thoughts in meditation

How to become happier by appreciating the wonderful impermanence of distraction

Swarm of starlings

Beginners to meditation are often disappointed, annoyed, or despondent about many thoughts arise in meditation. They want to get rid of these thoughts, especially since many of them are emotionally troubling and cause stress, anxiety, and other forms of suffering.

Long-term meditators, of course, learn to accept the arising of thoughts, and so they don’t get upset about them.

Something that can benefit not just beginners, but people with many years of experience of meditation, is that we don’t need to do anything to get rid of our thoughts!

That may sound a bit puzzling. Here’s a bit of context to help you make sense of what I mean.
We tend to be very focused on the fact of thoughts arising. We experience, perhaps, a moment of inner calm, but then there comes a thought. That thought disappears, and immediately there’s another one. And another, and another. So we focus on the fact that thoughts keep arising.

But for every arising of a thought, there’s a passing away of a thought. No thought ever hangs around indefinitely. They don’t pile up in the mind, in a great heap. Yes, they arise. But they also pass away.

And our experience starts to seem very different when we allow ourselves to focus on the passing of thoughts rather than their arising.

Just watch your mind for a while, right now, and notice that each of the thoughts that appears spontaneously disappears!

You didn’t have to do anything to get rid of any of these thoughts. They got rid of themselves, because their very nature is impermanent. They are inherently transitory.

You may have felt a sense of joy as you realized that your thoughts are constantly vanishing, getting rid of themselves. It’s very encouraging to focus on that aspect of them, rather than the fact that they keep getting created.

Rather than going — oh, drat, here’s another thought — we can notice — oh, great, that’s another thought gone. We don’t necessarily think those words, although it’s not a problem if we do, and in fact it can be helpful to have that kind of thought pass through the mind—we can notice that that thought is impermanent too! But we can simply notice the passing of thoughts and, perhaps, feel happy about that fact.

And our feeling happier because we realize that thoughts, so to speak, “self-liberate,” we feel more confident. And when we feel more confident, we don’t feel the same compulsion to think that we felt before. So we may find, as we shift our focus to notice the impermanence of our thoughts, that the mind becomes calmer.

In effect, what we’re doing here is to bring an element of insight into our meditation practice. Insight, or vipassana, is the act of questioning, or examining, the nature of our experience. The most simple way to do that is to directly observe that any experience we may have, whether it’s the experience of a breath, the experience of an aching knee, or the experience of a thought, is impermanent.

Directly observing the impermanence of our experiences in this way is liberating. It helps, as the Buddha said, to divert the mind from habits that cause suffering:

“All fabricated mental states are impermanent” — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.

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Dealing with creative distractions

creative distractions in meditation: man surrounded by star trails

Someone recently asked me about how to deal with useful distractions:

As a creative writer, I think I get some of my best ideas while in a meditative state such as when showering or shaving. My question is what I should do when a ‘useful’ or ‘epiphany moment’ happens while meditating. My instinct is to get up and write my idea down and my fear is that if I go back to my breathing I will lose this idea which has bubbled up from my subconscious. I don’t really see my wandering mind as a thing to avoid but a thing to embrace – which confuses me regarding the practice of meditation.

Mind-wandering is partly a problem because it disturbs us emotionally. Research has shown that we’re distracted—i.e. thinking about something unrelated to what we’re doing—almost half the time. It also shows that these distractions make us unhappy.

Traditional Buddhist teachings agree, and point to five different types of distractions that we get caught up in. We crave pleasant experiences, we think about things that annoy or anger us, we worry, we slip into dream-like states (or even into sleep), and we engage with doubts, telling ourselves stories about our own incompetence or unlovability. All of these states are painful, lead to pain, or are unsuccessful attempts to deal with (usually unacknowledged) pain.

But these “five hindrances,” as they are known, come in varying degrees of intensity. Ill will, for example, may manifest as hateful thoughts about another person, or as mild irritability, or even as an aversion to some experience that we resist experiencing.

