Lovingkindness & Noting Feeling States

If relational mindfulness is your focus, one way to practice is to use Lovingkindness and Noting Feeling States techniques as two complementary strategies. I like to think of them as: "backing off" and "being with." Otherwise known as "turning away" and "turning toward."

In Lovingkindness meditation, we practice generating a positive state of mind, so it's available to us when we need to re-balance and de-stress. This is a way of skillfully "backing off" or "turning away" from uncomfortable or difficult feelings, without needing to exit the present moment (by comparison, "exiting the present moment" might mean going to watch TV, hopping on the internet, etc.).

On the other hand, in Noting Feeling States, we learn to "be with," gently and skillfully turning our attention toward the emotional experience we are having in each moment, without needing it to be different. We cultivate comfort and clarity around our feelings (more on that here), and this too leads to better balance in daily life.

We could spend the rest of our lives navigating the continuum between being with and backing off. Knowing what sort of strategy to implement, and when, is an art. But we can take comfort in knowing that in any moment, there is something to be gained from either approach, and both approaches help to keep us present.

Wanna try it out?

Enter your email address in the box on the right, and you'll be sent one guided meditation a day, starting tomorrow morning. During the week, you'll learn Lovingkindness and Noting Feeling States. I'd love to hear how it goes!
Photo credit: Andy Spearing

What’s All This About Suffering?

Photo credit: Andy SpearingOK, so here I am, Mr. or Ms. Beginner Meditator, seeking some relief from my day-to-day stress, looking for a way to deal with grief, wanting to sleep better, etc. etc., and the next thing I know, I’m being told I have to look at my suffering. Feel my pain. Turn toward discomfort.

On the surface, it doesn’t make much sense. We’re used to a take-a-pill-and-feel-better model of healing. How is it that looking at discomfort produces comfort?

When we practice holding our attention on pain (physical, emotional), the natural response is, “I need my coping strategies!” (Food, entertainment, work, substances, mere movement). But at the very same time, we are committing to sit still, say for 10 minutes, deliberately depriving ourselves of those coping strategies. It can be quite unpleasant at first, because the body-mind doesn’t have another way to deal with the situation. So, for a while, we simply suffer—I like to define “suffering” as “resistance to the present moment”. We just sit there resisting the experience, being fidgety, irritable, bored, sleepy, scattered, confused, impatient. But it is in these specific conditions that the body-mind, having no other choice, begins to experiment.

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The Transcendent and the Mundane

What we are seeking is right here. Transcendence doesn’t come from looking for something that isn’t already present. In other words, we don’t escape from experience. We escape into experience. Into a sound. Into a conversation. Into a simple, mundane thought. Into our lives. Our relationships. Our work. Our path.

With rare and fleeting exceptions, deep practice is unremarkable. It doesn’t dance and shimmer and trip out. Altered states do. But the practitioner is ordinary. The presentation is ordinary. The experience of life is ordinary. The arising and passing of the experience of self is ordinary. Disidentification from emotion is ordinary. Whatever that thing is that you’re expecting, some day you may notice that it’s just another ordinary part of the way things are, and you don’t even remember when you gave up searching for it.

Contemplation and Insight

I’m a practical guy. I like techniques, instructions, things I can do and perceive. But I’m going to experiment with something more “felt” today. I wrote this during my sit this morning…

How do you unwind meaning? Let things have as much meaning as they need to have. How do you overcome resistance? Fully accept resistance. How do you stabilize insight? Let insight become as unstable as it needs to be. How do you let go? Allow yourself to hold on.

Does this leave you confused/annoyed? Maybe something clicked? Neither outcome is better. But in the hope that No Meditator is Left Behind, some thoughts about spiritual insight:

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When The Pain Is Great

wave-768522_640A beautiful take on equanimity, from Anne Morrow Lindbergh:

“When the pain is great, go with the pain. Let it take you. Open your palms and your body to the pain. It comes in waves, like a tide, and you must be open as a vessel lying on the beach—letting it fill you up, and then retreating leaving you empty and clear. And with a deep breath (it has to be as deep as the pain) one reaches a kind of inner freedom from the pain, as though the pain that you experience were not yours but the body’s. The spirit lays the body on the altar.”