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Mindfulness meditation uses distinct neural pathways to reduce pain better than placebo

August 24, 2016 - 8:11am
Click here for Mindfulness of Breathing: Managing Pain, Illness, & Stress with Guided Mindfulness Meditation (MP3)Thomas Rosenthal, Pain Medicine News: Recent research showed that mindfulness meditation is significantly more effective at reducing pain intensity and pain unpleasantness than placebo analgesia, sham mindfulness meditation and other cognitive-based approaches by using distinct neural mechanisms (J Neurosci 2015;35:15307-15325).

“This study is the first to demonstrate that mindfulness-related pain relief is mechanistically distinct from placebo analgesia,” the researchers wrote. “The elucidation of this distinction confirms the existence of multiple, cognitively driven, supraspinal mechanisms for pain modulation.” Specifically, mindfulness meditation–induced pain relief was associated with greater neural activation in higher-order …

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When teachers take a breath, students can bloom

August 23, 2016 - 7:26am
Guided Meditations for Stress Reduction (MP3) by Bodhipaksa is available in our online store!Anya Kamentz, NPR: Garrison Institute looks a little like Hogwarts. The retreat center is housed in a former monastery amid tranquil green hills overlooking the Hudson River, 60 miles north and a world away from New York City.

Inside the airy chapel on a recent summer afternoon, about 35 educators from the U.S. and at least five foreign countries are seated quietly, shoes off.

“Just notice your breath, the sensation of your air coming in, going out,” says Christa Turksma, a Dutch woman dressed all in white with silver-white hair. She’s one …

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Happiness is not a choice

August 15, 2016 - 7:00am

The saying that “happiness is a choice” is extremely common. There’s a book by that title, as well as a gazillion articles. They all say that you can choose to be happy.

It’s not true. Happiness is not a choice.

Or at least it’s not strictly true that happiness is a choice. There’s a grain of truth here; we can influence our happiness. But happiness is a feeling, and we can’t directly choose our feelings.

What is true is that happiness is the result of our choices.

We can choose actions that will bring long-term happiness. We can choose what we say. We can choose our attitudes. We can choose to have thoughts that increase our happiness.

You might be thinking, “So, tell me what these choices are, so I can go and make them and then be happy!” as if they were major life decisions, like choosing the right home or the right job. But it’s more fine-grained than that. It’s a case of looking at what we’re thinking, saying, and doing, and making choices about the nature of each of those actions. It’s a question of making moment-by-moment choices, not big, once-in-a-lifetime choices (although those can be important too).

We need to be aware of what we’re doing physically, and how that makes us feel. So, for example, when I’m chopping vegetables I often find that I’m clenching my jaw for some reason. When I’m working on the computer I often find that my breathing is a little tight. These things contribute to a general sense of emotional tension that inhibits my happiness. As soon as I relax my jaw or let my breathing go back to a normal pattern, my being moves more in the direction of happiness. Relaxing promotes happiness.

I’ve often recommended that people watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on how our posture influences how we feel. Stand or sit in an open and expansive way, and you’ll feel more confident. Confidence leads to happiness. Stand or sit in a hunched, defensive, closed way, and you’ll feel more fearful and unhappy. This is a great illustration of my point. We choose our actions, and those actions change our level of happiness. We don’t just simply “choose to be happy.” If you try to choose happiness without changing the conditions that are undermining your happiness, nothing much is going to change. You’ll probably just get depressed.

We’re always going to have thoughts arising that contribute to our unhappiness. When you make a mistake it’s natural to think, “Man, that was stupid!” You can make a choice not to buy into and believe such thoughts, however. When we buy into our thoughts we magnify them. We take “Man, that was stupid!” and elaborate and expand it into a story about how useless we are and how we’re never going to be good at anything. And that proliferation of thought makes us unhappy. Simply letting the thought “Man, that was stupid!” pass through the mind without engaging with it makes us happier. Encouraging a more realistic, honest, and skillful thought, like “It’s OK. We all make mistakes,” helps us to be more at ease with ourselves, and thus to be happier. We’re not choosing happiness. We’re choosing how we think, and that can lead to us being happier.