It’s the hindrance of craving, or “sense desire,” as it’s termed, that can lead us into the kind of pleasant, creative rumination that my correspondent asked about. In a relaxed state, especially when we’re doing something familiar and repetitive, such as showering, the mind my look for a pleasing distraction in the form of putting together ideas in new and creative ways.

There’s nothing wrong with this, by the way. There’s nothing actually wrong with any of the hindrances, in fact. It’s just that they tend to cause us suffering. In their milder forms, though, that’s generally not the case. Creative thinking in fact can be very enjoyable. One problem is what in economics they call the “opportunity cost.” If you’re creatively daydreaming, you can’t also be mindfully aware of your present moment experience, which is a gateway to a more deeply satisfying level of experience. In meditation, for example, we can end up spending most of our time letting the mind drift in this way. And once it starts drifting, it can be hard to stop it. The mind may well end up straying from pleasant and creative forms of thought to more overtly pain-inducing types of thinking, such as ill will or doubt.

Creative thinking is going to happen, though! Sometimes when I have a creative thought in meditation I’ll cross my fingers. I soon habituate and forget my fingers are crossed, but when the meditation ends I notice that they are in an unusual position and I remember the thought I’d had.

I think it’s also OK to keep a notebook handy and to jot the thought down, in order to get it out of your head. It’s probably less disruptive to the meditation session than it is to worry about losing the good idea!

If creative thoughts keep coming to you in meditation, then usually this is a sign that you’re not giving yourself opportunities to do this in your daily life. If you’re constantly on the go, always doing something, then it’s natural that when you close your eyes to meditate you’ll find that the mind starts digesting all the information you’ve been exposing yourself to, making sense of it, and coming up with creative insights. If you take breaks between tasks, though, and even schedule time for reflection, then it’s less likely that your meditation will be dominated by “good ideas.”

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Space, sound, thought

Big Ben and traffic on Westminster BridgeFor several years, around the time I first learned to meditate, I lived in an apartment above Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow—one of the city’s main shopping streets. Sometimes it was acutely noisy, with newspaper hawkers advertising their wares, workmen digging up the roads, drunks singing as they staggered home from the pub, or couples having loud—and very public—fights. But even at the best of times there was a chronic, ongoing hum from the thousands of surrounding vehicles, and the quieter babble of pedestrians’ voices. This was something I had to get used to when I was meditating.

At first I would battle to shut out the noise, and try to force myself to focus inward on my breathing or on cultivating kindness (metta). Although sometimes I’d successfully tune out these distractions, this approach was generally very frustrating. Meditation became a competition between distracting sounds and the welcome relief of inner quiet. Eventually, though, I learned a better way to approach sounds, which was to see them not as distractions, but as part of the meditation practice.

At the beginning of my meditation practice I’d consciously pay attention to the world around me. I’d be aware of the space surrounding me, and I’d pay mindful attention to the sounds filling that space. Since my apartment was near the top of a hill that ran a good mile or so down to the river Clyde, there was plenty of scope for being aware of the physical space in my environment. And I found that the sounds I was hearing helped me to be even more aware of that space. The accelerating bus roaring its engine a few streets away, the squeal of a truck’s brakes, or the sound of a jet tearing through the sky as it passed overhead, would emphasize the scope of the world surrounding me.

Paying mindful attention to the sounds around me allowed me to accept them without resistance. No longer was there any sense of a battle. I didn’t need to choose between hearing noise and being mindful—I could do both at once.

One side effect of this was that being mindful of the space around me helped to radically calm the mind. Often it seemed that my inner chatter would almost entirely shut down. It seemed that my mind itself had become spacious, filling the world around me. It was as if my consciousness were reaching out to fill the streets and even the sky. This was very different from my normal state of mind, where my awareness would often be contracted around one particular sensation or thought, with no sense of spaciousness.

Although my inner self-talk became less frequent at times, it didn’t entirely stop. But when thoughts did arise, my relationship to them was different. With the sense that my mind was now expanded and spacious, thoughts now became more like objects I noticed as they passed by, and they were less like the fully immersive movie-like experiences I was used to.

