metta

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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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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We can teach our brains to feel more compassion

wildmind meditation newsMindful.org: Scientific evidence shows that we can train the brain to feel more compassion—for others and for ourselves.

Another science-based reason to try loving-kindness meditation! In a study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (directed by Dr. Richard J. Davidson, who was featured in Mindful’s August 2014 issue), participants were taught to generate compassion for different categories of people, including both those they love and “difficult” people in their lives.

After only two weeks of online training, participants who practiced compassion meditation every day behaved more altruistically towards strangers compared to another group taught to simply regulate or control …

Read the original article »

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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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What do you call metta?

Dalai Lama

What’s your preferred translation of “metta”?

As a kind of postscript to our recent Urban Retreat, which was on the theme of metta, I’m going to share my thoughts about some of the terms people use, and propose an uncommon, but I think good, English term.

1. Lovingkindness

The most common English term that people use for metta is “lovingkindness.” That’s pretty much the standard term. A search for “metta is loving-kindness” on Google brought up 17,200 results.

What’s good about it?

It’s an old and well-established term in English. You might be surprised how old it is; it’s found for example in a 1611 translation of the Bible (this example is from the Book of Psalms):

I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation.
Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O Lord:
Let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me.

What’s not so good about it?

Well, how often do you hear people who aren’t Buddhists talking about “lovingkindness”? It’s a rare term, and because it’s rare it doesn’t resonate much on an emotional level. And so it’s rather abstract, and ends up suggesting that metta is something remote from our everyday experience; something we’ve yet to experience.

2. Love

Love is again less common than lovingkindness. A search for “metta is love” on Google brought up 34,800 results.

What’s good about it?

We can all resonate with the word “love.” It’s a very warm and emotional term.

What’s not so good about it?

The word “love” is very ambiguous, and we’re always having to qualify it in various ways, by specifying that it’s “non-romantic love” for example (but even that’s very ambiguous, because there are many kinds of non-romantic love, including love of our children, love or our country, loving chocolate, etc.).

And even the “love they neighbor” kind of love doesn’t necessarily fit very well with what metta is. For example, can you love your neighbor but not like them? Possibly, but it’s not very obvious to everyone what that means. But you can have metta for someone you don’t like.

Also, “love” is very much understood as an emotion — something we feel — while metta is a volition or intention — something we want. Specifically, metta is wanting beings (ourselves included) to be well and happy.

Which brings up another problem. “Self-love” has a bad reputation in the west, and it conjures up narcissism and arrogance.

3. Friendliness

Friendliness is less commonly used than lovingkindness as a term for metta, but it’s not uncommon. A search for “metta is friendliness” on Google brought up 2,180 results.

What’s good about it?

Friendliness is a good translation of metta, because it’s related to the Pāli word mitta, meaning friend. Metta isn’t about friendship, but it is about friendliness. It has the advantage of being a word in common use, and it’s one that we can relate to more easily than lovingkindness. Friendliness again is more of an attitude or intention, which is closer to metta’s role as a volition.

What’s not so good about it?

The word friendliness sounds a bit weak, and metta can feel quite intense (although it doesn’t have to). What do you think of when you call the word “friendliness” to mind? What images do you see? I see someone at a party, socializing, which isn’t really what metta is about.

4. Universal Love

It’s a term that used, although “metta is universal love” brings up only 9 results on Google. It’s found in books going back to the early 20th century, and I think it used to be more common. In my early days of practice, people would often say that metta was universal love, or universal lovingkindness.

What’s good about it?

Well, technically metta is an unbounded (appamāṇa) state of mind, which is to say that it’s not “bounded” (pamāṇa) by conditional relationships, which the word “universal” tries to communicate.

What’s not so good about it?

However, anything that’s “universal” seems pretty much out of reach. What images come to mind when you think of “universal love”? Are those images related to your day-to-day experience? “Universal love” suggests a degree of love that’s almost unimaginable. Sure, you have days when you’re in a good mood and you feel affection for lots of people, but do you love everyone? Every single person? That’s what the term seems to suggest. And probably because that seems to unattainable, “universal love” isn’t very popular as a translation for metta.

5. Goodwill

Goodwill isn’t a common translation of metta, but Bhikkhu Thanissaro, who has contributed the bulk of translations to the wonderful Access to Insight, prefers it. I only found 172 results, however, for “metta is goodwill.”

What’s good about it?

“Goodwill” is having a friendly or cooperative attitude, so there’s a close correspondence with metta. Thanissaro describes goodwill as “wishing the other person well, but realizing that true happiness is something that each of us ultimately will have to find for him or herself, and sometimes most easily when we go our separate ways.”

What’s not so good about it?