We can choose to pay attention to our feelings, and that will make us happier. When my attention is caught up in my thoughts, I sometimes lose touch with my feelings, and my experience becomes kind of cold and hard. But when I pay attention to my heart (an area of the body innervated by the emotionally important vagus nerve) I’m more emotionally open and sensitive. I feel more connected with myself and with others. That’s enriching, like a black and white movie suddenly turning into color.

We can choose how we speak. Connecting honestly and kindly with others builds up bonds that lead to happiness arising in the short term (saying kind things to others makes both them and us happy in that moment) and in the long term (having positive connections with others gives us support when times get hard, and make the good times better). Again, we’re choosing actions, not happiness. But those actions lead to happiness.

Happiness arises from a million momentary choices. This is why we need to cultivate mindfulness. Without the ability to monitor our actions moment by moment, the mind will habitually and automatically default to decisions that make us unhappy.

Feelings like happiness are, according to Buddhist teachings, not actions. They’re not things we do. They’re the results of actions. They’re the consequences of our actions. You can’t choose happiness. But if you want to be happier, you can make choices that allow happiness to happen.

Bringing calm to the classroom

August 10, 2016 - 4:23pm
Check out Mindfulness Meditations for Teens (MP3)Timothy Iverson, Everyday Mindfulness: I sit on my pillow in a quiet space, surrounded by sympathetic adults. Under me, the cool hardwood floors. Nearby, the tick of a clock. The instructor leads us gently through a tour of our minds, sharing insights to transform our lives. I have not known peace like this for decades. I am learning the practice of mindfulness.

Fast-forward 15 years to a busy middle- school. I step into the hallway between classes and hear a dull roar that I’ve heard before. Turning a corner, I see students shouting and gathering around two girls …

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Compassion: universally misunderstood

August 8, 2016 - 10:55am
Practice self-compassion with How to Stop Beating Yourself Up, by Bodhipaksa (CD)Paul Gilbert OBE, Huffington Post: When people hear the word compassion, they tend to think of kindness. But scientific study has found the core of compassion to be courage.

Rather than defining compassion, kindness is just one way of being compassionate. Imagine a fire officer who regularly puts his or her life in danger to save others. That act in itself is certainly compassionate but, outside of work, he or she might be standoffish, have an irritable temperament or consistently fail to remember birthdays. The point is that kind people don’t always …

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Do less, notice more, accept distraction

July 31, 2016 - 7:53pm

The purpose of “Letting Go Into Joy” is to help you cultivate what’s called “jhana.” Jhana is a Pali word that literally means “meditation.” The Sanskrit equivalent is “dhyana.”

But there’s a more specific and technical meaning of the word. Jhana, in Buddhist terms, is an experience, or range of experiences, where meditation becomes effortless and enjoyable.

Jhana is seen as important in the Buddhist tradition for three reasons. First it helps to calm the mind, temporarily ridding it of disturbing mental states such as anxiety, craving, and ill-will. Through repeated experience of jhana, these mental habits become less likely to recur, and the mind becomes more positive. Second, the experience of being at ease with ourselves shouldn’t just be a peak experience. It should percolate into our daily life as well. Jhana affects who were are, and how we function. Thirdly, the calmness of mind that jhana creates makes it easier for us to look closely at our experience, and this in turn helps us to bring about spiritual insight. Just as it’s possible to look deeply into still water, it’s possible to look deeply into a still mind.

In terms of modern psychology, jhana is a “flow” state. Flow is where a person performing an activity becomes fully immersed, with a feeling of energized focus, undistracted presence, and enjoyment. When you’re enjoying your experience in jhana, it’s easy to become absorbed in paying attention to it. When you’re absorbed, you appreciate your experience undistractedly. When there’s nothing to distract you, you remain in a state of happiness. This feedback loop keeps you in a stable, calm, alert, pleasurable, joyful, and focused state of mind. That’s what jhana is: a self-sustaining flow of positive states.

Letting this flow state arise is going to be a process; there’s no switch in your brain that you can flip so that you can instantly be in jhana. There are skills to be learned. You need to learn to calm the mind, to drop deeper into your experience of the body, to accept discomfort without reacting to it, to accept pleasure without grasping after it, and to allow joy to arise. Those are some of the skills we’ll be focusing on. There’s no rush. Ultimately you have your whole life to work on this.

