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!

The Circle of Compassion

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

—Albert Einstein, 1921

Learning How To Connect

Early on in my practice, I often found deep peace in my alone time meditating, but I was disturbed to watch that peace become inaccessible when I went out into the world. Why couldn’t I stay in the present moment when I was with others? Why did I continue to repeat unhealthy patterns of behavior in my relationships? Why did I leave my interactions (some of them, anyway) feeling depleted instead of energized?

What I discovered was that I didn’t know how to connect well. I had learned meditation tools to keep me in balance when I was on my own, but I was still skipping over what is, perhaps, the most important emotional resource that humans have: co-regulation.

Co-regulation is the process by which two people come into emotional balance through attuning to one another (giving each other their attention) and allowing an empathetic connection to form (each person feeling the other’s emotions). Some people have an easier time with this than others. The better you are at it (and the better the people are with whom you are connecting) the more often you will find yourself balanced and energized through connection.
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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.”

How to Clear Your Mind: A Novel Approach

The traditional Buddhist spiritual path is divided into three trainings:

  1. The training in concentration
  2. The training in insight
  3. The training in ethics

However, in many secular mindfulness circles, the ethical training (the cultivation of virtuous qualities like kindness, forgiveness, and compassion) is stripped out in the name of simplifying the system or removing religious overtones. Furthermore, for many seekers who get lured into deep practice by altered state experiences (usually from high concentration) or promises of sudden awakening (which can come from deep insight), the idea of engaging in a training in ethics just doesn't seem flashy enough.

Many people carry a belief that the ethics piece will "just work itself out once they are enlightened." (Not always so). And for many, it's easier to sit through painful silent retreats than to think kind thoughts about another person, or themselves. But we are clearly seeing that ethics doesn't train itself. Frankly, for me, it is a central aspect of the path and a prerequisite to meaningful, digestible insight.

George Haas, a teacher and friend who I often mention, likes to say that the spiritual path starts with a commitment to be a good person. This is not only for moral reasons. Buddhist ethics is the answer to the question what kind of mind becomes liberated?

The meditative path requires substantial inner stillness. But we can only drop in so deeply if our minds are filled with regret about unskillful actions, fear of retaliation against our cruelty, or incessant resentful or self-critical thinking. And we can only drop in so deeply if we know we haven't been honest, spoken our truth, or pursued our goals. It's simply too painful and too dissonant.

The ethical training teaches us to move through the world continually complete, so we aren't rehashing things we should have done but didn't, or things we did but shouldn't have done. Only through this continual completeness can we stay in the present moment, setting the stage for progress on the path.

And this is the reason why attachment repair is integral. If your nervous system is trained to balance itself out using incessant angry, sad or fearful thinking, it's not reasonable to expect a quiet mind. If the fear of abandonment is too great to permit you to speak authentically, those inauthenticities are going to be rolling around up there. The more deeply we look at ourselves, the more clearly we will see the distortions and missteps, and the more inhibiting they will become.

So what kind of mind becomes liberated?

  • An honest mind.
  • A sincere mind.
  • A compassionate mind.
  • A happy mind.
  • A confident mind.
  • A secure mind.

It may seem trite, but the expression is true, we need to learn to love ourselves and each other. Not as a result of deep insight, but as a pre-requisite for deep insight. Otherwise, as the old saying goes, our spiritual path is like trying to row a boat that's still tied to the dock.