When was the last time you used the word “goodwill” or heard it being used? Perhaps on a Christmas card: “Peace on Earth and Good Will to all Men”? Perhaps in a business transaction: paying more for an asset than it’s worth? It’s just not a very common term. I certainly do talk about metta as wishing people well (which is another way of describing goodwill), but the term “goodwill” isn’t one I use much, or hear used, and it doesn’t really resonate with me. But perhaps it resonates more with you.

6. Kindness

Metta isn’t often translated as “kindness.” The phrase “metta is kindness” only brought up 88 results on Google.

What’s good about it?

Kindness is, like love, an almost tangible quality. It’s something we’ve all felt. We know we’ve experienced it within ourselves, and we can think of examples of people we know who are kind. And kindness is as much an attitude as an intention. What images come to mind when you think of kindness? I think of ordinary everyday situations, with one person being helpful and loving toward another person — perhaps someone who’s in trouble. So kindness is close to compassion, which fits with metta as well, since metta is the basis of compassion.

What’s not so good about it?

"My religion is kindness."

“My religion is kindness.”

Not much, in my opinion. Of all the terms we can use to translate metta, I think kindness is the most accessible, in that it’s part of our daily emotional experience. It’s easy to picture it. Think of the Dalai Lama’s smiling face: I think of his face as expressing great kindness. I think it’s closest in terms of describing a volition or intention: with both kindness and metta the intention is to help others find happiness. It does have a feeling quality about it — a sense of warmth and gentleness — but kindness is more defined by our intention and action than is the word love. Kindness is less ambiguous than love, and less over-used. It’s more palatable to think in terms of being kind to oneself as opposed to loving oneself.

So, out of all the possible options for words to translate metta, my vote is for that simple, accessible, appealing word, “kindness.”

What do you think?

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The Urban Retreat: Every ending is a beginning

Blazing Like the Sun, an urban retreat with Bodhipaksa

This is not the end, but the beginning.

Here is a summary of where we’ve been, and a list of suggestions for continuing your exploration of meditation.

Where we’re been

We hope you appreciated and benefited from the material we sent you. Remember that even if you didn’t manage to read everything or watch all the videos, they’re always there for you. In fact here’s a handy list of all the posts we sent during the retreat:

And there were three guided meditations that we led as part of the event. You can access those anytime, here:

What’s next?

If you want to maintain and deepen your meditation practice and, perhaps, your practice of Buddhism more generally, here are a few options:

1. Wildmind’s Year of Going Deeper
Our Year of Going Deeper is a year-long series of meditation events, where we’ll explore various aspects of meditation. It’ll be like the Urban Retreat, but with more of a sense of community. There are eight events planned, spanning the whole of 2014. Some are introductory, while others are more in-depth. All the events are free, although donations are encouraged.

2. The World in Balance, March 20, 2014
The World In Balance is a special event we’re running on the March equinox: March 20, 2014, at 16:57 UTC (click on the link to add the event to your calendar in your local time). It’s a worldwide meditation event, taking place at the exact moment that the earth’s equator passes the center of the sun, the earth is perfectly upright, and the transit from the seasonal extremes is at a balance point worldwide — but at the moment the details of the event are a secret! All we can tell you now if that it’s going to be big.

3. Join Wildmind’s Community
Our community is the most civilized, sane, compassionate place you’ll find for discussing your practice, and for getting support and encouragement. Join here.

4. Subscribe to Wildmind’s regular, bi-monthly newsletter
Our regular newsletter goes out roughly every two weeks, and contains links to selected news and articles from our blog. As of the next newsletter, there will also be a special article in each edition that hasn’t been published on our blog. Sign up here.

5. Join us for a weekend retreat
Bodhipaksa will be leading a retreat in Florida (just south of Tampa) from Feb 21–23, 2014. You can find out more or register here. There will also be a weekend retreat in southern New Hampshire, May 2–4, 2014. To find out more, subscribe to our newsletter!

6. Make use of other Triratna resources
Free Buddhist Audio is a treasure-trove of audio and written resources on the theme of Buddhist practice. The Buddhist Center is Triratna’s central site, which you can use to find a Triratna Center near you, or to find other resources.

7. Help us to spread the benefits of meditation
Lastly, we’re put a lot of work into this Urban Retreat. How about giving something back, by making a donation of $5, or $10, or even $20?

May you fare well in the future, and may our paths cross again.

Yours,
Bodhipaksa

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The Urban Retreat, Day 8: Developing compassion

Blazing Like the Sun, an urban retreat with Bodhipaksa

I’m going to write less today, because sometimes I go on a bit, and I know we’re all bombarded with information. So here are just a few words about the practice of compassion, and especially of self-compassion.