Jhana can be cultivated in a variety of practices, including mindfulness of breathing, and development of lovingkindness meditation. I’m going to assume that you’re familiar with those practices, but if you’re not, then please follow the links and start learning them.

I have a guided meditation for you today. It’s a form of mindfulness of breathing in which I’m going to encourage you to do three things:

1. Do less in your meditation. As you go into meditation, allow yourself just to be with your experience. Relax your effort. Let your body be relaxed. Find ease through doing less.

2. Notice more. Be open to whatever is arising. We all have habitual patterns where we pay attention to certain sensations and ignore others. We go into meditation and—boom, boom, boom—we’ve fixated on a small subset of sensations. So as you relax your effort, allow yourself to notice what’s going on in the places you don’t usually pay attention to. Whether you’re doing mindfulness of breathing, metta bhavana, or some other meditation practice, be open to everything that’s arising before you begin actively working with your experience.

3. Accept distraction. Relaxing your effort may, in the short term, lead to more distraction. That’s OK. Just be kind with yourself. Let go of any idea of getting anywhere in your practice. Just allow yourself to be with whatever is arising, as fully as possible.

You could also try integrating these three principles into your lovingkindness practice, and into any other form of meditation you’re doing. Just keep following these three suggestions for the next few days, and see how it goes.

With love,
Bodhipaksa

I hope you’ve enjoyed this preview of the first lesson of our “Letting Go Into Joy” online course, which starts August 1, 2016. For more information, or to enroll, visit this page.

Bellow you’ll find the first guided meditation from this event.

Guided Meditation

Here’s Meditation #1, a guided meditation on just resting with an awareness of the breathing. It’s about 30 minutes long in total, including the introduction.

14 days of mindfulness!

July 31, 2016 - 7:39am

Learn to practice acceptance, to choose your thoughts, and to calm your emotions, in order to reduce stress, and promote feelings of wellbeing. This all can come about through the clinically proven method of mindfulness, which has been shown to improve both mental and physical health.

Over the 14 days of our Mindfulness Meditation Challenge, you will feel calmer and more in control of your life, and learn how to set up a daily meditation habit.

This event is suitable for people of all levels of experience, including complete beginners.

This challenge starts tomorrow! Sign up now to help establish a rock-solid daily meditation practice and to experience the benefits of mindful living!

Learn to go deeper into stillness

July 30, 2016 - 8:50am

Letting Go Into Joy: A Step-By-Step Guide to the Experience of Jhana (Aug 1–Sep 19) is a 50 day meditation event in which we will explore jhana — a state of calm, focused, and joyful attention. Jhana is what modern psychology calls a “flow state,” where we’re effortlessly and joyfully absorbed in our experience.

This flow state is not something we make happen. It’s something we let happen. This course will help you to let go of unhelpful thinking, emotions, and physical tension, so that you can experience more calm, energy, pleasure, joy, and focused attention — both in your meditation practice and in your daily life.

Register today to learn to go with the flow!

Letting happiness happen

July 27, 2016 - 10:00am

The one emotion that we most commonly repress is joy.

We don’t intend to do this. Instead, it happens through inattention. Few if any of us would sense joy arising and make a conscious decision to destroy it or push it out of awareness. Few of us would refuse happiness if it were to appear. And still we repress joy all the time.

One of the principles of meditation is that it allows joy to flourish. The process of meditating is that you start paying attention to some immediate sensory experience, such as the breathing. Then, after a while, you realize you’ve stopped doing that, and have instead been caught up in some train of thought. And so you bring your attention back to the breathing again. You do this over and over again.

What happens is that you get happier, and the reason for this is that you’ve stopped repressing your joy. Most of the distracted thoughts we have create suffering for us, because in those distracted trains of thought we create dissatisfaction, worry, or self-doubt. All of these kinds of thinking hinder our happiness and make us suffer. Let go of them, and calmness, peace, and joy naturally arise.

All we have to do is stop repressing our joy, and happiness happens.