It became possible, at times, to notice thoughts arising, passing, and vanishing. They became, in fact, like the sound of a passing vehicle, appearing, arising, and then fading away. I’d still have times when I’d become absorbed in a particularly compelling thought and be truly distracted, but being able to follow thoughts as if they were the sound of a passing car gave me a new way to relate to them.

I’d recommend that you try this in meditation, and even outside of meditation (why not right now?). Become aware of the sounds around you. Let your mind fill the space in front of you, to the sides, behind you, and above you. If you’re up high, then perhaps you can feel and hear the space below you as well. Let your effort be gentle. Perhaps you’ll find that you even have a sense of your mind resting in this spacious awareness. And within this space of your consciousness are internal sensations too: from the body and from the mind. Notice all of this.

Now, invite yourself to notice whatever the next thought is that arises. If you can stay in touch with the spacious breadth of your awareness, then you may well find that you can sense your thought not as a story you are immersed in, but as an object—like the sound of a passing airplane or car. Standing back from your thoughts in this way, you may find that you feel free of their emotional drama, and that you feel calmer and more joyful as a result.

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Lovingkindness meditation, using natural language

girl hand giving flowers

When I was first taught the metta bhavana (“development of lovingkindness”) practice, back in the early 1980s, I was encouraged to use these three phrases: “May I be well; may I be happy; may I be free from suffering” (altered to “may you…” or “may all beings…” in the other stages of the practice).

I was told that the exact words weren’t important, and that you could use your own phrases if you wanted. But none of the teachers who led the classes I went to ever offered any alternatives, which sent out a message saying that these were the “proper” and “authorized” ones.

But they worked! I remember the first time that I noticed the metta practice making a substantial difference to my emotional states. I was in a car, outside of Glasgow Veterinary School at the end of the day, waiting with two of my room-mates for one other person to show up so that we could go home. I guess I was probably tired after a full day of classes, and I was certainly grumpy.

The two girls, who were in the front seats, were chattering away about all kinds of things that I found rather trivial. They were just having fun and bonding, really, but I couldn’t appreciate that. I remember that at one point I was listening to them discuss what kinds of neckties their fathers wore, and I found myself in a really foul mood. Didn’t they have anything more meaningful to discuss!

Fortunately I remembered the metta bhavana practice, which I’d learned just a couple of weeks before. Didn’t that have something to do with overcoming ill will? So I began to repeat: “May I be well; may I be happy; may I be free from suffering.” I didn’t have any expectation that this would actually do anything, but I gave it my best shot.

After maybe just three or four minutes of this, I noticed a really weird thing. Somehow, while I’d been reciting those three phrases, over and over, I’d moved from being miserable to being happy! I hadn’t even noticed it happening. Holy incense sticks, Batman! This lovingkindness meditation thing works!

When I began to teach, I’d do what I’d been taught: tell people the phrases, let them know that they could change them if they wanted, and then use only those phrases, as if to suggest that this was the “real” way to do the practice.

Only a few years ago, as I taught compassion meditation more, I shook up the lovingkindness phrases a bit. Since compassion is about relieving suffering, I reckoned that “May I be free from suffering” was more of a compassion statement, and so I started to say (and teach!) “May I be well; may I be happy; may I be feel at ease.” Even more recently, I’ve sometimes said “May I be well; may I be happy; may I be kind to myself and others.” That change is because I think it’s important to encourage not just happiness and well-being, but kindness itself. After all, that’s what the practice is about!

More recently still, I’ve made a more radical change. I still use the standard phrases, but I offer rather different ways of communicating kindness. The “May I be..” format seems a bit stilted, and although it works, I think it’s rather a slow method, because the mind treats rote phrases as less meaningful than natural language, and learns to ignore it.

