lovingkindness practice

How to have compassion

Compassion is essentially the wish that beings not suffer – from subtle physical and emotional discomfort to agony and anguish – combined with feelings of sympathetic concern.

You could have compassion for an individual (a friend in the hospital, a co-worker passed over for a promotion), groups of people (victims of crime, those displaced by a hurricane, refugee children), animals (your pet, livestock heading for the slaughterhouse), and yourself.

Compassion is not pity, agreement, or a waiving of your rights. You can have compassion for people who’ve wronged you while also insisting that they treat you better.

Compassion by itself opens your heart and nourishes people you care about. Those who receive your compassion are more likely to be patient, forgiving, and compassionate with you. Compassion reflects the wisdom that everything is related to everything else, and it naturally draws you into feeling more connected with all things.

Additionally, compassion can incline you to helpful action. For example, one study showed that motor circuits in the brain lit up when people were feeling compassionate, as if they were getting ready to do something about the suffering they were sensing.

How do we cultivate compassion?

Compassion is natural; you don’t have to force it; just open to the difficulty, the struggle, the stress, the impact of events, the sorrow and strain in the other person; open your heart, let yourself be moved, and let compassion flow through you.

Feel what compassion’s like in your body – in your chest, throat, and face. Sense the way it softens your thoughts, gentles your reactions. Know it so you can find your way back again.

Moments of compassion come in the flow of life – maybe a friend tells you about a loss, or you can see the hurt behind someone’s angry face, or a hungry child looks out at you from the pages of a newspaper.

Also, you can deliberately call in compassion a minute (or more), perhaps each day; here are a few suggestions:

  • Relax and tune into your body.
  • Remember the feeling of being with someone who cares about you.
  • Bring to mind someone it is easy to feel compassion for.
  • Perhaps put your compassion into words, softly heard in the back of your mind, such as: “May you not suffer . . . may this hard time pass . . . may things be alright for you.”
  • Expand your circle of compassion to include others; consider a benefactor (someone who has been kind to you), friend, neutral person, difficult person (a challenge, certainly), and yourself (sometimes the hardest person of all).
  • Going further, extend compassion to all the beings in your family . . . neighborhood . . . city . . . state . . . country . . . world. All beings, known or unknown, liked or disliked. Humans, animals, plants, even microbes. Beings great or small, in the air, on the ground, under water. Including all, omitting none.

Going through your day, open to compassion from time to time for people you don’t know: someone in a deli, a stranger on a bus, crowds moving down the sidewalk.

Let compassion settle into the background of your mind and body. As what you come from, woven into your gaze, words, and actions.

Omitting none.

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‘Self-compassion’ can help divorced people heal

Robert Preidt: Self-compassion can help the newly divorced get through one of the most difficult periods of their lives, researchers suggest.

They explained that self-compassion — a combination of kindness toward oneself, recognition of common humanity, and the ability to let painful emotions pass — “can promote resilience and positive outcomes in the face of divorce.”
University of Arizona researchers studied 38 men and 67 women with an average age of 40 who had been married for more than 13 years and were divorced an average of three to four months. Those who had higher levels of kindness to themselves were able to recover faster from the emotional effects…

Click to read more »

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When metta doesn’t mean “love”

I remember feeling very frustrated – and frankly a little baffled – when I was first learning the metta bhavana practice. Especially around the fourth stage, the difficult person. How was I supposed to feel warmth and affection for somebody I admitted not getting along with?

It was a tall order, and the whole idea left me feeling inadequate. I often sat there wondering what the heck metta was supposed to feel like, because I just didn’t get it. I figured there must be something wrong with me. I’m wondering if you’ve ever found yourself in a similar place.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with me or you. One of the problems stems from the typical translation of “metta” as “lovingkindness.” While that’s not incorrect, it’s a little misleading, especially in the case of the difficult person. I think many of us have such strong images of what “love” means that it limits our perspective.

I recently came across a story that beautifully illustrates what metta for a difficult person REALLY is. A Thai monk by the name of Ajaan Fuang tells of his encounter with a snake while on retreat. It had come into his room and taken up residence behind one of the cabinets. So the two of them lived together uneasily for a few days, avoiding each other as best they could. The snake didn’t seem to want to leave, even though Fuang left the front door wide open.

Finally on the third day, Fuang quietly addressed the snake in meditation. He said, “Look, it’s not that I don’t like you. I don’t have any bad feelings for you. But our minds work in different ways. It’d be very easy for there to be a misunderstanding between us. Now, there are lots of places out in the woods where you can live without the uneasiness of living with me.”

And as he said those words, the snake quietly slipped out the door and left.

See also:

So this is metta for a difficult person. For some people (like that snake), it wouldn’t be appropriate to approach them with love and affection. They don’t want it from us. They don’t trust us, and we don’t really trust them either. We see the world in very different ways. In fact, if we try to hug a snake, it would probably bite us back! Obviously, that would not be wise.

