lovingkindness practice

How to love: Legendary Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh on mastering the art of “interbeing”

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings: “To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love.”

What does love mean, exactly? We have applied to it our finest definitions; we have examined its psychology and outlined it in philosophical frameworks; we have even devised a mathematical formula for attaining it. And yet anyone who has ever taken this wholehearted leap of faith knows that love remains a mystery — perhaps the mystery of the human experience.

Learning to meet this mystery with the full realness of our being — to show up for …

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On having lovingkindness for hackers

Two days ago I got an email message from a friend, saying that Wildmind had been hacked. Uh, oh. It was about 12:25PM, and the timing sucked, since I was just meeting with a couple of friends who were helping me move the last of my stuff out of the house I’ve been living in for the last nine years. As soon as that was over, it would be time to pick up my kids from school, feed them, and then take them back to school for an ice cream social and art show.

In the email my friend had sent me a screen shot, showing a screed criticizing Israel and the US. The night before, on Google Plus, my social network of choice, a western Buddhist monk living in Burma, Bhikkhu Subhuti, had posted that his site, and 60 other Buddhist sites, had been hacked by Muslim activists. I didn’t know if the group that attacked our site was involved in those attacks, but it seemed possible.

Our web hosts contacted me moments after my friend did, telling me that they’d locked down the site, preventing any public access.

When I had a chance to look behind the scenes, devastation awaited me. The hackers weren’t just trying to publicize their message, but were out to do damage. They’d deleted almost all the files and images needed to run the site, and had destroyed the database containing the thousands of articles that have been posted here over the years. But I wasn’t too upset, since I was aware that our web hosts keep backups.

It took 24 hours to restore the site, and to add new security features that will, I hope, stop a repeat of that incident.

Am I angry at the hackers? To my surprise, I’m not. One of the Buddha’s teachings has been my guide through this time:

In this way, monks, you should train yourselves: ‘Neither shall our minds be affected by this, nor for this matter shall we give vent to evil words, but we shall remain full of concern and pity, with a mind of love, and we shall not give in to hatred. On the contrary, we shall live projecting thoughts of universal love to that very person, making him as well as the whole world the object of our thoughts of universal love — thoughts that have grown great, exalted and measureless. We shall dwell radiating these thoughts which are void of hostility and ill will.’ It is in this way, monks, that you should train yourselves.

Bhikkhu Subhuti shared a similar sentiment:

The only thing one can do is be loving towards them and let them know that fighting is useless, counterproductive and loving-kindness prevails!

And of course change passwords too!

There’s one other thing that’s been in my mind, which is connected with the fact that the hackers were Muslim. This incident has been a good opportunity to remember that Buddhists in Burma have been persecuting the Rohingya Muslim population. This persecution has included rioting, murder, and arson. Monks in Burma have instigated these attacks, which are of course entirely the opposite of what the Buddha taught, since in the Buddha’s teaching there is no room for “righteous anger,” and the Buddha pointed out that any moment of anger or hatred is a moment in which you are not following his teaching.

Yes, it’s a pain to have your work vandalized. It’s a pain to have to spend many hours fixing things. It’s a pain to have those niggling worries that it might happen again.

But compared to the pain of having a family member murdered, or of being driven from your home, or of having your business burned down, the inconvenience I’ve experienced has been of little significance.

Of course it’s ironic that Bhikkhu Subhuti’s site was attacked despite him being a positive force for reconciliation between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma, and that our site was attacked despite us being vocal in condemning the acts of Buddhists who perpetrate hatred and violence. But this is just an illustration of the fact that hate is blind.

So I’m not going to join in with the cycle of hatred this time. It would just cause me more pain, and make the world a more hateful place. My response to these hackers is to accept difficulties with equanimity, think of them with kindness, and, of course, to change my password.

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Be kind to everyone, but trust only those who deserve it

Recently someone asked me what she should do if she couldn’t trust a person she was being kind to. In the past she’d tried to be compassionate to a roommate she didn’t trust, and had even felt herself to be in danger. She didn’t say what the exact circumstances were, but it sounded scary.

