read More

Seven ways to bring lovingkindness into daily life

Two boys sitting at a window. The large boy has his arm around the other boy's shoulders, offering him comfort.

My experience has been that although mindfulness meditation helps me to feel more joyful, an equivalent amount of lovingkindness meditation has an even greater effect on my sense of well-being.

Imbuing the mind with kindness insulates us from negativity, so that unskillful thoughts and emotions can’t easily take hold. It improves our emotional resiliency, so that challenging circumstances are less likely to drag us down. And it also helps us to feel greater contentment and happiness.

It’s not just formal sitting meditation practice that has this effect, though. Many other activities in daily life can become opportunities to cultivate metta. Here are a few suggestions to help you increase the amount of kindness in your life.

1. Mirror Meditation
As you’re looking in the mirror in the morning—while shaving or putting on makeup or fixing your hair—wish yourself well. Look at the face you see before you, and recognize that here is a being who wants to be happy, and who often finds happiness elusive. Repeat the metta phrases of your choice. Something like, “May I be well. May I be happy. May I find peace.”

2. Eating and Drinking
Practice gratitude. As you’re eating or drinking, recall that other beings made it possible for you to do this. The coffee you’re drinking or the cereal you’re eating have been grown, harvested, transported, and processed by many, many thousands of beings. The machinery used to do that growing, harvesting, transporting, and processing also involved many tens of thousands of beings. When you start to consider things like the clothing, the road systems, the housing, the electricity, etc., needed for those people, then you realize that you’re literally being served your breakfast by millions of people. So say “thank you,” and wish those beings well.

3. Driving or Walking
Whether you’re driving, walking, or taking public transport, any traveling you do is an ideal opportunity to wish others well. You can simply repeat “May all beings be well” as you see travelers and pedestrians passing by. But you could try giving up your seat on the bus, or letting someone merge into traffic, and notice how that makes you feel.

4. Working
Remember that every being you meet at work wants to be happy, but generally isn’t very skilled at finding happiness. This being human is a difficult thing. See if you can at least not make it harder for others to be happy, and perhaps make it just a little easier. Try telling yourself, “This person is doing the best they can with the resources available to them,” and notice how it changes your feelings about them.

5. Shopping
While cruising the aisles of your local supermarket, send salvos of metta towards other shoppers. When you’re in the line for the checkout, keep up a constant stream of well-wishing: “May you be well. May you be happy. May you be kind to yourself and others.”

6. Watching the News
There are people on the news who are suffering, and they’re the obvious recipients of your lovingkindness. The same applies for those who have done positive things. But there will also be people you might normally feel angered by—politicians from rival parties, criminals, people waging war—and it’s important to wish that they become kinder. Our harboring ill will toward them doesn’t affect their lives at all, but diminishes our own sense of wellbeing.

7. Hitting the Hay
Traditionally, the practice of lovingkindness is said to help promote good sleep and prevent insomnia. Lying in bed is a lovely time to wish yourself and others well. Wish yourself well, with particular focus on anything you have to rejoice about that day. Then wish yourself well with a focus on anything painful and unresolved from your day. Send lovingkindness to any feelings that come up. And wish others well. You can send kind and loving thoughts to family, to friends, and to people you’ve encountered during the day.

Slipping these extra minutes of lovingkindness practice into your daily life will bring you closer to an emotional tipping point where you feel unusual amounts of joy and wellbeing.

Promo for Wildmind's meditation initiative

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Click here to find out about the many benefits of being a sponsor.

Read More

Intentional acts of kindness

Mindful Magazine: Although kindness can be misunderstood as an ineffectual or even superficial nicety, it’s neither. Like many amazing practices I’ve learned through mindfulness training, kindness is inspiring, powerful, courageous and wise. It’s also disarming, compelling and transformative. In any given moment, the kindness you offer to yourself or to others affects what happens in the very next moment.

Like mindfulness itself, kindness is a natural human quality that requires intentional action to realize it’s potential. And like mindfulness, research shows that kindness is good for our physical and our emotional well-being.

Studies show that thinking about …

Read the original article »

Read More

This difficult thing of being human

caution sign

It’s always good to remember that life isn’t easy.

I don’t mean to say that life is always hard in the sense of it always being painful. Clearly there are times when we’re happy, when things are going well, when we feel that our life is headed in the right direction and that even greater fulfillment is just ahead of us, etc.