But we can still wholeheartedly wish for their happiness and well-being — on their terms, not ours. Sometimes the best way for two people to be happy is to part ways. So in this case metta is more like respect and goodwill, as opposed to love and affection.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the Buddha was a very pragmatic man, and that his teachings reflect that. If I find myself struggling over my practice, then it probably means I’m barking up the wrong tree. There is no need for struggle.

Sometimes, the best thing I can do is to accept my own limits. I don’t have the heart of a Buddha, and I’m not able to love all beings genuinely. Not yet at least. And that’s OK. I still have my aspirations and intentions. And they will bear fruit in time. But for now, to struggle and beat myself up over my inadequacies does no good whatsoever. Best to let it go and move on.

And that moving on in itself is a practice of metta. Metta for myself, that is. I’m learning how to face everything in life with gentleness and acceptance. Including my own failings and foibles.

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A thousand thoughts of love

Kwan YinJuko, also known as Tina Jay, and manifesting on the microblogging service Twitter as @BuddhistGirl, has been tweeting with relentless positivity for many months.

While others discuss the weather, the latest TV gossip, politics, the weather, or what they had for lunch, @BuddhistGirl steadfastly tweets thoughts of lovingkindness.

For a few months she vanished, and I missed her. Then, like the blessing of the sun reappearing from behind a cloud after a long storm, she came back.

I’ve collected some of BuddhistGirl’s tweets here, and offer them as a beautiful collection of thoughts inspiring lovingkindness.

Despite the title of this post, I haven’t reproduced 1000 of Juko’s tweets. In fact she hasn’t written that number herself. But she’s on the way, and I wish her well.