Both the repression of joy and letting happiness happen take place in our daily activities as well. These aren’t just things that take place on the meditation cushion. All day long we’re slipping into distraction and diminishing our happiness. Daily life is not just an ideal opportunity to let happiness happen — it’s where most of our practice must inevitably take place.

We often think that it’s the things we do day-to-day, or that happen to us, that make us happy or unhappy. However it’s not so much the things we do that condition our mental states, but how we respond to them. We might be mildly anxious about leaving the house a little bit late. Every day. Or there’s the person at work we find annoying. Every day. There’s the gossip that we tend to join in with. Every day. There’s the routine task that we resent. Every day. It’s those kinds of habitual responses to the world around us that condition our mind and emotions. Moment by moment, they mount up.

It may seem like these mental acts are small things, but when it comes to happiness there are no small things. Every response we make to the events in our lives either represses us or unleashes happiness. The sum total of our wellbeing depends on how these repeated and seemingly insignificant acts mount up.

Happiness is not created. It’s allowed. Its there, in potential, all the time. It’s just that in our unawareness we are constantly doing things that make it impossible for us to be happy. Inattention destroys our happiness. Attentiveness allows happiness to happen.

Kindness contagion

July 27, 2016 - 7:53am
Living with Kindness by Sangharakshita (ebook) is available in our online store!Jamil Zaki, Scientific American: Witnessing kindness inspires kindness, causing it to spread like a virus.

Conformity gets a bad rap, and it often deserves one. People abuse drugs, deface national parks, and spend $150,000 on tote bags after seeing others do so. Peer pressure doesn’t have to be all bad, though. People parrot each other’s voting, healthy eating, and environmental conservation efforts, too. They also “catch” cooperation and generosity from others. Tell someone that his neighbors donated to a charity, and that person will boost his own giving, even a year later. Such …

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Moving past self-criticism

July 26, 2016 - 7:17am
Learn the skill of self-compassion with How To Stop Beating Yourself Up (MP3) by Bodhipaksa We co-create our lives based on the self-talk and self-imposed beliefs that have conditioned us from our childhood. We become what we believe to be true, and journey thru life making decisions that are fueled by conversations we have with ourselves. Words we speak to ourselves are often untrue, and rob us of the beautiful life that would be ours if only we could move past our rigid convictions and allow in the truth that would free us to an amazing life: a life that is speaking to us …

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The nourishment of mindfulness

July 25, 2016 - 8:29am
Click here to download Mindfulness of Breathing (MP3) by BodhipaksaBryan Eaton, Newburyport News: About three decades ago I spent a year as a Buddhist monk in Thailand. It was a very austere life, dedicated to meditation and simplicity. One of the trainings I practiced was to only take one meal a day before noon from the food collected going on alms round early in the morning. I would arrange my monk’s robes, walk alone across rice fields to a nearby village, where humble folk would place various little bits of foods such as rice and vegetables in my monk’s bowl. I would silently …

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Bringing more kindness to the world

July 22, 2016 - 12:02pm

We could all do with being kinder to ourselves, and with being more patient and forgiving with others in our lives.

My forthcoming album of guided lovingkindness meditations, “Harnessing the Power of Kindness,” includes my latest teachings on how to become kinder. It’s the result of over 30 years of practice and of having taught lovingkindness meditation to many thousands of people. I’m perfectly happy to say that I think it’s very effective!

Wildmind is run on a shoestring (all of our courses are offered by donation) and the moment we’re fundraising to cover the production costs of this album, which will be available in CD and MP3 formats. Those costs include the recording and audio editing expenses, plus the design and (in the case of the CD) manufacturing costs. We use a local recording studio, a designer who lives just around the corner, and a US-based CD duplicator, since we’re keen to keep money in the local economy and keep Americans employed.

The total costs are around $2,500, and that’s what we’re aiming to raise. At the time of writing we’re 90% of the way to meeting that target, with five days left to go! (The inset image to the right will give you the up-to-date figures).

We’re not asking for something for nothing! We offer perks to each of our donors.

