lovingkindness practice

For people who hate their bodies

Image adapted from a Creative Commons licensed photograph by reway2007Not many people like their bodies. The typical reaction from looking at oneself naked in the mirror lies somewhere on a spectrum from mild disappointment to outright revulsion, with a bit of disbelief thrown in (how did I get so old? where did those wrinkles come from? where’s my hair gone?)

I had a little epiphany the other day, though. I’d been talking with my girlfriend, who I adore. She’s beautiful. Really beautiful. And she’s also afflicted by doubts about her attractiveness. So when we were talking she was going over some of the things she didn’t like about her appearance (wrinkles, etc) and I’m, like, “I don’t care. I love those things about you. You’re beautiful.” Well, you know what it’s like when you love someone unconditionally. There’s just a complete acceptance of the whole of them. So that’s one thing.

Then I walk into the bathroom to get ready for bed, and see myself naked in the mirror. And a quick series of criticisms of my body flashes through my mind. Some bits are too skinny. Some bits are too flabby, too hairy, not hairy enough… My overall response could be summed up in the word “Yuck.”

And then I caught myself. Why can’t I give myself the same uncritical love that I give to my girlfriend? I mean she thinks I’m attractive, so why can’t I just accept that?

So I started telling bits of my body that I love them. I patted my belly fondly and said “I love you.” I did the same as I touched my thinning scalp. And as I laid a hand on my man-boobs.

And you know something? It feels great saying those things. Criticizing ourselves is almost as painful as being criticized by others, but giving ourselves affection, appreciation, and acceptance is often even more moving than receiving those things from other people, because it’s something we so rarely do. So I’ve been doing this ever since. You might want to try it too.

If there’s an inner voice telling you that this is silly or doubting that you can really love those bits of yourself that you tend not to like, don’t suppress that voice or try to argue with it. Just let the thoughts come and go.

Bear in mind that this is something you might want to repeat often. After all, you might have criticized your body tens of thousands of times, so perhaps it’ll take you a while to get into the habit of doing the opposite. But do try it. I’d love to hear how you get on.

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Google’s ‘Head of Mindfulness’ speaks out

wildmind meditation newsJo Confino, TopTechNews.com: A growing awareness of the importance of our emotional fitness is mirroring the same journey of acceptance that physical exercise took in the last century, says Chade-Meng Tan, Google’s head of mindfulness training. Tan says that mindfulness opens the doorway to loving kindness, which is at the heart of business success.

Chade-Meng Tan’s job description would never get past most companies’ human resources departments. As the head of mindfulness training at Google, his role is to enlighten minds, open hearts and create world peace.
But he hopes that one day, his role will become commonplace. A growing awareness of the …

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Lovingkindness meditation: another guided meditation MP3

Another of the recordings from the retreat I’m currently co-leading at Aryaloka retreat center. The retreat’s on creativity and meditation, and I’ve been noticing how self-critical (i.e. “perfectionist” many creative people can be. So I threw in this short meditation at the end of the evening in order to connect us with the fact that life is messy, that we don’t “do life” perfectly, and how this can be an opportunity for us to develop more empathy and kindness rather than to beat ourselves up.

I hope this is of benefit to you. (By the way, the meditation room is kind of noisy, and the recording equipment wan’t great. And it’s only very lightly edited to remove some of the coughs.)

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21 ways to turn ill will to good will

wooden wall painted with slogans of kindness, such as "love and kindness are never wasted"

Here we give up angry, punishing reactions toward others, animals, plants, and things. If such attitudes arise, we resolve not to feed them, and to cut them off as fast as we can.

The Buddha placed great stress on the importance of releasing ill will. In the extreme, he said that even when we are being grossly mistreated by others, we should practice good will toward them, and wish them the best.

To be sure, that does not mean turning a blind eye toward injustice and mistreatment – of ourselves as well as others – nor does it mean turning our back on skillful actions of protection, advocacy, and betterment. It is perfectly appropriate to defend yourself, assert yourself, pursue your own interests – and to do all that on behalf of others, too – as long as all that is done in the spirit of wisdom and good will. This stance is seen pointedly and poignantly in the Dalai Lama’s reference to “ . . . my friends, the enemy Chinese.”