  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to think of someone we have difficulty with & send them kind thoughts – may this seed blossom into peace & ease.
  • May this moment find you nourished & satisfied in all aspects of your life, may you feel peaceful, happy, liberated & safe.
  • Are you being kind to yourself?
  • @Buddhistgirl Invites us to touch the peace & calm that is always one breath away; may this next moment bring you blessings, love, health & ease.
  • Can we find a dose of kindness for a difficult person today? May this action plant a seed that blossoms into ease, grace, and joy.
  • May this moment find you happy, may it find you calm & centered, may you feel safe & loved enough to be kind in an unexpected way.
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to send lovingkindness to the next person we see: may this precious being know joy, health, and freedom from suffering.
  • Breathing in, wishing calm, ease, and grace to all who are bracing for the storm.
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to send love to the part of ourselves we most dislike. What a gift for our beautiful Buddha natures, to love this way.
  • Are you being kind to yourself? Makes it much easier to be kinder to others.
  • How about an act of kindness to someone in your vicinity? A smile for a stranger, a kiss for your beloved, a deep breath for yourself?
  • May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free from suffering. May you move through life with grace and ease.
  • Breathing in, I think of all who are struggling in this moment. May we move through our challenges with grace and ease.
  • Wishing safety, peace, ease & equanimity to all sentient beings : If we are calm, our hearts can not be moved by any storm.
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to consider that we are OK, just as we are. Nothing to change or take away, only Buddha nature, wrapped up in humanity.
  • @Buddhistgirl Is wondering if we can breathe and be kind – not only for the person who receives our kindness, but for our own budding Buddha natures.
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to be patient with ourselves in this moment; may you be kind, loving, & easy on yourself.
  • In this moment, I pause and breathe – a powerful antidote to minor irritation. Join me.
  • Wishing safety, peace, ease & equanimity to all sentient beings : If we are calm, our loving kind hearts can not be moved by any storm.
  • @Buddhistgirl is now wishing you are safe, happy, healthy, and able to connect to the peace of this moment (even if it is buried in chaos).
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to pause, breathe, and proceed with more kindness toward ourselves; it is my prayer this act of love reveals your Buddha nature.
  • @Buddhistgirl is wishing anyone who reads this courage, patience, deep joy & calm – can we pass this sincere wish on by breathing & being kind?
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to adjust our internal dialogue: May we be honest with ourselves without being harsh, unkind, impatient, or judgmental.
  • May you be happy and healthy; may you move through these next moments with ease.
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to adjust our internal dialogue: May we be honest with ourselves without being harsh, unkind,impatient, or judgmental.
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to send lovingkindness to the next person we see: May they be happy, know peace, find freedom, & move through life with ease.
  • May you be happy, may you be healthy, may this moment find you moving through life with grace & ease.
  • @Buddhistgirl is wishing anyone who reads this courage, patience, deep joy & calm – can we pass this sincere wish on by breathing & being kind?
  • May you be happy, may you be healthy, may this moment be full of joy; may you move through this day with grace & ease.
  • Can we send some lovingkindness to ourselves & someone we have hurt? May we each cultivate empathy & freedom from guilt & blame.
  • In this moment, I pause, breathe, and wish nothing but ease, comfort, safety, and joy for all beings; join me.
  • Practicing Tonglen for all sentient beings in Japan; join me. https://tinyurl.com/Tonglen
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to engage in a small act of generosity – money, a smile, whatever we have to give – who could use what we have to offer?
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to touch the peace & calm that is always one breath away; may this next moment bring you blessings, love, health & ease.
  • Grace, ease, safety, and joy…
  • …all available in this next breath.
  • May you be happy and healthy; may you move through these next moments with ease.
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to breathe, reset, and invigorate our next actions with care and kindness.
  • Can we send some lovingkindness to ourselves, and then to someone we have hurt? May we each cultivate empathy & freedom from guilt & blame.
  • In this moment, I pause, breathe, and wish nothing but ease, comfort, safety, and joy for all beings; join me.
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to be patient with ourselves in this moment; may you be kind, loving, peaceful, & easy on yourself (at least for this 1 breath!)
  • @Buddhistgirl invites you to perform a small act of kindness for someone you love: may you both know happiness, deep peace, compassion, and ease.
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to send wishes of peace,calm, & ease to a difficult person. Breathe & consider we are all doing the best we can in each moment.
  • May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you feel safe & loved, may you move through life with ease.
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to an act of kindness (small or large) to a being in our vicinity – potent water for our budding Buddha natures.
  • @Buddhistgirl reminds us it’s easier to be loving & kind to others when we are loving & kind to ourselves.
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to send lovingkindness to the last person who hurt our feelings: may we move on to healing, peace, joy & restoration.
  • @Buddhistgirl invites us to be patient with ourselves in this moment; may you be kind, loving, & easy on yourself.
  • Everything is going to be okay.
  • Silly me, everything is already okay.
  • Wherever you are in the unfolding of your day, may you find the strength & resources to be genuinely kind to yourself…
  • Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I inhabit the present moment fully & with deep compassion for myself & all beings.
  • Wherever you are in the unfolding of your day, may you find the strength & resources to be genuinely kind to yourself…
  • …may this act of self-compassion spill over to each being you encounter, may you respond to any challenges that arise with grace & ease.
  • Can we take a moment & be kind to ourselves? Can this act of love & patience spill over into our actions & attitudes toward others today?
  • How might you integrate kindness (especially for yourself) into your daily routine?
  • What actions, great or small, might demonstrate the value that compassion holds in your life this upcoming week?
  • Breathing in, may I choose to be kind to myself & others. Breathing out, may these seeds find fertile ground and blossom into joy.
  • Under the surface of our mundane tasks & interactions is an opportunity to move each other closer to the heart of our true selves: Joy, peace, kindness & enlightenment…
  • What a gift, to be able to take a breath & reset our perspective. What a privilege, to have the capacity to choose kindness & gratitude.
  • At this very moment, here sits another being wishing – sincerely- for your comfort, ease, safety & deep peace.
  • Are you being kind to yourself?
  • I arise & set a strong intention: To breathe when my harshest self emerges, to smile & conjure kindness for myself & those around me.
  • How about a warm smile for the next person you see? How about doing it with no attachment to whether it is returned?
  • Stopping, breathing & wishing peace, ease, grace & joy to everyone who reads these words.
  • Every being you encounter knows what it is like to be afraid, hurt, & unsure -Even your boss, and the difficult people in your life.
  • Each moment is full of choices – here is a wish that you find the resources to risk being kind in an unexpected way.
  • Can we take a breath & be curious about how a dose of genuine compassion might change the thing we are most worried about?
  • How about an act of kindness to the next person we see? An expression of gratitude, a sincere compliment, an authentic smile…
  • Each moment = a chance to open our hearts, loosen our attachment to being “right” & soften the muscles in our face into a smile.

Follow @BuddhistGirl on Twitter.

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How to clear your mind of negative thoughts

African elephant on the savannah

One of my friends is a lawyer in New York. He graduated from law school, passed the bar exam, got his license to practice, worked for a short time and then was laid off due to the failing economy.

I wanted to rescue him because I worried that like many lawyers in New York, he would be unemployed, would not be able to pay off his school loans and would not be able to maintain his apartment.

We worry, we obsess about the same things over and over again, we are anxious about things that never happen, we want more than we have, or something different from what we have, and we have expectations of ourselves and others that may never be met.

The mind is like a wild elephant that needs taming. If you have ever meditated and tried to quiet your mind, you will have experienced your thoughts as continuous and difficult to manage.

When we think negatively about ourselves and others, we do not experience the beauty and joy that can be found within ourselves and others.

A couple months after my friend was laid off, he met a colleague who offered him a job. All of my worrying was energy spent on something that never manifested.