Being kind to someone means treating them as a feeling human being who, like us, has a deep-rooted desire to be happy and an equally deep-rooted desire not to suffer. It means empathizing with the fact that happiness is elusive and that suffering is all too common. Bearing these thoughts in mind makes it harder to be unkind to the other person and easier for us to treat them with empathy, kindness, and compassion. It becomes easier to care for their wellbeing.

Trust means knowing or believing that someone can be relied upon. It might mean that they can be depended on to look after our best interests. It could mean that they can be relied upon to tell the truth. It might mean that they can be relied upon to do what they say they will.

I think generally we can in fact trust most people, even complete strangers, but when there’s a history of dishonesty or manipulation, or when you pick up on a bad vibe, it’s best to err on the safe side.

But kindness and trust don’t necessarily overlap. We can treat everyone kindly, but a person may have a track record of not caring for our wellbeing (possibly even of being cruel or exploitative), or of being unreliable, or of being untruthful. Under such circumstances it might be very unwise to trust that person. They simply haven’t earned our trust. They’re not trust-worthy. Trusting everyone is what we call “idiot compassion.”

But you can still be kind to a person who isn’t worthy of your trust. Knowing that they’re a feeling being, you don’t have to want them to suffer. You may have to say or do things that make them unhappy (like saying “no” when they ask if they can borrow money) but you don’t do that with the intention of making them suffer. In fact if we’re being kind we may say “no” to another person because we want them to be happy! We don’t make people genuinely happy by enabling their vices.

I’m not saying, incidentally, that it’s easy not to have ill will for someone we distrust, just that’s it’s possible and that it’s what we should aim to do.

It sounds to me that the woman who asked this question had got herself into an enabling or codependent situation. Not wanting to appear cruel, she didn’t want to stand up to the other person. Wanting to be kind, she didn’t want to say no. But she was confusing trust and kindness.

If we fear that the other person is trying to exploit or harm us, we need to be very careful. Some people want to rip us off or even physically harm us. Sometimes we need need to be kind to ourselves by getting the hell out of Dodge! We should be kind to everyone, but in some cases we should be kind from a safe distance.

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Step five: Transforming our speech, actions and livelihood

Eight Step Recovery

Anyone who has worked a set of steps either in the 12 step tradition or the 8 step model, will know how long it can take to complete a set of steps. There are places where people get stuck, or just drop out.

This fifth step transforming our speech, actions and livelihood, is one of those steps that can feel overwhelming. ‘What! I have to transform my livelihood? How will I earn my living?’

The reality is if we want change in our lives we do have to begin a moral inventory and reflect on our behaviours. We put speech first, because most people can relate to the fact that their communication could be improved upon or even transformed.

The Eight Steps

However if we focused on transforming our actions, transformation of our speech and livelihood would follow us like a shadow. It has been said that: ‘The only thing we own are our actions.’ Hence our actions create our karma, because our actions will always have a consequence. The Buddha’s teaching on karma has been explained by Dhivan Thomas Jones and Sagaraghosa in their book This Being, That Becomes:  ‘Actions lead to habits lead to character leads to destiny.’

Picking up a drink after a hard day at work can lead to us doing this every day, until it has become a habit without us even being aware of it. This habit can impair our judgements, and we create a drunken character. And for many people that drunken character has created some miserable destinies.

The Buddhist teachings are quite clear about this ‘If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him/her like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him/her like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.’

We offer exercises and reflections in this step to help guide you through a possible radical change. It could be as simple as taking up the five training principles to help train the mind. When we begin to live a more ethical life, there can be hope. A strong practise of ethics can give rise to much joy and happiness. A strong practise of loving kindness can lead to a softening of the heart and much joy. Transform yourself and you will transform everything around you.

[Eight Step Recovery, pages 117-142.]