So now I’m encouraging people to use more natural forms of inner speech. I keep this fluid, because it’s a form of communication, and communication is more effective when there’s some spontaneity in it. So I’ll tend to use phrases like:

  • I love you, and I want you to be happy.
  • I just want you to know that your wellbeing is important to me; I hope you feel happy today!
  • I care about you, and I wish you well.
  • Remember to be kind to yourself. It’s hard to be happy when you give yourself a hard time. You deserve happiness.
  • I know life’s hard sometimes, but I’m here for you.
  • May your life be full of ease and joy!
  • I love you, and I’m here to give you support and encouragement.
  • It might be hard to believe this sometimes, but everything’s going to be OK.

In the other stages I’ll use similar phrases. Often I’ll tailor the message specifically for the person I’m thinking about. So for a friend, I’ll wish him freedom from the financial stress I know he’s under, or wish him well in dealing with a difficult family issue.

Using more natural language like this is a more effective way for me to communicate with myself, and to wish others well. Even when I find myself reusing these phrases, I have more of a feeling that I’m speaking from the heart, and what I’m saying seems more effective. A kind and compassionate part of me is communicating to other, perhaps more anxious unhappy, parts of me in a very natural way. It feels more alive and genuine.

Why not give this a try, see how it goes, and let me know in the comments below?

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Distractions as hypnotic bubbles

photo-1434077669225-1c31be460e9cx1000

As we meditate, thoughts bubble up. Many people are bothered when this happens, and tell themselves that there’s something wrong or that they’re no good at meditating. But having a lot of thoughts arise is OK. Our minds produce thoughts. It’s natural.

While bubbles in water contain gases, the thought bubbles that arise in the mind contain stories. Sometimes the stories inside these bubbles are emotionally compelling, and we can’t resist sticking our heads inside to see what’s going on. The bubble now surrounds our head like a 3D holographic display, complete with images, sounds, and tactile and other sensory information. And the story we’re witnessing is interactive! We now start playing the role of being ourselves, communicating with characters who love us, hate us, or ignore us, or we simply get lost in talking to ourselves about various aspects of our lives.

When we’re lost inside these thought bubbles it’s as if we’re dreaming or hypnotized. We lack self-awareness. We’re participating in our experience but we’re no longer monitoring or observing it. We can stay stuck inside these hypnotic bubbles for a long time, but at some point we realize that it’s not a very wholesome activity for us to be involved in, we remove ourselves from the bubble, and return to the world of sensory reality.

Although they are compelling, with practice we find that we can simply let the bubbles float by us. We’re still aware of the stories they contain, still aware of the emotional pull they exert upon us. But now we’re more in the role of “observer” and no longer a participant in their dramas. The pull is felt less strongly. The stories are seen as unhelpful.

In order to to develop the ability to remain outside of the hypnotic bubbles of your thought, you can practice being aware of the actual physical space around you, and the light and sound and smells that it contains. You can become aware of the entire physical body, and of the myriad sensations arising within it. You can be aware of feelings that arise in the body. You can be aware of the qualities of the mind: is it contacted or expansive; dull or bright; busy or quiet; discontented, happy, or neutral?

Noticing all of this creates a “space” of awareness that’s expended, rather than contracted. The mind is contracted when it’s absorbed in a single thought. It’s expansive when it’s paying attention to the breadth of our experience. When the mind is spacious, there is a sense of there being a distance from our thoughts as they bubble up. With that sense of distance comes freedom—the freedom to observe rather than participate in our inner dramas, the freedom to accept our experience rather than judge and resist it. There may be just as much thinking going on as before, but it’s no big deal. The thinking co-exists with mindfulness.

With practice, we find that although we still get distracted—still get sucked into the hypnotic bubbles that arise within the mind—it becomes easier for us to let our thoughts arise and pass away without becoming hypnotized by them. We find that we naturally do more observing and less participating. We spontaneously find ourselves living in a more spacious realm of awareness. We find ourselves enjoying greater freedom.

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Thirty four thoughts during meditation

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Chloé Morrison, Nooga.com: Meditation is not about clearing the mind fully; it’s not about not thinking.

