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!

Rumination – Part 1

Keeling-fire-engine-illustrationThis is the first of two parts in a series about rumination (also known as self-generated emotion). This topic has been very relevant to the people I work with and somewhat difficult to understand. Hopefully in the next few weeks, it will start to make sense through these posts…

According to a paper published in 2004, Rumination is "repetitive thoughts…directed primarily toward processing the content of self-referent information [i.e. emotion] and not toward immediate goal-directed action." In other words, rumination is repetitive thinking which, though it may seem to be moving you toward clarity or action, is primarily functioning to manage your emotional experience.

You may have noticed this yourself: certain types of stories that your mind habitually tells, which pull you out of the present and stir up a predictable emotional response (be it resentment, shame, sadness, anger, blame, fear, anxiety, moral outrage, or even positive emotions like happiness, love, security, trust, humor, etc). Depending on your childhood conditioning, you may find that your mind is doing this much of the day.

Why is this significant?
From a mindfulness perspective, we're trying to find ways to stay in the present moment, knowing that being present makes us happier. One issue with rumination is that it replays content from the past or fantasies about the future, taking you out of the present moment. But that alone is not necessarily a "bad" thing (more on that later)—the more significant issue is the negative emotions that this process often generates* and the reinforcement of unsupportive beliefs. This combo:

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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.


When we decide that we are worthy, when we decide that we are good enough, there is no need to hide, and the world becomes safe.

Thought Replacement


In practice, we spend a lot of time retraining the mind to generate less afflictive emotions when it needs to balance out. In this process we deliberately swap thoughts of self-doubt, criticism, blame, etc. for thoughts of kindness, encouragement, forgiveness…

It’s becoming more and more clear that over time, it’s not just the individual thoughts that get replaced. We’re replacing an entire view. An entire embodiment. Teaching the nervous system to balance itself more skillfully is teaching the self to manifest in a different way.