For a free sample chapter of Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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No more (Buddhist) Mr. Nice Guy!

Recently Euan, whom I don’t know, wrote a comment expressing his dismay at a girl turning him down because he was “too nice.” Here’s what he wrote:

I only started meditating in December 2014 and was seeing this girl for a while, we went on a couple of dates, the first went well and the second went ok. We continued messaging each other but she seemed less keen, then today she told me she felt we didn’t click and didn’t want to meet again. She said I paid her too many compliments and was too nice. I’m just so angry because I felt like she was leading me on and we had been speaking for at least two months as I first met her in December but I went home to university and so didn’t see her again until 2 weeks ago where we had the two dates and I thought things seemed to be going well. I just want to know what I’m supposed to think I guess. From what I’ve learned for my short period of meditation is that we should love each other, but when someone tells me they don’t want a relationship because I’m “too nice” it makes me question what I’m doing. Like should I stop being nice to girls I want potential relationships with, and how am I supposed to not get angry at her for me being too nice. What is so wrong with the world that people don’t like being treated nicely, it perplexes me.

Sorry if this doesn’t read smoothly, I’m writing this immediately after I found out and my almost immediate reaction was to question how I am supposed to think like a Buddhist when bad things happen to me for being too nice.

Euan’s comment raised questions that I thought are worth exploring in a blog post.

Euan’s experience is not unique. I’ve been there myself in the past, and when I was young I found myself astonished and sometimes angry at the way some women I’ve been interested in gravitated to men who seemed to me to be jerks. And although my anger never turned into a general hatred of women, this evidently happens with some men. But I still had a lot to learn.

So I want to talk about “being nice,” from the point of view of a man who’s realized that “being nice” is not as “nice” as “nice men” like to think it is. I’m not advocating being unkind, and certainly not advocating ill will or hatred. I’d like to talk about how “being nice” is not actually kind, is a form of manipulation, and is not, in most cases, what women need or want. And I’m sorry, Euan, but some of this may be hard to read. I don’t mean to be unkind or to hurt your feelings, but instead want to act as a kalyana mitta (spiritual friend) who points out things we need to know but may not want to know.

What’s a “nice guy”? A “nice guy” is a man who thinks that the way into a girl’s heart (and bed) is by being agreeable and flattering. Here are a few characteristics of “nice guys,” drawn from a Wikihow article:

  • They offer to do things for a girl they hardly know that they wouldn’t normally do for just anybody else they know.
  • They avoid conflict by withholding their opinions or even become agreeable with her when they don’t actually agree.
  • They try to fix and take care of her problems, they are drawn to trying to help.
  • They try to hide their perceived flaws and mistakes.
  • They are always looking for the “right” way to do things.
  • They have difficulty making their needs a priority.
  • They are often emotionally dependent on their partner.

The psychology of “nice guys” has been written about a lot. Here’s a great analysis of the whole phenomenon from Geek Feminism Wiki.

Being a “nice guy” is a strategy. It’s not who someone fundamentally is, although “nice guys” are very conscious of and attached to their identity (self view) as “nice guys.”

The purpose of the strategy, as I’ve said, is to attract and keep a woman. A cartoon by Callmekitto about “nice guys” shows a woman jubilantly holding up a card, similar to one of those “Buy ten cups of coffee and get one free” cards. She’s saying to the young man beside her, “That’s the eight stamp on your Nice Guy Card! Now you can stop pretending to care about me as a person and we can have all that sex you deserve!”

Cartoon by Lauren Dombrowski, @callmekitto at Tumblr

Cartoon by Lauren Dombrowski, @callmekitto at Tumblr

The cartoon is brutally frank, but it’s making the point that acting as a “nice guy” assumes that relationships are a form of transaction: I’ll pretend to be the kind of person I think you want, and then you’ll give me sex and approval.