Rather than worrying about my friend being unemployed, I could have thought positively about the situation. I could have thought about my friend’s strengths as a hard working, skilled lawyer.

I could have thought that the situation could actually end up to his benefit – he might find work he enjoys more than the work he was doing before he was laid off (which is what happened).

In meditation I practice working with my mind and I have experienced changing negative thoughts. First I become aware of my negative thoughts.

For example, I may notice that I am anticipating a negative outcome from working with a person with whom this has happened in the past, however, worrying about a situation in the future, when I do not know what the outcome will be, is wasted energy.

Rather than being concerned about working with the colleague, I could consider the positive qualities about the person and empathize with circumstances that might have made our interaction difficult for her.

She might have been experiencing personal or professional difficulties or have health issues or just see things differently.

When I think positively and with compassion, I am successful in clearing my mind of negative thoughts – it just takes awareness, mindfulness, understanding and compassion.

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With no effort or practice whatsoever, Enlightenment is here

In all sects of Buddhism, meditation is a prevalent practice,  but Buddhist teachers from different sects use different language to teach meditation.

There are meditations that focus on awareness and insight; meditations that focus on our breath, our body, our feelings, our minds and our mental qualities; and meditations for developing loving kindness within our minds and hearts.

It is easy, when learning a form of meditation, to just focus on the form and then judge whether or not we are doing it “right”.

There is freedom from this judging and striving in Dzogchen practice. Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche (1910-1991), one of the great luminaries of Tibetan Buddhism in the twentieth century,  was a highly realized and accomplished master dedicated to the transmission and preservation of Tibet’s spiritual legacy and a principle teacher of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Here is a list of some of the teachings on meditation from Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche:

  • “In meditation we can see through the illusion of past, present and future – the past is only an unreliable memory held in the present. The future is only a projection of our present conceptions. The present itself vanishes as soon as we try to grasp it.
  • We should free ourselves from our memories and preconceptions of meditation. Each moment of meditation is unique and full of potential.
  • Simply meditating in the moment, with our whole being, free from hesitation, boredom or excitement is Enlightenment.
  • Everything is naturally perfect just as it is,  we are naturally perfect as we are, a symbol of Enlightenment.
  • Everything and everyone is constantly changing, nothing is permanent. When we want things or people to remain the same, we suffer. When we want something different from what we have, we suffer.
  • With no effort or practice whatsoever, enlightenment is already here – it is not something or somewhere outside of ourselves. Striving for Enlightenment obstructs our free flow of energy.
  • The everyday practice of Dzogchen is just everyday life itself. Each moment is a moment that can be a moment of mindfulness, gratitude and meditation… there is no need to behave in any special way or attempt to attain anything above and beyond who we already are.
  • When meditating, we should feel it to be as natural as eating and breathing… we should realize that meditation transcends effort, practice, aims, goals and the duality of liberation and captivity. Our practice should be without effort, without strain, without attempts to control or force and without trying to become ‘peaceful’.
  • Therefore we should be natural and spontaneous, accepting and learning from everything.”

There is an expression in Dozgchen, emaho, which means each and every moment provides an opportunity to be kind, generous, honest, mindful, grateful and loving.  Emaho!

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“The Force of Kindness,” by Sharon Salzberg

The Force of Kindness, by Sharon Salzberg

Available from: Sounds True, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com

Sharon Salzberg has an excellent reputation for creating wonderful dharma books, but when I first saw the title, The Force of Kindness, I thought the subject matter was a little… soft. How much can be said about kindness?

Then, too, the book itself is diminutive in size — a standard Sounds True publication of less than a hundred pages, with a guided meditation CD included.

Title: The Force of Kindness
Author: Sharon Salzberg
Publisher: Sounds True
ISBN: 978-1-59179-920-7
Format: 96-page book, plus one-hour CD
Available from: Sounds True, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

But that was exactly what Sharon addressed — the incorrect impression that kindness itself is a soft topic with minimal applications. Sure, you can be kind to a lot of people — but how much is there to say about it? In very short order, your entire thinking about kindness changes and you see it for the very powerful and courageous act that it is.
She begins with a walk through kindness as we grow to adulthood, and how we can be unkind to ourselves or not fully kind because it isn’t coming from a genuine place.

“When we are devoted to the development of kindness, it becomes our ready response, so that reacting from compassion, from caring, is not a question of giving ourselves a lecture: ‘I don’t really feel like it, but I’d better be helpful, or what would people think?'” –Sharon Salzberg, The Force of Kindness, page 8

With further reflection, I discovered that she’s right; kindness is a force, every bit as powerful as any other act of inclusion that comes from a place of love and compassion. Unlike many so-called ‘positive’ emotions, kindness is itself the act of application — moving the intent of compassion into action, even (perhaps especially) for yourself.