  • Our most popular perk is for a $25 donation: We’ll mail you a copy of the CD, anywhere in the world. (The CD will be mailed out in August.) We’ll also provide you with a link to download the tracks as high-quality MP3 files. Each file will be in a standard, abridged, and extended version, so that you have three lengths to choose from. That way you can choose which meditation fits the time you have available. You’ll receive the download links as soon as our fundraiser is completed.
  • For a $10 donation you have the choice of either getting the CD or getting a download of the album.
  • For $15 you get both the CD and the MP3 version of the album. I know, you can rip the CD yourself, but this way you get the CDs as soon as our campaign is over, and then you’ll have the CD as a backup.
  • Lastly, for a $250 donation we’ll give 50 copies of our CD to an educational project helping teens from low-income families to prepare for college. One of the challenges these young people face is developing emotional coping strategies to help them deal with challenging circumstances at home as well as in the educational system. Self-compassion and self-kindness in particular are valuable skills in this regard. Your donation can be anonymous, or we can give them in your name. So far two people have generously donated $250!

So, feel free to head over to our Indiegogo campaign page and choose your perk!

“Lovingkindness” is simply “kindness”

July 20, 2016 - 8:47am

Our Indiegogo crowdfunding project—aimed at helping us to cover the production costs of our forthcoming album of lovingkindness meditations—is getting close to being 100% funded! Please do visit our campaign page to check out the great perks we offer to donors.

Although the Pali word “metta” is most often translated as lovingkindness, I think that the simple term “kindness” works much better.

“Kindness” is a more natural part part of our vocabulary than lovingkindness. We use it all the time in ordinary conversation, while we only use “lovingkindness” when we’re talking about metta. This has the effect of making metta look as if it’s something removed from our everyday experience. (It doesn’t help that, historically, the term “loving-kindness”—sometimes hyphenated, sometimes as two separate words—was used only to describe God’s love for humanity.)

The word kindness is experiential. We all know what it’s like to be kind, or to be on the receiving end of someone’s kindness. These are common experiences. On the other hand, the term lovingkindness seems more remote, as if it’s reserved for some special kind of experience that we have to strive to bring into being.

Also, the word kindness accurately reflects what metta is. What is kindness? It’s a recognition that we are all feeling beings. We all feel, and we all prefer feelings of happiness, security, well-being, etc. to their opposites. It’s an empathetic recognition that we all feel happiness and sorrow, and prefer the former to the latter.

Others’ feelings are as real to them as ours are to us. Their happiness is as important to them as ours is to us. Their pain is as real and as unpleasant to them as our own is to us. When we recognize this, we want to support their desire to be happy and to avoid suffering. We therefore think kindly, speak kindly, and act kindly.

And this empathetic attitude I’ve described—this kindness—is metta. Metta and kindness are the same.

Metta is kindness. There’s really no significant difference that I can see between the two terms.

And we all embody kindness. We may often act unkindly—as if the feelings and wellbeing of others doesn’t matter—but at least some of the time we’re kind. This manifests in a hundred small ways that we don’t even think about. We do things like hold open a door for the person behind us, we nod and smile when people are talking to us in order to reassure them, and we say “thank you” to acknowledge a favor that’s been done for us. These are all very ordinary everyday acts. In a way they’re nothing special, but in another way they’re very special indeed because they make social interaction bearable. They show us that we matter to each other.

Of course we often forget to be kind. We get so wrapped up in our own inner dramas that we forget that others are feeling beings, and act in ways that cause them suffering.

The task of lovingkindness meditation—or simply kindness meditation—is to strengthen our recollection of beings’ feeling nature. This generally starts with ourselves. If we don’t first remember that we want happiness and don’t want to suffer, then we’ll fail to recognize that others are the same as us in sharing those desires. And so, in developing kindness through meditation, we remind ourselves of our deep-rooted desire for well-being, peace, and joy. We remind ourselves also that it’s not easy to be happy; one thing that causes us a great deal of suffering is thinking that happiness is an easy thing to attain. We’re not failing when we suffer; we’re simply showing that we’re human.

Having recognized that we’re doing a difficult thing in being human, we then naturally feel the desire to give ourselves support and encouragement as we go through life. In other words, we relate to ourselves with kindness.

And when we call others to mind in our practice, we remind ourselves that they are just like us: they want to be happy; they find happiness elusive; they too are doing this difficult thing of being human; they too need support and encouragement. And so we relate to them with kindness too.