As the cartoon indicates, the man who is playing at being a “nice guy” isn’t actually relating to the woman as a full human being. He’s not being himself, and may even have lost touch with who he is. He doesn’t want to express his needs and won’t challenge his intended partner in any way because he thinks that risks pushing her away. In fact the opposite is the case. Few women want a partner who doesn’t express himself and who avoids conflict. A conflict-averse partner is neither going to stand up for you not stand up to you.

The “nice guy” is far from practicing metta, or kindness. Metta is based on empathy (anukampa), which is an awareness of the other person as a person — as a feeling being who has needs. In fact the “nice guy” role is based on craving. You desperately want something (sex, companionship, approval, the status of “being in a relationship”) and you go through the moves that you think will get you that thing. But there’s no actual awareness of the other person, which is unattractive, and so as a “nice guy” you’re constantly finding that you don’t get what you want. In fact it’s not just that you want the things I’ve mentioned: you deserve them. After all, you’ve given the endless compliments, you’ve refrained from expressing what you really want in just about any situation (“No, any movie you choose is fine with me!”), you’ve studiously avoided expressing any needs (“No, it’s not a problem that you stood me up”). You’ve been nice. You’ve cranked the handle on the machine, and how it’s time for your reward!

When the reward doesn’t come the first few times, you might be depressed. But then you get angry — but not just at the girls who rejected you, because you start to realize that almost no girl is going to give you what you deserve. And you do, you think, deserve the sex and the love you want, because you’re not even conscious that “nice guy” is a role you’re playing, and you think it’s who you are. So you both want and hate women, or “bitches,” as you may think of them. As another cartoon (actually it’s more of a “meme”) says, “Women never date nice guys like me. I hate those bitches.” Frustrated craving turns to hatred.

I want to re-emphasize that the “nice guy” is a role that men play. It’s not who they fundamentally are. So in criticizing the actions of “nice guys,” I’m not saying that there’s something irretrievably flawed about them. Just that they need to so some work in becoming more self-aware, braver, more honest, and more genuinely empathetic and loving.

The Wikihow post I linked to above has some advice for stepping out of the “nice guy” role, but I’ll say just a few words about developing the qualities I just mentioned.

  • Become more self-aware: Realize when you’re acting out of craving and expectation. Let go of the label of “nice guy.” Seriously, never refer to yourself or think of yourself as a “nice guy” ever again. The role has become a trap for you, and it’s preventing you from seeing who you really are. Take responsibility, and take a good look at yourself: if your attempts at relationships all end up the same way, the common denominator is you, not “women.”
  • Be braver: Don’t cling to your preferences, but don’t be afraid to express them. Express how you feel. If you’re upset or afraid or hurt, it’s OK to express those things. And I mean express them directly, in words (“When you stood me up I felt really hurt”), not throwing a tantrum or trying to punish the other person. The Buddha was not a “nice guy.” He called people on their bullshit.
  • Become more honest: Stop trying to be “nice” all the time. But being honest doesn’t mean saying whatever happens to be on your mind. For example, Euan said that this girl has been “leading him on.” He may think that telling her that is “honest.” Actually, saying “I think you’ve been leading me on” is technically honest, because he has had that thought. But saying “She’s been leading me on” isn’t the truth, but a story. What from Euan’s point of view seems like being led on, might well be, from the girl’s point of view, giving the relationship a little time in order to see if she actually likes this guy. When you take your interpretations and present them as if they were the absolute truth, you’re not being honest.
  • Become more genuinely empathetic and loving: Ah, right: there are all these tips you’ve read on “how to show empathy.” You nod, and look concerned, and ask questions, and reflect things back to the other person, and make little “uhuh” noises to let the other person know you’re listening. But those things are not empathy. They’re what empathy looks like, and they can all be done without any real empathy at all, without any real appreciation that the other person is a fully human being with needs and desires, who in all likelihood wants to be with another person who has needs and desires, and not with someone who is going through the motions of “being nice” and “being empathetic.” To be genuinely empathetic you have to be self-aware, prepared to take risks, and to be honest. Ask yourself, would you want to be with someone who was acting the whole time?