Of course, in daily life, practicing with ill will is often extremely difficult – especially when we feel we’ve been truly wronged. For help, please see, “21 Ways to Turn Ill Will to Good Will.” As a summary, those ways are listed here:

  1. Be mindful of the priming.
  2. Practice non-contention.
  3. Inspect the underlying trigger.
  4. Be careful about attributing intent to others.
  5. Put what happened in perspective.
  6. Cultivate lovingkindness, compassion sympathetic joy, and equanimity.
  7. Practice generosity.
  8. Investigate ill will.
  9. Regard ill will as an affliction.
  10. Settle into awareness of ill will, but don’t be identified with it.
  11. Accept the wound.
  12. Do not cling to what you want.
  13. Let go of the view that things are supposed to be a certain way.
  14. Release the sense of self.
  15. “ . . . ill will is suppressed by the first jhana based on lovingkindness and eradicated by the path of nonreturning.”
  16. Resolve to meet mistreatment with lovingkindness.
  17. Cultivate positive emotion.
  18. Communicate.
  19. Have faith that they will inherit their own karmas one day.
  20. Realize that some people will not get the lesson.
  21. Forgive.
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4 ways to meditate during your day

wildmind meditation newsHerald Sun: Finding time to relax and close your eyes isn’t always possible. Fear not – you can do these four meditations anywhere, no shut-eye required.

1. In the shower: Waterfall meditation
Waterfall meditation Shinto priests use the cold crashing force of waterfalls in purification rituals. This is a far more pleasant version.

How to do it:

Adjust the water to your ideal temperature. Take a few deep breaths and set your intention to use this time to meditate. Feel the water on your head and dripping down onto your shoulders, arms, torso, legs and feet. Become mindful of the scent and texture of the …

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Decide on love

Jeff was convinced he’d fallen out of love with his wife, Arlene, and that nothing could salvage their twenty-six-year marriage. He wanted relief from the oppressiveness of feeling continually judged and found wanting. Arlene, for her part, was hurt and angry because she felt Jeff avoided any real communication or emotional intimacy. As a last-ditch effort, she convinced him to attend a weekend workshop for couples sponsored by their church. Much to their surprise, they both left with a glimmer of hope for their future together. The message they took away was “Love is a decision.” Their guides at the workshop had insisted that while we don’t always feel loving, love is here should we choose to awaken it.

Yet, back at home, when their old styles of attacking and defending were triggered, deciding on love seemed like an ineffectual mental maneuver. Discouraged, Jeff sought me out for a counseling session. “I don’t know how to get from point A to point B,” he declared. “Like when we were together yesterday . . . my mind told me to decide on love, but that didn’t make a difference . . . my heart was in lockdown. Arlene was blaming me for something, and all I wanted to do was get away from her!”

Also see:

“Let’s take another look at what happened yesterday,” I suggested, then invited him to close his eyes, put himself back into the situation, and let go of his notions of who was right or wrong. “Just let yourself experience what it’s like in your body to feel blamed and want to get away.” Jeff sat still, his face tightening into a grimace. “Keep allowing the feelings to be there,” I said, “and find out what unfolds.”

Gradually, his face softened. “Now I’m feeling stuck and sad,” he said. “We spend so much time caught in this. I withdraw, often without knowing it . . . that hurts her . . . she gets upset . . . then I very consciously want to get away. It’s sad to be so trapped.”

He looked up at me. I nodded with understanding. “What would it be like, Jeff, if instead of pulling away during this kind of encounter, you were able to let her know exactly what you were experiencing?” Then I added, “And if she, too, without accusing you of anything, were able to report on her feelings?”

“We’d have to know what we were feeling!” he said with a small laugh. “We’re usually too busy reacting.”

“Exactly!” I said. “You’d both have to be paying attention to what’s going on inside you. And that runs counter to our conditioning. When we’re emotionally stirred up, we’re lost in our stories about what’s happening, and caught in reflexive behaviors—like blaming the other person or finding a way to leave. That’s why we need to train ourselves to pay attention, so that we’re not at the mercy of our conditioning.”

I went on to explain how the practice of meditation cultivates our capacity for presence, for directly contacting our real, moment-to-moment experience. This gives us more inner space and creativity in responding—rather than reacting—to our circumstances. When I suggested that he and Arlene might consider coming to my weekly meditation class, he readily agreed. They were both there the following Wednesday night, and a month later, they attended a weekend meditation retreat I was leading.