What is compassion? Like lovingkindness, it’s a volition (something we desire or will or intend). While lovingkindness is the desire that beings find happiness, compassion is the desire to relieve suffering. Compassion flows directly from lovingkindness; we want beings to be happy, yet they suffer, and so we want their suffering to be relieved so that they can find happiness.

The Urban Retreat series:

Compassion is not a sentiment. It’s not just a feeling. Volitions are what lead to actions, and so the volition of compassion will lead to us relieving suffering where we’re able to. You can be compassionate without feeling much!

It’s hard to have compassion for others when we don’t have it for ourselves. Just as the lovingkindness practice starts with kindness toward ourselves, so compassion starts with — well, if we’re not currently suffering then it starts with kindness toward ourselves, but if we are suffering then we often need to address our suffering before we are able to have compassion for others, so we start with self-compassion. This isn’t selfish — it’s like how in airplanes you’re asked to put on your own oxygen mask before you help your children. If you don’t take care of your own needs first then you won’t be able to help your kids.

Suffering isn’t always what you think it is. A lot of people think they don’t suffer. They thing suffering is what poor people and sick people and people in third world countries do. Suffering is having cancer or starving to death. Actually, those things are suffering, but so is worrying about whether people like you, or feeling grumpy, or wishing you weren’t at work, or feeling low and despondent. Now it’s suffering on a different scale, but it’s still suffering, and it still matters. If we care about someone’s wellbeing we want them to be free of all suffering.

We often don’t notice we’re suffering when we’re suffering. We’re too caught up in worrying that people might not like us, for example, to notice that in that moment we’re in pain. So we have to learn to recognize our own suffering.

And when you find yourself in emotional pain in the ways I describe, it’s very valuable — crucial, even — to treat your pain with lovingkindness. You haven’t failed by suffering. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of being alive and human. So accept your suffering. Accept that it’s OK to suffer. Say to yourself “It’s OK to feel this.”

And then wish your suffering well. By doing this you’re wishing the part of you that is suffering well. Here’s one way to do that:

  • Notice where in the body your pain is most strongly located. (Even emotional pain is located in the body.)
  • Accept the pain. “It’s OK to feel this.”
  • With gentle curiosity, notice the pain’s size and shape and texture.
  • Place a hand on the part of part of your body where the pain manifests.
  • Say, like an adult to a child, “I know you’re in pain; I love you, and I wish you well.”

If the pain has arisen in response to the actions of other people — for example someone may have said something you found hurtful — then call them to mind now. Recognizing that they, too, suffer, you can wish them well: “May you be free from pain; may you be free from fear; may you find peace.”

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The Urban Retreat, Day 7: The practice of gratitude

Blazing Like the Sun, an urban retreat with Bodhipaksa

One quality that’s closely related to metta is appreciation. We often take things for granted when they’re going right, and then focus on what’s not going the way we want it to. And that makes us unhappy and makes our relationships with others less warm and appreciative.

At our worst we’ll say things like “Nothing ever goes right in my life.” And in the moment we’re saying those words we’ll ignore that we have air to breathe, we’re alive, we’re probably healthy, we’re living in a fairly civilized society (it’s far from being Mogadishu), we’re sheltered from the elements, we have water, electricity, the internet, friends, family, etc. The specifics of what we have change from person to person and day to day, but we always have a lot more going for us than we choose to appreciate.

The Urban Retreat series:

So one thing I do in my practice sometimes (and this is something I explore in the video below) is to consciously appreciate what’s going right, and to say “thank you.”

I’ll take a trip around the body, basically doing a body scan meditation, and say “thank you” to each part of the body in turn. I’ll thank my feet, legs, hips, abdomen and lower back, chest and upper back, throat, head. I’ll thank my heart and lungs and other organs. I’ll thank my senses. If some part of the body isn’t functioning well, then rather than give it less thanks, I feel especially grateful; the body shows up for you every day. It tries its best to serve you even if it’s not well or damaged. It’s always trying to heal and repair itself. That’s the best kind of friend you can have — one who turns up to help you even when they’re sick.

And I appreciate and thank everything around me, from the furniture I’m sitting on (think of all the people involved in making it possible for you to do something as simple as sit on a chair!), to the building I’m in and all the utilities in it, to the society around me with its roads and sidewalks and sewers.

You can thank the air for being breathable. You can thank the sun for shining. Really, there’s no limit to the things we can express gratitude towards.

And as you do this practice (I assume you will) notice how you feel. There may be some initial resistance (it may seem silly to say thank you or you may not want to acknowledge your dependance upon others) but when you get into the practice of saying thank you you may start to notice a sense of warmth, or softness around the heart, or even joy.

If the video isn’t displaying (which can sometimes happen on mobile devices) then you can go straight to Youtube.

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