Euan said, “From what I’ve learned for my short period of meditation is that we should love each other, but when someone tells me they don’t want a relationship because I’m ‘too nice’ it makes me question what I’m doing. Like should I stop being nice to girls I want potential relationships with.”

Buddhism does teach us to have metta (kindness) and karuna (compassion) and to be empathetic, but that doesn’t mean “being nice” and it certainly doesn’t mean “being manipulative.”

The men a “nice guy” thinks of as “jerks” — the ones they see girls with all the time — are more enjoyable for just about any human being to be with, let alone a romantic partner, than any self-consciously “nice guy.” They aren’t acting. They’re more inclined to be honest about what they want and feel. When they give compliments it feels sincere because they’re not doing it all the time. They offer challenge. They call out bullshit. We all need that.

I’m not saying that every “jerk” is really a good guy. Some jerks cheat or are violent. Those are real jerks. But even a real jerk might be more fulfilling to be in a relationship with than someone you don’t know because they’re constantly playing a role, and when there’s the underlying threat, which isn’t that hard to pick up on, that they’ll turn nasty when they don’t get what they want. Better the devil you know than the one pretending to be “nice” all the time, perhaps.

So being a “nice guy” isn’t nice. It’s fake. So yes, “nice guys” should stop being “nice.” But that doesn’t mean being unkind. It doesn’t mean treating people badly. It means becoming self-aware. It means “manning up” and having the courage to be honest so that you can be in a genuine relationship with another human being rather than acting out a role in order to get a reward.

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Mind over matter

wildmind meditation newsLinda and Charlie Bloom, Psych Central: “Mindfulness is not something that is only done in the meditation hall, it is also done in the kitchen, in the garden, when we’re on the telephone, when we are driving a car, when we are doing the dishes.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Mindfulness, a term that until fairly recently has not been very much in the current parlance has recently become a popular subject. There’s even a magazine, actually named Mindful that claims to “celebrate the basic human ability to be fully present and aware of where we are and what we’re doing.” And not long ago, …

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The power of kindness (and one surefire way to know if you “get” mindfulness)

wildmind meditation news

Ed Halliwell, Mindful: In my last blog, I wrote that I had been experimenting with a slightly adapted working definition of mindfulness—“the awareness and approach to life that arises from paying attention on purpose, fully present, with curiosity and compassion.” This is a small shift from the most common modern definition of mindfulness, which describes the practice as ‘non-judgemental.’ Misunderstanding of ‘non-judgement’ has, I believe, has led to some unjustified criticisms, which suggest that mindfulness is ethically groundless or passive.

Mindfulness is just not neutral noticing. There are a clear set of attitudes which underpin the practice, and compassion may be the most …

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How to get out of a bad mood: 12 tips

wildmind meditation newsJoyce Marter, LCPC, PsychCentral: Large and rapidly moving, ominous clouds of negativity roll into my mind, infuse my thoughts and deeply darken my mood. As I exhale, I feel the irritability fume from my nostrils like fiery smoke from a dragon’s. As I bristle with defensiveness and hostility, I feel the energetic spikes of anger jet from my spine, creating a non-verbal warning to others to steer clear. My eyes narrow and shoot lasers of fury. My tongue sharpens and my words become cutting and biting. As waves of anger ripple through my body, my energy and power grows. My walk becomes a stomp and I can almost feel the slash of my tail as I move, determined to defend myself and survive anything that comes my way.

“I’m in a bad mood today,” I said to my dear friend and colleague.

I feared she could see the dragon, was ashamed of my rage, and wanted to give her warning of my mood-state to protect our relationship.

“Really? You seem totally fine,” she said.

Interestingly, more often than not, others do not see the dragon. I have spent a lifetime hiding her and have apparently gotten quite good at it.

“Anyway, you are entitled to be in a bad mood with what you have going on,” she added.