It’s about focusing the mind; it’s about training the mind to stop its chaotic cycle of obsessive, counterproductive thoughts.

It’s about focusing on the present moment, the value of which can only truly be felt through practice. (And once you start really noticing the present moment, you recognize how much we are in a zombielike, autopilot mode for too much of our lives.)

But it’s inevitable that thoughts scamper into our minds during meditation, and that point is often confusing to anyone who hasn’t practiced.

As opposed to turning the mind off, it’s more apt to say that the goal is to be aware of our fleeting thoughts from a more objective distance and then continually, kindly redirect the mind back to the current moment.

It can be amusing to stand back and listen to what the mind comes up with.

I meditated Tuesday with Yong Oh, who teaches a class at my office, and here’s how some of the thoughts went:

1. Breathe. In. Out. Yes. Breathing is awesome. Meditation is awesome.
2. I feel it all. I feel it all.
3. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Just. Breathe.
4. I’m so in the moment right now. I’m awesome.
5. No. That’s ego talking. Stop it.
6. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
7. I like the sound of my teacher’s voice.
8. How does it work to meditate and guide the meditation at the same time? I should ask him. No. I shouldn’t.
9. Shhh! Breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
10. My stomach just growled. Give me all the food!
11. I shouldn’t spend money on lunch today.
12. But who likes to go home and eat turkey or canned soup?
13. I need to think about my personal budget more. Yes. I’ll do that—after I buy lunch.
14. Back to the breath. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. Feeling the breath is truly amazing. Our bodies are amazing.
15. My foot is tingling. It’s falling asleep.
16. I’m supposed to just observe that. I don’t need to move it. Just feel the sensation.
17. I’m present in the moment. Feel the air. Feel the breath.
18. Is it hot in here? I’m hot. I want to take off my sweater. No. Don’t move. Be present with the feeling.
19. Oh, my god—my foot is numb. It’s seriously, dangerously asleep. It can’t fall off, right?
20. Just move it. It’s better to move than be distracted. Ah, OK. That’s better. Will not obsess about potential problematic circulation. That’s a thing, isn’t it?
21. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
22. What about pizza? I wish I could eat some pizza. I shouldn’t spend money, and I shouldn’t eat pizza.
23. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
24. “How strange it is to be anything at all.”
25. Jeff Mangum is brilliant.
26. Wow. There’s a lot of spit in my mouth right now. Like, a lot.
27. Just swallow it. Don’t be weird.
28. Does everyone else think in nothing but song lyrics sometimes?
29. That new Josh Ritter album is genius.
30. Where is my mind?
31. OK. Refocus. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
32. My back hurts.
33. I need to run after work. Or at least walk. OK. Maybe I just won’t eat any pizza today.
34. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.

The reality that meditation doesn’t equal not thinking is worth repeating, because if your goal is to totally clear your mind for 30 minutes straight—or maybe even five minutes straight—you’re probably setting yourself up for failure.

The ability to observe my thoughts and identify them as products of my mind—not self—has been one of the most transformative results of my meditation practice. It’s made it easier for me to not take everything in life so seriously. It’s helped disconnect me from needless drama that we often stir up ourselves in our minds.

I encourage you to step back and observe your mind as you might view a movie—with curiosity and amusement, and see how that changes your world.

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Bodhipaksa

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Mindfulness: what it’s not

old padlock with key on a green wooden wallWhat is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is when we observe our experience rather than merely participate in our experience. When we’re unmindful, we’re certainly experiencing, but we’re “merely participating” in that experience, swept along in the flow of our thoughts and fantasies, caught up in thinking without being aware of what we’re doing and what effect it’s having on us, and not realizing that we have the choice to do anything else.

When we’re mindful, we observe our experience. We know that we’re thinking. We’re aware of what effect our thinking is having (for example that it’s making us or others unhappy). We’re aware we have choices about what we do and what we think.

And that’s what mindfulness is: observing.

Often teachers will say that mindfulness is other things as well: that it’s kind and compassionate, that it’s curious, peaceful, confident, non-attached, equanimous, trusting, and wise.