As I read this book, which I estimated at first I could finish in an afternoon, I fell into the pattern of reading a page or two and then reflecting on it for a day or two. The information was especially relevant to me personally, as someone who is chronically unkind to herself, but in any walk of life there is something here that can be applied.
If anything, this should have been a full-length study book with structured exercises.

The book is a collection of stories to make the force of kindness more apparent, but since the topic itself was demonstrated so well as a way to move forward and into an inclusive way of being, I would like to have had more guidance about exactly how to be proactive with the information from the beginning, beyond the reflections at the end of each chapter. For the most part, the reflections called on one to think, stay open and pay attention to this or that — but not many ways to be kind in a more dynamic, active way.

All in all, it’s a wonderful place to start this study. I’m sure, with a longer book, Sharon would have fleshed out all of those points. As it is, this is an excellent primer for looking at yourself and others in a much more kind way, and for seeing kindness itself as a more powerful connective thread between us.

“It’s easy for us to feel separate from other people and from other forms of life, especially if we don’t have a reliable connection to our own inner world. Without insight into our internal cycles of pleasure and pain, desires and fears, there is a strong sense of being removed, apart or disconnected. When we do have an understanding of our inner lives, it provides an intuitive opening, even without words, to the ties that exist between ourselves and others.” – Sharon Salzberg, The Force of Kindness, page 32

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Try a little tenderness

grass at sunsetAbout three weeks ago I embarked on a 40 day spiritual programme. It’s a simple thing really –- daily reading, reflecting and writing on the themes –- but the effects have been profound. I’m no stranger to this sort of thing, having spent my twenties engaged in full time study and practice on the lead up to becoming an ordained Buddhist, but it’s been a while since I’ve taken up a such a purposeful, purely spiritual, exercise.

Recently, things have been very settled for me in my new abode –- a couple of caravans tucked away in the fields of rural Devon, in southwest England. I call it the ‘wild field’. My family and I moved here from a nine room country cottage in the neighbouring village a couple of months ago as an experiment in getting away from it all and living more simply. It was quite a downsize and a lot of work, but at last all the moving pandemonium is over. In addition, my husband Pat’s bad neck is much better and my 16 year old son Jamie has recovered from his relationship break up. I have some time to myself again!

So I’ve been glad to re-establish my coaching, meditation and writing practice, loving the retro 70s caravan I use as a studio. I’ve been waking up every day, looking out over the peaceful meadows, feeling my wonderful family close by me and counting my blessings. What a fantastic, beautiful, quiet, retreat-like haven of a life-style! Almost without realising it, I’ve been dropping deeper and deeper into the richness of my inner world.

And so its not surprising that the spiritual programme is biting. I recognise the pattern. At first there’s excitement and inspiration at the juicy wisdom being studied. Then times of uncomfortableness and resistance because an unenlightened part of me feels threatened, usually when I’m hanging on to some ingrained and unconscious way of being that’s really not necessary or useful any more.

After feeling tense and unhappy for a while, which can be hours or days, it becomes clearer what’s being challenged and what needs to let go. It helps to allow myself to feel my upset emotions (have a rant or a cry or whatever) and talk to someone who understands the process or write it all down in a journal without judgement. Eventually the realisations come and I end up feeling cleansed, renewed and aligned with a more peaceful, happy way of living than ever before.

I’m reminded that at the uncomfortable times the best thing you can do is simply accept ourselves just as you are –- and without needing to analyse why you are feeling out of sorts. A great exercise when you feel like this is to write a long list of “I love me when…” and finish each sentence. Write about loving yourself — the good and the bad — until you have a feeling of accepting every last part of yourself unconditionally. Even if you don’t feel it to be true at this time — write it down as though you do. For example “I love me when I’m inspired”, “I love me when I’m depressed”, “I love me when I know what I’m doing”, “I love me when I’m confused”.

Unconditional acceptance of oneself is always the beginning of the end of unhappiness. It’s so simple. Even when you are feeling utterly wretched it is possible to step outside and look back upon yourselves compassionately (just as you would look upon a crying child who has broken a beloved toy). The trick is to remember to do so! Once, when I was upset about something and unable to feel compassion for myself, Pat fetched a mirror and tenderly held it up in front of me. Looking at her poor, crying face in the mirror I felt rather sorry for the girl and my heart melted!

I think Eckhart Tolle‘s masterful book, The Power of Now, captures the simplicity of this awareness and acceptance process beautifully. I always say that the Power of Now is one of my ‘desert island books’. I have read scores and scores of spiritual and personal development books over the years, but this one captures an essence of them all. If I was stuck on a desert island with only a few books, I’d want this to be one of them. I thoroughly recommend it.