What? Entitled to be in a bad mood? This was a radical new concept to me, and one that changed my life.

Growing up in my family, it was never acceptable to be in a bad mood. Angry feelings were not viewed as normal responses to life events, rather they were viewed as bad behavior. I was expected to be the happy, good girl. My feelings of anger were often invalidated. Subsequently, feelings of shame, guilt and anxiety were internalized.

Would my dragon exist had I been allowed to experience and express normal feelings of anger?

As I move through my own personal psycho-spiritual journey, I consciously strive for self-compassion for my negative feelings and less desirable aspects of self. I’m dedicated to a life aligned with love for self and others.

Because we are human, anger and foul moods are a natural and normal part of life. However, they need not be shameful nor destructive. They can be navigated and managed successfully, with little or no harm to any.

After 20 years of counseling clients and being dedicated to my own personal work, I recommend the following to pull out of a bad mood:

1) Don’t fight it. Fighting a bad mood is like flailing in water when drowning or panicking in quicksand—it makes things worse. Simply be mindful of your mood-state and accept that, “it is as it is.” (It’s important to note that I am referring to a “bad mood” and not depression, which requires treatment by a qualified mental health professional.)

2) Look for the lesson. Was there a trigger for the bad mood? Is there a hidden blessing or something to be learned? For example, I often get in a bad mood when I have over-extended and have not set healthy boundaries for myself. Sometimes negative consequences are opportunities for learning and growth.

3) Embrace it. Anger can be mobilizing, energizing and empowering. I secretly sometimes love my dragon energy. Man, do I get stuff done when I am in that state. I’m fearless and determined—-aspects of that can feel quite good and work to my benefit. Ask yourself, how can your negative mood state work to your advantage?

4) Understand that your feelings are always normal. Our feelings may be irrational, but they are always normal responses to our nature and our nurture. Sometimes a current event taps into a well of old feelings from the past, so our emotional response appears disproportionate to the event, but is actually understandable when you consider the full picture.

5) Cut yourself some slack. Nobody is perfect and we are all works in progress. Practice a mantra such as, “I am only human and I am doing the best that I can.” Accept and forgive yourself as you would your best friend or somebody you love very much.

6) Bring your attention to the present. Don’t exacerbate your bad mood by ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Practice mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or meditation to reboot your mind, body and spirit.

7) Pay attention to your thinking. You can observe your negative thoughts and choose not to listen to them. Look for anything good, as gratitude promotes positivity. Compassionately coach yourself through the mood (i.e. “It’s completely understandable that you are upset…Take one thing at a time…It’s going to be okay,” etc.

8) Take pause. Give yourself a mental time out. A bad mood is a good time to take a walk around the block or shut your office door to have a few quiet moments. It’s not a good time to initiate important conversations about work or relationships! Let loved ones know that your not at your best and hold your tongue so you don’t say things you will regret later.

9) Infuse yourself with self-care. Think of it like an epi-pen shot of self-love. Give yourself what you need, even if it is as simple as a good cup of coffee, a yummy meal, a bubble bath or an early night to bed. Keep the self-care healthy, as drinking and shopping and other compulsive behaviors can masquerade as self-care but may be more harmful in the end. Think of it as being your own good parent and take loving care of yourself.

10) Tell people what you need. Don’t expect others to be mind-readers or you might end up in an unwanted conflict. Use assertive communication to ask for support or space, depending on your needs.

11) Know that you are not your anger. You might feel like you are the dragon, but you are not. You the unique spirit of light and love that your anger is temporarily eclipsing.

12) Understand, this too, shall pass. Like the waves of the tide, your moods ebb and flow. You can trust in the ways of the universe—your low mood will lift in time.

The more you practice self-compassion and self-care, the sooner your spikes and claws will retract and the dark clouds will clear from your mind. Inner peace and serenity will be restored. That is, until the tides change and life presents you with another lesson…

“Heroes take journeys, confront dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves.” ~Carol Lynn Pearson

Original article no longer available…

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Intimacy and autonomy working together

Couple holding hand at sun riseIntimacy and autonomy are channels for expressing your natural goodness. For example, being kind toward someone naturally involves both an affinity with that person and a certain autonomy for the kindness to be genuine.