Some weeks after the retreat, the three of us spoke briefly after class. Arlene said that thanks to their meditation practice, they were learning how to decide on love: “We have to choose presence with each other, over and over and over,” she told me. “We have to choose presence when we’re angry, presence when we aren’t in the mood to listen, presence when we’re alone and running the same old stories about how the other is wrong. Choosing presence is our way of opening our hearts.”

Jeff nodded his agreement. “I realized that it’s not about getting from point A to point B,” he said with a smile. “It’s about bringing a full presence to point A, to the life of this moment, no matter what’s going on. The rest unfolds from there.”

Taking refuge in presence—choosing presence—requires training. When “point A” is unpleasant, the last thing we want to do is to stay and feel our experience. Rather than entrusting ourselves to the waves of experience, we want to get away, lash out, numb ourselves, do anything but touch what’s real. Yet, as Jeff and Arlene were realizing, these types of false refuges keep us feeling small and defended.

As I explore in my upcoming course on cultivating more conscious, vibrant relationships, only by deepening our attention and letting life be just as it is can we find real intimacy with ourselves and others. In more than thirty-five years of teaching meditation, I’ve seen it help countless people to deepen their capacity for loving, because if we are able to stay present, we can decide on love, and give it the space and attention it needs to ignite fully. When you are next in a conflict with a dear one, you might inquire, “What would it mean to decide on love? Can I commit to deepening presence for the sake of love?” Just the inquiry will draw you closer to your heart.

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Meditation helps pinpoint neurological differences between two types of love

wildmind meditation news

Bill Hathaway, Yale News: These findings won’t appear on any Hallmark card, but romantic love tends to activate the same reward areas of the brain as cocaine, research has shown.

Now Yale School of Medicine researchers studying meditators have found that a more selfless variety of love — a deep and genuine wish for the happiness of others without expectation of reward — actually turns off the same reward areas that light up when lovers see each other.

See also:

“When we truly, selflessly wish for the well-being of others, we’re not getting that same rush of excitement that comes with, say, a tweet from our romantic love interest, because it’s not about us at all,” said Judson Brewer, adjunct professor of psychiatry at Yale now at the University of Massachusetts.

Brewer and Kathleen Garrison, postdoctoral researcher in Yale’s Department of Psychiatry, report their findings in a paper scheduled to be published online Feb. 12 in the journal Brain and Behavior.

The neurological boundaries between these two types of love become clear in fMRI scans of experienced meditators. The reward centers of the brain that are strongly activated by a lover’s face (or a picture of cocaine) are almost completely turned off when a meditator is instructed to silently repeat sayings such as “May all beings be happy.”

Such mindfulness meditations are a staple of Buddhism and are now commonly practiced in Western stress reduction programs, Brewer notes. The tranquility of this selfless love for others — exemplified in such religious figures such as Mother Theresa or the Dalai Llama — is diametrically opposed to the anxiety caused by a lovers’ quarrel or extended separation. And it carries its own rewards.

“The intent of this practice is to specifically foster selfless love — just putting it out there and not looking for or wanting anything in return,” Brewer said. “If you’re wondering where the reward is in being selfless, just reflect on how it feels when you see people out there helping others, or even when you hold the door for somebody the next time you are at Starbucks.”

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Learning to love your suffering

Woman showing compassion to a young child that she is holding.

Buddhism talks a lot about suffering, but a lot of us think that we don’t suffer, or that we don’t really suffer. There’s a tendency for us to think of suffering in terms of physical pain or material deprivation: the person with terminal cancer or a broken leg, the refugee, the starving child. So we often think of suffering as being something that’s extreme or unusual. But actually, we all suffer, every day. You may be suffering right now.

  • When you’re worrying what people think about you, you’re suffering.
  • When you feel resentful, you’re suffering.
  • When you’re impatient, you’re suffering.
  • When you’re embarrassed, you’re suffering.
  • When you’re irritated, you’re suffering.
  • When you’re feeling sad, you’re suffering.
  • When you have regrets, you’re suffering.
  • When you’re jealous, you’re suffering.
  • When you’re bored, you’re suffering.

If you look closely at your mental states over the course of any given day, you’ll probably notice that you spend a lot of time dipping in and out of suffering of one sort of another.

