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Sincerity

Many people struggle to cultivate positive emotions in meditation, because the task feels forced or insincere. How can I practice lovingkindness when I don’t feel it in my body? How can I cultivate happiness if there’s also fear, anger, or sadness present?

For me, it is very often the case that pleasant and unpleasant feelings arise together. Rather than waiting for a moment when things are only pleasant to deem it “sincere” to practice lovingkindness, I have changed my definition of what sincerity means.
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The Harsh Critic

People often seek out mindfulness because they don’t like how they are treating themselves. But then the harsh critic part of them shows up to learn the practice.

We can’t whip ourselves into kindness. We can’t whip ourselves into love. We have to be willing to take a leap of faith, and stand in some unknown ground outside of the harsh critic. Some unfamiliar vantage point that sees even that harsh part increasingly unflinchingly, increasingly with kindness and acceptance.

Photo credit Flickr TRF_Mr_Hyde

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Seize This Moment

I leave for retreat today. One month in silence at Insight Meditation Society, in the snowy woods of central Massachusetts. This will be the longest retreat I have done, and a deep dive into my personal exploration.

I'm continually humbled by the courage it takes to thoroughly explore, to see things through, to go all-in. But as the fleeting-ness of life becomes more apparent, so too does my commitment to engaging fully.

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“For Us, There Is Only The Trying”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the different ways people relate to the explorations of their lives. Certain underlying views can significantly inhibit a person’s sense of skill, capacity and security in exploring (in careers, partnerships, etc.). These views tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies, leading to timid, incomplete ventures and unreliability.

But they are not objective truth. (Is there such a thing?) They are merely colored lenses we were long ago conditioned to wear. We can treat these views as meditation objects, watching the distortions arise and pass instead of assuming that we are seeing things the way they are.

As I’ve worked with my own distortions, I’ve realized: more than keeping me from succeeding, they keep me from trying. When self-doubt and fear prevent me from being both-feet-in, I never get to know if I would have succeeded or not. In other words, giving in to fear of failure ensures failure.

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Rumination – Part 2

Last week, we started a discussion on rumination—what it is, why we do it, and how it can be harmful. It’s clear to see the damage that rumination can cause in day-to-day life. We can live almost continuously in an inner world of fear, resentments, and unpleasantness, while external experience passes us by. In the words of T.S. Eliot, “distracted from distraction by distraction.”

So what can we do?!
Essentially, rumination is thinking to regulate the emotional experience of the present moment. So as long as we’re using thinking to balance ourselves out, it can be any thinking! We can think pleasant thoughts, and that will serve the same purpose that unpleasant thoughts have been serving! In other words, it isn’t actually about the content of the thoughts, but rather, their function.*

But we don’t want to think pleasant thoughts in just any old way. As meditators, the classic practice is called lovingkindness. This link provides detailed instructions. If you’ve used this technique before, you may notice I’ve set it up differently than most teachers. Neuroscience research has found that the technique is most effective if it is grounded in a present-moment experience (like a feeling or a state of mind) rather than a sentimental reflection. I choose a state of mind because it gets us out of the body, which is often in pain in the moments when we need the technique most!

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