This is how we develop kindness. This is how we cultivate metta: by connecting with our own nature as feeling beings, and by empathetically recognizing that others share our deepest wishes from happiness and share our existential situation as being for whom happiness is elusive, and suffering all too common.

Our Indiegogo crowdfunding project—aimed at helping us to cover the production costs of our forthcoming album of lovingkindness meditations—is getting close to being 100% funded! Please do visit our campaign page to check out the great perks we offer to donors.

Mindful eating with the “Sati Tala” — so sane it seems crazy

July 19, 2016 - 8:36am

The other day I got an email from a couple in Israel who are launching a new mindfulness product. It’s one of those things that is possibly just crazy enough (or sane enough — I can’t tell) to really take off.

Basically, it’s a tool for mindful eating. What’s the tool? Well, you are, along with one other person, the Sati Tala eating surface, and two simple seats. What this means is that you and your eating partner become part of the table as you sit on the seats and rest the surface of the Sati Tala on the laps. (Sati Tala is Pali for “mindfulness surface.”)

What this means is that you’re physically connected as you eat, which seems rather lovely and even romantic. It’s also more difficult to jump up and start doing something else, since doing so requires the cooperation of both people. And so you’re more likely to stay put and just focus on your meal.

On the other hand, if you do have to get up (to answer the door or a call of nature) dinner’s pretty much over until you return, and I can imagine that if you have a fidgety partner things could get ugly.

Still, this is the kind of thing I can imagine becoming a crazy amongst Hollywood celebrities!

Tany and Sagie, who came up with the idea, are launching a Kickstarter fundraiser, which you can read about on their website.

There’s also a video where you can see the Sati Tala in action:

P.S. I haven’t tried this product, have no connection with the company, and don’t benefit in any way by bringing it to your attention!

Kindness, good. Self kindness, better

July 19, 2016 - 7:39am
Want to be kinder to yourself? Try this: How To Stop Beating Yourself Up (MP3) by BodhipaksaI’m standing in the kitchen talking to one of my best friends. We’re both crying. And we don’t have much time.

The kids will be home soon. The visit will end. We’ll be back to communicating sporadically via time zone-challenged texts.

“I’m having this crisis of confidence,” she says. “At work. As a parent.”

“How come you can’t see yourself the way I see you?” I ask.

“I don’t know.”

“Go and see someone. Tell them you need to change the tape in your head. Tell them …

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Don’t try to like yourself. Just be kind to yourself

July 18, 2016 - 11:44am

At the moment we’re fundraising to cover the costs of bringing out our newest guided meditation album, “Harnessing the Power of Kindness,” (publication date August 2016) which of course will also be available both in CD and in MP3 format. We’re asking people to buy a copy in advance to help us pay for the upfront costs. Here’s a link to our Indiegogo crowdfunding page, where you can read about the perks we’re offering to donors. This post illustrates some of the principles that have made their way into my current teachings on metta, or lovingkindness.

The solution to the problem of not liking yourself isn’t trying to like yourself: it’s being kind to yourself.

Last week I was having a conversation with a friend who was experiencing loneliness. She said she liked herself, but she also said at one point, “I have a sweet dog in my life. Maybe that’s all I’m allowed.”

I suggested that she might ask herself whether that was something she would say to a friend who was lonely.

You wouldn’t do that, would you? To say to someone, “Maybe the universe doesn’t want you to have anyone in your life but your dog. Maybe you’re meant to be lonely,” would be very unkind and hurtful.

What does liking yourself mean?

First, liking means that something gives you pleasure. You like food that you find pleasurable. You like people it’s pleasurable to be with.

But what does “yourself” mean!

Your self is an incredibly complex thing, full of contradictions. It contains love and hate. It contains patience and anger. It contains compassion and cruelty, ignorance and delusion, intelligence and wisdom, happiness and pain.

“Yourself” isn’t one thing. In liking “yourself” are you liking all of the things I’ve mentioned? Are you finding all aspects of your being pleasurable? Probably not!