Besides its obvious rewards in everyday life, intimacy supports personal growth and spiritual practice through bringing you into relationship with things. Into relationship with your innermost experience and that of the people around you: the joys and sorrows, the suffering and its causes and what leads to its ending. Into compassion, kindness, and service: Love thy neighbor as thyself. Into relationship with a supportive community. And – if it’s meaningful to you – into relationship with God. Autonomy, too, supports personal growth and spiritual practice. For example, in Buddhism, you are supposed to “see for yourself” and make your own decisions about what makes sense to you. It is up to you, and no one else, to engage the path of awakening. It is you who will inherit the results of your actions, good or bad.

Intimacy and autonomy are often seen as opposite ends of the same continuum, so that as one increases the other diminishes. The classic example is, “Getting married means giving up my independence.” Less dramatically, people have understandable fears that if they express their deepest truth, others will leave them – or if they get really close emotionally, they’ll lose some of their own identity.

But intimacy need not undermine autonomy, and vice versa; in fact, they support each other. Intimacy fosters autonomy since repeated experiences of caring connection, particularly in childhood, are critical for the development of normal ego functions, personal worth, and confidence; healthy relationships provide the “secure base” from which we engage the world as an individual. Autonomy – both yours and the other person’s – nurtures intimacy in many ways, including its reassurance that you can still protect yourself when you’re wide open to another person, and by giving an extra oomph to relatedness: it makes such a difference when you know that the other person really wants to be with you.

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Is the intention a goal or already realized?

golden hourDo you express the intention as a goal or as something already realized?

This gets at a recurring question, even a debate, in Buddhism (and also in psychology and in some religions): Is it about progressing toward an enlightened state, or is it about uncovering the enlightened condition that has always been present? I can’t do justice here to the nuances of that consideration, but I can say what many wise people think is at the marrow of the matter: both are true. (Darn that middle way.)

In other words, it is powerful to focus on intention both as an aim toward a target, and as something that is already the case. The phrasing, “May ____________ “ is a nice way to accomplish this, since “May I be happy” or “May the world be at peace” both embody an aim and an actuality.

And of these two, aim and actuality, it’s usually best to emphasize the latter, the sense of the intention as already realized. For example, one thing that makes the affirmation form of verbalized intentions powerful (whether written, spoken, or thought), is that they are expressed in the present.

We are such a goal-directed culture, and there are so many associations of striving, frustration, and disappointment related to pursuing goals in the minds of so many of us, that there is often greater openness inside to intentions expressed as already true. We are already that way. Our circumstances are already that way.

This also points us to a greater recognition of, and gratitude and appreciation for, what is already good and working and wholesome and wonderful inside ourselves and outside, in our world. This feels good in its own right, which is very good for your brain! And you! And others!

And it directs us toward resources we may have missed, both inside and outside. There really is a profound wisdom and peacefulness already within us – in Buddhism, sometimes called Buddha mind, or bodhichitta. And a beautiful, wonderful harmony latent in the world.

For example, the “resting state” of the brain has a neurological coherence, a quiet hum of relaxed readiness, and a saturation with mildly positive emotion. That is what you return to when something is resolved, and that is what you return to if you start with a positive state and then jiggle it, such as with EMDR or other psychological techniques.

All this means that the universe and mother nature and spirit are all on your side. So, in a sense, a lot of what anyone of us is really trying to do is to re-access a sense of the innate nature of the brain – of our own nature as beings – and settle ever more deeply into that always already true and present condition. Kind of like settling into a cozy comforter in our bed that is home base.

Perhaps take a moment to see if you can sense into your preexisting Buddha nature, inner goodness, spark of the Divine within – in whatever way you experience or name that.

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