There’s also a brilliant loving kindness meditation that I learned many years ago and still practice and teach with relish. It’s a Buddhist meditation called the Metta Bhavana, or cultivation of loving kindness. (Not surprisingly, it seems to me that most spiritual traditions have similar contemplations or prayers.) The meditation begins by cultivation of love for oneself, then a friend, then a stranger, then an enemy, then the whole world. In my experience it is deeply transformational as well as gently nourishing, no matter what state you are in when you begin.

Really understanding what love is all about is the core of my inspiration and practice. And I have it on good authority that love is important. Once, when Jamie was a baby and could hardly talk, I said to him, jokingly, “Oh Jamie, what is the meaning of life?” “Love” he answered immediately and emphatically. A baby Buddha! Through parenting, I learned I should embrace love even if it meant also opening myself to loss.

When I was talking to Inspired Entrepreneur Nick Williams, he asked me what the principle of non-attachment means.  In response I quoted William Blake’s poem which, to me, captures the spirit of non-attachment and unconditional love:

He who binds himself to a joy;
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies;
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

Writing about all compassion and love has cheered me up no end! I guess “I love me when I’m deep in challenging process” and “I love me when I’m writing inspiring stuff about love”! A little tenderness does the trick.

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Buddhist Vihara offers metta meditation as solution for nightmares

wildmind meditation news

Pujitha Kuruwita, Independent Mail, Anderson, South Carolina: Anula would shiver, scream and wake-up in cold sweats from her nightmares every day. She would dream of someone killing her, someone cutting her limbs, she would be lost in a dark desert with horrible beasts, someone would chase her with a gun, she would be bitten by a snake and she’s so scared of snakes. She suffered from these gruesome and horrifying nightmares for many years, till at the Buddhist Vihara the Bhikkhu told her to practice “metta meditation” for few minutes before bed.

“Metta meditation” or “meditation of loving kindness” would become very easy to do with practice. One can practice metta mediation while sitting, standing or while being engaged in daily activities. Metta, a “pali” word, is translated to English as loving-kindness, friendliness, benevolence, friendship, amity or sympathy. It means wishing goodwill for your self and others, withholding all self-interests. As a result, your mind would be free of ill-will, hatred, jealousy and be filled with kindness, love and non-violence.

The Bhikkhu explains it best:

To begin … relax, quiet your mind and your self. You can begin by practicing metta to your self. Say out-loud or think to yourself, “May I be safe. May I be well. May I be peaceful. May I be happy. May I be strong.

When we practice true love to ourselves, we begin to think, just like we want to be happy, others want to be happy too. This is the foundation to practicing metta to others.

After practicing metta to yourself, practice metta to your loved ones. Your husband, your children, your friends, your family members. Practice saying “May they (whoever you think of) be safe. May they be well. May they be peaceful. May they be happy. May they be strong.

Then think of those you have neutral feelings toward. Practice loving kindness meditation toward them.

Afterward, think of those of whom you have a distaste for, those whom you find it difficult to forgive, those whom you had a conflict with, those whom you are angry with or fearful of. Think, May they be safe. May they be well. May they be peaceful. May they be happy. May they be strong.

And finally, think may all living beings be safe. May all living beings be well. May all living beings be peaceful. May all living beings be happy. May all living beings be strong.

You will begin to feel a sense of relief. Your heart will be light. You will feel happy and peaceful

If you practice metta meditation everyday, you will sleep well, wake-up easily, you will have pleasant dreams, your face will be beautiful, people will love you, also you will be free of hatred, jealousy, ill-will, and danger.

After these words, Anula practiced metta meditation before bedtime daily and it has been sweet dreams for her ever since!

May you be safe ! May you be well ! May you be peaceful ! May you be happy ! May you be strong!

Punya Pujitha Kuruwita visits the Buddhist Vihara in Greenville. She lives with her husband and 3-year-old daughter in Central.

Original article no longer available

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That misery called meditation

Robert Wright, the New York Times online columnist and author of The Evolution of God, is pretty much what you’d call a cynic. That’s why I was surprised when he spoke with such reverence of the period he spent meditating at a silent Buddhist retreat. “When I came out, I was quite different,” he told me. “It was one of the best things I’d ever done.”

What could bring such joy to a cynic? The way to find out was to go to Barre, Mass., home of the Insight Meditation Society, where Wright went on his pilgrimage many years ago. Founded in the 1970s by a group of Westerners who had spent time as Buddhist monks in Southeast Asia, it occupies a former Catholic novitiate next to a forest in the middle of nowhere. For nearly 40 years, it has been offering, well, silence.

I went for what was technically called a retreat. More specifically, it was seven days of silent meditation on the quality of infinite and unconditional loving-kindness. (Metta in Buddhist parlance.) There were rules: No speech, no hurting any being (including insects), no sexual misconduct, and no stealing. We would eat simple meals, sit in a meditation hall, or walk slowly back and forth with the mind focused on loving-kindness. In theory, it sounded pretty nice.