Maybe “liking yourself” means that on the whole you like what you see when you turn your awareness toward your own being. But what happens when you are forced to see the uncomfortable stuff, as my friend was? What happens when you see the loneliness and the neediness (as in her case)? What happens when you see harshness and self-hatred? It’s hard to like those things (and I’d argue you shouldn’t). More likely, you’re going to not like them. And that’s going to be a source of conflict and pain.

You might, in order to preserve the sense of “liking yourself,” ignore the parts of you that you don’t like, and end up with a skewed sense of who you are. I don’t think that’s very healthy.

It’s also possible, as my friend found, to “like yourself” (i.e. to find your being as a whole to be pleasing) but be unkind to the parts that of yourself you can’t like. And then, often, people switch to disliking themselves as a whole.

I think we cling to the ideal of “liking ourselves” because we’re aware of the pain that is caused by not liking ourselves (or parts of ourselves). In wanting to like ourselves we hope to find inner harmony — a break from inner strife. The aim is noble.

But I’d suggest that “liking yourself” isn’t a particularly rational aim to have in life. You can like parts, but not all, of yourself, and so we can never have self-liking without self-dislike. In fact, the pursuit of the one, as we’ve seen, can lead to the other.

But you can be kind to all of yourself, including what you don’t like.

You can see the parts of yourself that are hateful, angry, cruel, and deluded, and offer them kindness. You can see your own pain, and relate to it with compassion. And this brings the inner harmony that we try, but fail, to get from liking ourselves.

Being kind to ourselves means developing patience and understanding. It means recognizing that having hate, anger, confusion, etc. isn’t a sign of failure, but simply a part of being human. None of us asked to be born with these tendencies. We all have them. They’re something that we all have to work with. So there’s no point blaming ourselves.

Being kind also means recognizing that harshness and self-blame are counterproductive. We might think that in being harsh on ourselves we’re training ourselves to be better in the future, just as some people think that beating children or animals is “corrective.” But the best examples of child-rearing and animal training tell us that harshness and punishment tends to be counterproductive in bringing about positive change.

Self-kindness doesn’t require us to “like” the more troublesome and destructive parts of ourselves. We don’t have to pretend that they are good for us. And we don’t have to pretend they don’t exist. Self-kindness allows us to accept who we are, not as something fixed, but as something we’re currently passing through on our journey through life.

But how do we cultivate greater self-kindness?

One thing we can do that helps with self-kindness is recognizing that we are not our feelings, and we are not our habits. We are not defined by those things. They’re merely temporary manifestations within our being.

But we can cultivate kindness toward the difficult in ourselves by connecting with some painful habit or feeling, and then doing three things:

  1. We can place a hand where any difficult feeling, such as hurt, anger, or craving is manifesting in the body, and let it rest there tenderly, offering kindness and reassurance. The more primitive parts of our being respond to touch in much the same way as a frightened animal.
  2. We can look with kindness on our difficult habits and feelings, seeing them with loving eyes. You know how unsettling and threatening it is to have someone look at you with hostility, or even with a blank, emotionless gaze? You know how it makes you tense and defensive? The same applies when it comes to observing your own being. Having a kindly gaze (something I teach on my forthcoming guided meditation album) helps us to feel more at ease with ourselves.
  3. We can talk kindly to ourselves. We can say things like “It’s OK not to be perfect. We all mess up. I know you’re suffering, and I wish you well. I just want you to know that I love you and want you to be happy.

These things, done together, constitute a powerful self-kindness practice.

The funny thing is that if you stop trying to focus on liking yourself, and instead place more emphasis on being kind to yourself, you’ll find you experience less self-dislike. Our deepest fear is that we are unlovable, but when we practice self-kindness we discover that there is no part of us that is unworthy of compassion and kindness.

Self-kindness is transformative. It allows us to recognize that we can’t be perfect, and that it’s therefore OK to be imperfect. It allows us the freedom to be patient with our own being as we gently strengthen what is best within us, and as we make the effort to let go of unhelpful habits that cause us and others pain.

And if we can learn to relate kindly to what we find difficult in ourselves, then we find that we become more skillful in relating to what we find difficult in others. The kindness that begins in ourselves does not end there, but permeates all our relationships and our entire lives.