But what’s happening here is that these other qualities are being conflated with (and confused with!) mindfulness. These qualities are not, in fact, part of mindfulness. Instead, they are separate qualities, and mindfulness enables them.

Because mindfulness leads to us having choice, it allows us to bring other qualities into being.

We might, for example, start off unmindfully obsessing over some hurt we’ve experienced. We’re caught up in the flow of “being hurt” or perhaps “being angry” about that hurt. But we’re “merely participating,” without observing. Then mindfulness comes into being. (This happens spontaneously, and without any will on our part.) Now we’re aware that we’re hurt and angry, and of the way we’ve been reacting to this in ways that intensify our suffering. And we have the freedom to stop reacting and to respond more creatively. Mindfulness enables this.

Perhaps we start by accepting that there’s pain present. Perhaps we bring in a wise perspective that anger isn’t the most helpful way for us to respond to this pain. Perhaps we bring in some warmth and compassion for ourselves. Perhaps we become curious to see how we can respond with even more creativity. Perhaps we cultivate kindness and compassion for the person who hurt us. And perhaps now we’re suffering much less than we were before.

All of these qualities come into being as a result of mindfulness, but they themselves are not part of mindfulness. They’re not inherently part of the act of observing, although they may flow alongside it and intertwine with it.

In time, we get better at “leveraging” our mindfulness and bringing these other qualities into being. In fact it can happen rapidly and automatically. And so the moment we step into mindfulness, curiosity, acceptance, compassion, etc., arise.

One problem with assuming that all these skillful qualities are part of mindfulness is that it causes doubt. Someone may become mindful, observing their experience, but doubt that they actually are mindful, because they haven’t yet brought into being curiosity, compassion, wisdom, etc. If someone has developed mindfulness but thinks that they haven’t, then this disempowers them and causes confusion.

Bearing in mind that mindfulness is an enabling quality — one that creates a space in which we are free to bring into being other skillful qualities, is truer to the traditional understanding of mindfulness, and makes it clearer what actually happens as we first become mindful of our experience and then learn to respond creatively to it.

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Connection before kindness

love and relationships concept - closeup of woman and man holding handsI’ve had a lot of opportunity to teach metta, or “lovingkindness,” over the last two years. One thing I’m doing differently as a result is referring to metta as “kindness,” rather than “lovingkindness. The “loving” part of “lovingkindness” doesn’t, to my mind, add anything, but rather takes what’s a concrete experience and makes it seem rather abstract. It’s easy to picture what it’s like when someone is kind to you, but it’s harder to imagine someone relating to you in a way that demonstrates lovingkindness.

The simple word “kindness” seems to be an ideal term to translate “metta.” Kindness, after all, is simply relating to another being in a way that respects their desire to be happy. When we’re kind we take others’ feelings into account. We recognize that their feelings are not just important to them, but are as important to them as ours are to us. We want to act in ways that put them at ease and bring them happiness, and we don’t want to do anything to cause them pain.

Metta starts with empathy. I’ve realized that it’s common for us to try to cultivate kindness without first establishing a sense of empathy. We sit down, call someone to mind, and then wish them well. Now wishing someone well can lead to empathy arising, but if that doesn’t happen then our well-wishing can be dry and mechanical. In order to prevent that happening, I’ve been making a point of connecting empathetically with myself—and with others—before starting any well-wishing.

How do I do this? I drop in two reflections, and then extend myself an invitation.

The first reflection is this: “I want to be happy.”

I let this thought sink in. I check out whether it’s true for me right now. I think about times I’ve been happy or unhappy in the past. And I realize that I always have a desire for happiness (or perhaps something more like peace or wellbeing).

The second reflection is this: “It’s often not easy to be happy.”

I let that sink in, too. I recognize that happiness can be elusive, and the suffering can be an all-too-common visitor to my life. I realize that being human isn’t easy.