What I mean is that even when we have times in our life that are good, that doesn’t last. In fact, often the things we’re so excited and happy about later turn out to be things that also cause us suffering.

For example, you start a brand new relationship and you’re in love and it’s exciting and fulfilling. And then you find yourself butting heads with your partner, and you hurt each others’ feelings. Maybe you even split up. Does that sound familiar?

For example, the new job that you’re thrilled about turns out to contain stresses you hadn’t imagined. Has that ever happened?

For example, the house you’re so pleased to have bought inevitably ends up requiring maintenance. Or perhaps the house value plummets. Or perhaps your circumstances change and you find it a struggle to meet the mortgage. Maybe you’ve been lucky, or maybe you’ve been there.

Happiness has a way of evaporating. Unhappiness has a way of sneaking up on us and sucker-punching us in the gut.

On a deep level, none of really understand happiness and unhappiness. If we truly understood the dynamics of these things, we’d be happy all the time and would never be miserable. We’d be enlightened. But pre-enlightenment, we’re all stumbling in the dark, and sometimes colliding painfully with life as we do so.

This being human is not easy. We’re doing a difficult thing in living a human life.

It’s good to accept all this, because life is so much harder when we think it should be easy. When we think life should be straightforward, and that we think we have it all sorted out, then unhappiness becomes a sign that we’ve “failed.” And that makes being in pain even more painful.

We haven’t failed when we’re unhappy; we’re just being human. We’re simply experiencing the tender truth of what it is to live a human life.

So when you’re unhappy, don’t beat yourself up about it. Don’t fight it. Accept that this is how things are right now. Often when you do that, you’ll very quickly—sometimes instantly—start to feel better. By accepting our suffering, we start to move through it.

And as you look around you, realize that everyone else is doing this difficult thing of being human too. They’re all struggling. We’re all struggling. We all want happiness and find happiness elusive. We all want to avoid suffering and yet keep stumbling into it, over and over.

Many of the things that bother you about other people are their attempts to deal with this difficult existential situation, in which we desire happiness, and don’t experience as much of it as we want, and desire to be free from suffering, and yet keep becoming trapped in it. Their moods, their clinging, their anger—all of these are the results of human beings struggling to find happiness, and having trouble doing so.

If we can recognize that this human life is not easy—if we can empathize with that very basic existential fact—then perhaps we can be just a little kinder to ourselves and others. And that would help make this human life just a little easier to navigate.

Read More

Kindness and compassion to all? Show some goodwill to yourself first

wildmind meditation newsVidyamala Burch, Kindness Blog: There is no doubt that ‘Giving Tuesday’ is a great way to bring us back to the true sense of charity and empathy towards others, but this is a one off seasonal donation. How is it possible to maintain kindness and compassion to others in our daily lives throughout the whole year, when we have so many demands from family, friends and live in a world where we witness others, and the environment, lurch from crisis to despair and back again?

To complicate matters, compassion and kindness can sometimes be viewed as ‘soft’, possibly even a bit weak? But nothing …

Read the original article »

Read More

Seeing yourself with loving eyes

Father cherishing a newborn baby

A lot of people have difficulty wishing themselves well, even in lovingkindness meditation. Here’s an approach that might help.

Imagine that you’ve been transported back in time, and you have the opportunity to hold yourself moments after your own birth. How would it be to cradle that tiny body in your hands, to see this small being, newly emerged into the world, so full of potential?

What would you want for this tiny version of yourself? I’d imagine you’d want him or her to grow up healthy and happy, to have the resilience to deal with life’s difficulties, and to be a kind and ethical person.

See also:

What would you feel? Love? Protectiveness? Joy? Care? Awe?

Would you have any anger or resentment against this newborn you? I presume not. Any blame? I doubt it.

You don’t have to time-travel to have this experience. This is what it can be like to have self-compassion and to be kind toward yourself. This is what it can be like to hold your own being in awareness, and to regard it with care, tenderness, and appreciation, to accept yourself as you are, to see yourself as newborn in every moment, to want nothing but the best for yourself.

Next time you feel hurt, or unsure, or anxious, or ashamed, try imagining that the hurt part of you is like a tiny baby that’s in need of reassurance. Give yourself loving attention. Hold yourself with tenderness, with kindness.

When we relate to ourselves in this way, it’s easier to regard others too in a similarly compassionate and kindly way. Self-compassion is not selfish—it’s the first step in being genuinely compassionate to all beings.

Read More
Menu

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Explore the benefits of becoming a supporter.

X