And if you look at the people around you, it’s a fair bet that half of them are suffering at any given time. Just notice: how many of them are showing signs of being happy?

I think one reason we deny our own suffering is because we think of suffering as a sign of “failure.” After all, we’re meant to be happy all the time, or so certain messages we receive from society tell us. But if we don’t acknowledge suffering — even our minor experiences of suffering — then we can’t do anything about it, and will continue to go about life in a sub-optimal emotional state.

So I suggest that we notice experiences of suffering, and we accept the fact of our own suffering. There’s no point fretting about the fact that we suffer; it’s not a sign of failure. It’s just a part of the experience of being human, and a fact to be acknowledged. And once we’ve acknowledged and accepted our suffering, we can start to do something about it. In particular, I suggest wishing our suffering well. Drop lovingkindness phrases into your mind — “May you be well; may you be happy; may you be free from suffering.” Just notice your suffering, give it your compassion. Love your suffering, and see what happens. You might find that once you’ve given compassion to your own pain, it’s natural to notice the suffering around you, and to respond compassionately to others.

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Why you don’t really hate yourself

woman standing against a wall divided into contrasting colors

Lots of people struggle with self-hatred. They find they constantly judge themselves, talk to themselves harshly, and even do things to themselves that are harmful. It’s very painful to be this way.

But I want to tell you: you don’t really hate yourself.

In the deepest core of your being you love yourself. In the deepest core of your being you want everything for yourself that you want for those you hold most dear. In the deepest core of your being you want to be happy, to be well, and to be at peace.

And everything you do — everything — is a strategic attempt to find happiness, wellness, and peace. That’s the motivation behind every action you take, including your acts of self-hatred.

If you hate someone else, your motivation is usually something like this: by being unpleasant to them they’ll go away and not bother you any more, and then you’ll be at peace, and you can get on with being happy. Or they’ll stop doing that thing that annoys you, and then you can go back to being happy.

Those motivations of ours aren’t usually very conscious, because conscious self-examination is a relatively recent arrival in our being, evolutionarily speaking, and so many of our strategies are not clearly thought out, but are automatic and habitual. And so we often use strategies that just don’t work. The person you’re unpleasant to often can’t or won’t go away. They may be unpleasant back at you. And so your strategy to find peace and happiness ends up destroying your peace and your happiness even further.

If you hate some aspect of yourself, then usually the motivation is similar to those above. Maybe you messed up: “Oh god, what an idiot I am!” you yell at yourself, in the privacy of your own head. You treat yourself like a child who needs to be punished so that it won’t repeat an error. You do something good but you tell yourself it wasn’t “good enough.” If you can just be unpleasant enough to yourself, then maybe you’ll stop making mistakes. You’ll do better. Then you’ll be happy.

This is also a strategy that doesn’t work. You can’t find happiness through being harsh on yourself. You can’t create a sense of inner peace through setting up a conflict with yourself. But we get stuck with our failed strategies of self-hating behaviors — repeating them over and over. Hating yourself didn’t work that time? Try a bit harder at hating yourself next time!

But the key thing is that self-hatred is a strategy. And it’s a strategy for meeting a deeper desire for well-being, peace, and happiness. And that deeper desire for well-being, peace, and happiness is the love you have for yourself.

Self-hatred is self-love gone wrong. Self-hatred is your natural desire for happiness expressing itself in a strategy that can never work.

This is, I hope, encouraging. Because it’s not you, in your core, that’s the problem. It’s your strategies. And you can change your strategies. Strategies, in the great scheme of things, are relatively superficial. When you mess up, you can learn accept that you messed up without recrimination. You can learn that you don’t need to be harsh on yourself to prevent yourself making mistakes. You can learn, as animal trainers well know, that rewards are more important motivators than punishments like harsh self-talk. You can learn to be kind to yourself. You can practice lovingkindness, and learn the arts of being patient, accepting, and kind toward yourself. You can learn to be compassionate to yourself when you’re suffering.

It’s not necessarily easy to do all this. In fact it’s not easy. It even can be very painful in the short-term (we’ll often give ourselves a hard time for giving ourselves a hard time), although in the long-term learning to be kind to ourselves brings great happiness. You can expect a bumpy ride at first. But the only thing more painful than learning new strategies for finding happiness is to keep going with strategies that never have worked and never can.

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