The invitation is this: “Recognizing that I’m doing a difficult thing simply in being human, can I offer myself support, encouragement, and kindness?” I find that there’s always part of me that wants to do this. The way of expressing support is simply to repeat the metta phrases. I’ll often say: “May I be well; may I be happy; may I be at ease. May I be kind to myself and others.” In this way I empathize with myself before beginning to wish myself well.

In the other stages of the practice I introduce the same reflections: My friend (or the neutral person, or the difficult person) just like me, wants to be happy, but finds happiness elusive. We’re both doing this difficult thing of being human. Empathetically knowing this, can I offer this person support and encouragement? Yes! “May you be well…”

There can be a sense of heart-ache when reflecting in this way—acknowledging that life is often difficult. Those feelings may be uncomfortable, but they aren’t bad. In fact they’re part of the empathy that makes metta possible. They should be accepted and received kindly.

The result of doing the practice this way is that my efforts to cultivate kindness feel much more grounded and real than ever before. My meditation is more heart-felt.

Cultivating connection and empathy before cultivating metta can bring our practice to life.


PS. A reader wrote complaining about my use of “kindness” instead of “lovingkindness” to translate “metta.” She said, “If it’s good enough for the Dalai Lama it should be good enough for you.” :)

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A “mantra” for the out-breath: “Release, rest, reveal”

Person sitting in front of a huge waterfall

Here’s a meditation tip for you to try. It came to me when I was on retreat a couple of weeks ago. One morning, on the first meditation of the day, I found that my mind was all over the place.

I really needed to calm down my racing thoughts, but I had a hunch that the more I “tried” to do something about them, the more I was going to create more disturbance. In Buddhism we sometimes talk about this as being the task of “catching a feather on a fan,” because more effort equals more disturbance, while a gentle and sensitive effort will get the job done.

As I paid attention to the sense of my body letting go on each out-breath, I heard three words accompanying the exhalations. Breathing out, I’d hear “Release.” Breathing out, I’d hear “Rest.” Breathing out, I’d hear “Reveal.”

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Each of the words had a different effect. “Release” would direct my mind to the sense of natural relaxation that takes place every time we breathe out. Focusing like this on the physical release that takes place when we exhale helps the body to relax more deeply.

The word “rest” encouraged my mind to let go. As I breathed out, my mind settled into a natural sense of ease, non-striving, kindness, and acceptance.

As I hears the word “reveal,” I experienced a sense of openness to whatever was arising in that moment, whether in the mind or the body. There was a gentle sense of attentiveness and mindfulness — a balance of receptivity and active observation.

These three words, cycling though my mind, gave me a series of little reminders, each as long as an out-breath: let go in the body; let go in the mind; notice and accept whatever’s arising.

Very quickly, my thoughts slowed down. That process started almost the moment that I started saying these three words.

After a little while I found I didn’t need to “hear” the words as thoughts. I could let the mind be silent. My thoughts had substantially died away, and yet even without the verbal reminder, on successive out-breaths I was still relaxing, resting the mind, and allowing my experience to reveal itself to me. And whenever my thoughts started to reappear, I was free to reintroduce the thoughts once more.

Do feel free to try this, and even to adapt it to your own needs. See what doesn’t work, and what does. Meditation is “open source,” and you can adapt it in the light of your own experience.

These are the three things the out-breath teaches us: Releasing all that’s unhelpful. Resting in calmness. Revealing the rich simplicity of our experience.

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6 tips that prove meditation is way easier than you think

wildmind meditation newsAnna Maltby, Huffington Post: “I’m terrible at trying to meditate — I can never shut off my brain or sit still!” Sound familiar? You know practices like mindfulness meditation are good for you, but they just seem so counter to our 20-tabs-open-at-a-time lifestyle that it’s hard to imagine where to start. We asked Marianela Medrano, Ph.D., a licensed professional counselor and member of the American Counseling Association, for help. Let’s start National Relaxation Day off on a good foot, shall we?

1. It’s not about saying “om” over and over again.
Unlike some types of meditation, you don’t have to say a mantra or try …

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