I was, it turned out, wrong. By Day 1, I realized I had made a terrible mistake. After my initial curiosity wore through, I began (in the parlance) to “notice” something: I was miserable. Sitting silently on a cushion for hours at a time turns out to be intensely boring. Worse, it was also physically painful. You could sit cross-legged, kneel, or even sit on a chair, but it didn’t really matter, because after a while, the same nauseating pain would creep into my right shoulder and scream into my ears. I was bored, aching, and because of the whole silent thing, lacked anyone to complain to. Wright be damned, I’d come to the wrong place.

My fellow meditators (referred to as “yogis”) actually made things worse. They hardly resembled beacons of love and joy. Instead, they walked around slowly, dragging their feet, faces blank. I began to feel that I was surrounded by zombies; I half-expected to see arms drop off. Sitting at dinner, surrounded by drooping humans, hunched over their plates, I imagined that I was at a banquet for the chronically depressed. I began to feel a physical, sinking dread at being around so much obvious misery. To think I could have been lying on a beach; instead I was trapped in a morgue.

In short, I quickly figured out that it had been a mistake to come here, and I still had about 140 hours of unrelenting boredom ahead of me. Think about it: A week of pure vacation is a valuable thing to waste sitting on a cushion. I kept imagining the myriad other ways I could have spent it. Back to Japan? To Alaska, into the wild? Scuba diving? Rock climbing? Anything and anywhere but here.

So my meditation practice became one long battle with regret. It went something like this: The teacher told us to imagine a place that made us feel happy and peaceful. I pictured a mountain. Fine. Then I pictured myself hiking that mountain. Then I said, What I am doing here instead of there? Angrily, I switched to the ocean. Peaceful. Then I thought of fish in the ocean. The fish became sushi and I became hungry. There was a piece of shiny fish sitting on rice, quivering slightly. I opened my eyes; and the sushi disappeared. I saw instead a room full of zombies trying to imagine what happiness felt like.

These thoughts, the teacher later explained, were something called a “hindrance.” The fact that I wanted to do something other than sit in the meditation hall was a desire, and desire leads to suffering. (This is the first lesson in Buddhism.) At the time, it seemed clearer to me that sitting in that hall, bored stiff and with burning shoulders was the very essence of “suffering.” Desire, meanwhile, seemed to have a lot to say for itself: It took you places, like, say, the local bar. Give me sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, I thought. I’d have settled for a sitcom at that point; something, anything. But there was still no one to complain to but myself, so I complained away, and I felt bad about that as I slowly lost the ability to move my neck from side to side.

If I’d had my own car, that might have been it, but I didn’t leave Barre—though I did spot at least one person dragging their luggage to the parking lot, never to return. The days passed, and after a while, something began to change. The regret subsided, and I found myself beginning to find it more bearable, even mildly enjoyable. The teachers encouraged us to be easy on ourselves, and I took the hint. If Phase 1 was regret-filled misery, in what you might call Phase 2, I retooled the experience to amuse myself; to turn the retreat into my own personal playground.

It began when we were instructed once again to conjure up a person or place that brought forth feelings of joy and love. Suddenly, I was a child, and I saw my mother as a young woman, eyes full of love, holding my hand and leading me through the park across from our home. My chest ached with the memory, and hot tears of joy came to my eyes. I refocused and felt on my hands the rough bark of my favorite childhood climbing tree, joined with the smell of summer. I summoned my best friends from second grade, Peter and Eddie, and together we ran off looking for adventure. I zoomed forward a few years and found myself with fists full of grass, climbing the side of a Swiss waterfall with my brother and best friends, my heart bursting with deepest joy.

In Phase 2, I had somehow grabbed control of the DVD player of life, and I skipped to the best scenes, the greatest moments of uncomplicated joy. I kissed my first girlfriend all over again on the porch at midnight. I flew to Mongolia, landed on a galloping horse, and thundered across the plains. I watched myself, at the age of 26, a young clerk at the Supreme Court, clutching in my hand a secret memo with a crucial fifth vote. With hours to kill and the remote control in my head, I went on adventures in memory that brought forth an outpouring of the love and kindness that we’d come to meditate on.

Back in reality, I also began to realize that despite the strict meditation schedule, no one could actually tell me what to do. If I decided to ditch the meditation hall and go off into the adjoining forest, no one was going to stop me. And so, with a stick serving as a sword, I ventured deep into the woods in search of ancient treasures, heading a troupe of heroes and wizards on a quest for the stone of wisdom. As a British commando, I spied on an enemy fortress, gathering intelligence. I became a wandering samurai, shouting challenges in Japanese and chopping the arms off my opponents (trees). After a while, I had to face it: I was having a ball, deep in a second childhood as vivid as the first.