We have 10 days of fundraising left, and we’re getting close to our goal! I’d really like to see this project succeed, and I hope you do too! I do hope you’ll help support this crowdfunded project to help bring more kindness and compassion into the world.

Lovingkindness: Connection before cultivation

July 15, 2016 - 11:28am

At the moment we’re fundraising to cover the costs of bringing out our newest CD, “Harnessing the Power of Kindness,” (publication date August 2016) which of course will also be available in MP3 format. We’re asking people to buy a copy in advance to help us pay for the upfront costs. Here’s a link to our Indiegogo crowdfunding page, where you can read about the perks we’re offering to donors.

One of the emphases in the guided meditations on this album is what might be called connection before cultivation. Basically this is the principle that cultivating kindness (or lovingkindness, if you prefer) is easier and more effective when we first connect empathetically with the person we’re wishing well (and that can include ourselves!).

This isn’t the way I was taught to cultivate metta. I was encouraged, more or less, just to connect with my experience and then to start wishing myself, and then others, well.

What I do now makes my practice much more effective and really brings it to life.

I start by empathizing with my deepest desire, which I believe is everyone’s deepest desire: to be happy, or to experience some kind of peace or state of wellbeing. I do this by simply reminding myself, “I want to be happy,” and connecting with the truth of that statement in my experience. Usually at that very moment it’s true that I want to be happy.

Now I empathize with the fact that it’s not easy to be happy. Suffering happens all the time. Happiness is elusive. I do this just by remembering how hard it can be to find happiness.

Put together, these two facts — that we desire happiness and yet happiness is elusive — mean that this human life we live isn’t easy. This is what we’re empathizing with.

This difficulty in navigating a world where we desire and need something that is elusive isn’t a personal failing. It’s an intrinsic part of being human. So I like to say that we’re doing a difficult thing in being human.

Having recognized all the above, I can now see that as I go through life I need support. I need encouragement. I need kindness. And while it’s lovely to receive these from other people, the one person I’m with 24 hours a day is myself! And so “cultivating metta” becomes the act of wishing myself well as I do this difficult thing of being human. This is how empathy and kindness work together.

Without this kind of empathy as a basis, it’s much harder to wish ourselves well.

Having empathized with myself, it becomes much easier to empathize with other people. Everyone else is in the same situation as myself. They all want happiness and find it elusive. They’re also all doing this difficult thing of being human. When I reflect on this my heart becomes tender. Seeing that we’re all in the same existential situation, I want to offer kindness, support, and encouragement to others. And that’s how metta arises.

This is just part of the approach I take on “Harnessing the Power of Kindness.” I’m pleased with the guided meditations on it since they include my latest and most effective approaches to cultivating metta. I’ve been doing this now for over 30 years, and I’m always looking to see what works.

We have 13 days of fundraising left, and we’re getting close to our goal! I’d really like to see this project succeed, and I hope you do too! I do hope you’ll help support this crowdfunded project to help bring more kindness and compassion into the world.

The neuroscience of suffering – and its end

July 14, 2016 - 7:29am
Learn more with The Enlightened Brain: The Neuroscience of Awakening, by Rick Hanson (7 CDs)Jeff Warren, Psychology Tomorrow Magazine: It was 1972, and Gary Weber, a 29-year old materials science PhD student at Penn State University, had a problem with his brain. It kept generating thoughts! – continuously, oppressively – a stream of neurotic concerns about his life, his studies, whatever. While most human beings would consider this par for the course, par for the human condition (cogito ergo sum), Weber wouldn’t accept it. He was a scientist, a systematizer, a process guy. He liked to figure out how things worked, and how they could be tweaked …

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Kindness and personal responsibility

July 13, 2016 - 8:36am
A Kindfulness of Breathing guided meditation by Bodhipaksa is available here!Ryan James Lock, Huffington Post: Lady Gaga and the Dalai Lama recently gave a talk about the importance of kindness and personal responsibility recently and the response has been amazing.

I’ve always been pretty interested in personal development and conscious living. Over the last few years, I’ve read more self help books than I can count- most of which were extremely helpful and some of which were….less than.

Whatever belief system the book, workshop, class audio or course was based on, one common thread ran through nearly all of the material and that …

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