Back at the seminary, meanwhile, my fellow zombies began to serve as a source of amusement. I laughed (silently) at their goofy posture and serious bearing. Knowing nothing about them, I made up nicknames and personalities: A man who snored his way through most of the sittings was Sleepy; the woman with a well-developed musculature was Hard Body. More naughtily, I began to imagine that my colleagues were arranging secret trysts, breaking the rules banning “sexual misconduct.” There was, I decided, a secret form of meditative sex going on, negotiated and conducted in total silence. I found unlimited amusement in that oldest of speculations: trying to guess who was secretly sleeping with whom.

All this made for great fun, but a touch of guilt, as well. It occurred to me that I wasn’t quite following the program. I wasn’t meditating nearly as much as the schedule called for, and at some level I did want to see what all the fuss was about. My daydreams, as vivid as they were, were, in Buddhist terminology, also hindrances, forms of “thinking,” and not what we were supposed to be doing, namely “being” or “abiding.” The teachers had warned us that the mind would do everything it could to avoid pain or discomfort, and it seemed pretty clear that was exactly what was going on. Yes, I had defeated boredom by the force of my imagination. But I sure hadn’t transcended it. Was there more?

It all came to a head in a meeting with Michele McDonald, the head teacher, a woman whose arrival in a room seemed to send invisible shock waves in every direction. She looked at me for a few moments, and then she asked how I was doing. The sound of my voice seemed strange, but I heard myself explaining that, after a rough start, I was feeling a lot of love and having a good time. I referred to an early talk where she warned us about trying to shut the door on pain, and I thought I should address that. I said that while I’d tried to find some pain, I had more or less given up on that and decided to just have fun, and so—

“Sit longer!” she commanded.

I was taken aback.

“Think about it for a second” she said. “What makes you get up? Sit! Don’t move, and you’ll see.”

It is hard to ignore a direct command that comes from a Buddhist master. So began what you might call Phase 3: I went to the meditation hall and sat. Really sat, I mean, without moving, not even to scratch an itch or stretch an ankle. By this time, I’d actually learned to sit in something like a loose, highly undignified interpretation of the lotus position, and there I remained for close to three hours, by far the longest I had ever sat in one place without moving a muscle.

And the master was right—something did happen. As predicted, the pain came. But I didn’t move. Into the second hour, the pain was sometimes excruciating: I could have sworn that live coals were being held to my ankles. But at some level I had decided to sit, and that was it. Yes, I was aching, but it was bearable, and even, in a weird way, sort of lovable. For somewhere within it I was beginning to feel a surrender that was deeply and profoundly relaxing.

After that session, I changed my approach and began to surrender further, relinquishing control bit by bit. I gave up trying to do anything special or different than anyone else. Basically, I became one more zombie. When the teachers said, “Sit,” I sat, and when it was time to walk, I walked. Somehow it didn’t feel boring any more. It was almost as if I’d forgotten what boring was.

At about the same time, a few other strange things began to happen. Once, while eating, my eyes became fixated on a patch of moss, and without warning, time stopped for who knows how long. At other times, colors seemed to be wrong, as if I was wearing tinted glasses. At one point I realized that I had forgotten my own name, the way you might forget the capital of Serbia. And I had begun to find even the smallest thing fascinating. Watching an ant crossing a rock was, for me, like Avatar in 3-D.

And just like that, it ended. Suddenly, we could speak again. I met Sleepy and Hard Body, who had real names and personalities completely different than the ones I had imagined. I hitched a ride back to New York City, where everything looked quite alien. Coming home, I noticed for the first time the sound of the floorboards creaking beneath my feet.

If New York was the same, I was still far from normal, at least for a while. Real life seemed like a big joke—it was far too dramatic, exaggerated, and, above all, comic to be real. A fat man argued with a short man, pointing wildly. Along came a group of girls, dressed for the evening, giggling and texting. And all these people talking to their dogs! Surely I was sitting in a giant theater, and these were paid actors, albeit exceptionally well-cast for their roles.

But over the next few days, those effects slowly wore off. (I did write a lot of kind and loving e-mails, knowing I might not see things so clearly later on.) I began to eat meat again, got on airplanes, and rediscovered what it felt to be rushed. I can’t really say whether the week of silence had a lasting effect, though I’d like to hope it did.

Looking back, it’s pretty clear to me that I’m not destined to reach enlightenment or to be a Buddhist yogi—not in this life, anyway. The retreat helped me realize that I’m full of desire, of longings for raw experience, and unbelievably controlling of how my life is lived. I also know that a taste for adventure is, at some level, why I went to the retreat in the first place; in that sense, the whole thing was corrupted from the start. But I can report that Robert Wright did know what he was talking about. It sounds simple, but one week of silence may give you a hint, maybe more reliably than almost anything else, of who you are.

[Tim Wu, Slate]
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