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Real Happiness and Meditation

The 28-Day Meditation Challenge: Week 4: Lovingkindness

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I'm in the last part of my book tour, and we're coming up to the last week of the challenge, focusing on lovingkindness. Lovingkindness is both a means and an end in meditation: a means in that we flourish in meditation practice if we can have a spirit of kindness towards ourselves, and all that we may uncover in our practice. I'm sure you've seen a lot of that in these last weeks And an end in that stability of attention in concentration, mindfulness and insight are all leading towards a greater lovingkindness and compassion for ourselves and for others -- these are some of the most wonderful and important consequences of doing meditation practice.

Lovingkindness and compassion will flow naturally from greater insight: we see different dimensions of strength and happiness in connection than in our ordinary divisions of self and other, us and them. And we also experiment with our attention through the particular methods of lovingkindness meditation; including aspects of ourselves we might more normally ignore (usually we need effort to recognize positive parts of ourselves), including people we might more normally overlook (like the checkout person at the supermarket, or our dry cleaner) and including an acknowledgment of the complexities of life and relationships as we work with those we admire, all the way to those we have difficulty with. it can be very challenging, but I'll also say, "Have fun!" It can be fun, and interesting, and creative to step outside the normal confines of how we view ourselves and others, and take some risks with our attention and experiment with kindness.

- Sharon Salzberg

Lovingkindess meditation.....continuing with me. Not so easy tonight. Find myself just going back to the breath...trying some gathas.....mountain....solid. In....out. Then very vividly....there is my dad. I can see him as sure as he is sitting there. He died 15 years ago. I just stay with it. My thoughts are about how he would always be at school early....in his classroom.....eat his lunch in his classroom....and be in his classroom after school was out. He made sure his students knew he was there if they wanted some help or come in and chat. I had not had such vivid thoughts of him for quite awhile. It was nice to have him there. He was sitting at his desk. I remembered how much I loved him. I was feeling calmer....and then the thought....."I am here if you need me". I know it sounds a little nuts.....but I just felt warm...calm....like I had just been hugged. I needed that. It was nice to have him there for a few minutes. It reminded me I am worth loving...if that makes sense. May I be safe from harm. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease. It just made more sense and I could genuinely wish these things for myself.

- Tracy Strauss, Administration Manager for a Local Courier

Love is a verb. Like cooking, painting, gardening - when love is present, there is evidence. When I am loving, I am doing something.

I regularly do the lovingkindness meditation for my Grandmother. Often times I hear and see her saying the phrases for me. So often, we don’t know what to do in life. We don’t know what to say or how to respond to a situation or person. Sometimes that person is ourselves. Whatever else is being called for, now you can say the phrases with sincerity and certainty. This is your blessing. This is your seal. This is your love made sustenance. This is your love made real.

- Elesa Commerse, Meditation Teacher working with cancer patients

Yesterday, I was flying from New York to LA very early in the morning. The plane was packed. And the young man who squeezed into the seat beside me was not really respecting personal space boundaries. I felt irritated, but instead of focusing on what I imagined might be a very long and uncomfortable flight with someone fidgeting next to me, I decided to metta meditation. May you be safe. May you be happy… '

A little while later he asked if we could switch seats, so he might have the aisle. He wasn’t feeling well and thought he might have food poisoning. A woman on the other side of the aisle offered me an empty seat in between her and another passenger. The other woman in our row asked the stewardess to find her another seat. We were both worried that he might have the flu and didn’t want to catch it.

It was such a nice surprise to witness the events as my own experience shifted, and notice how everyone ended up with what they needed easefully. The young man got an entire row of seats to himself; he stretched out and slept most of the way. I was much more comfortable in my new seat. And I’m guessing the other woman was in hers, as well!

- Riva Weinstein, Artist, Writer and Creativity Coach, modernsacred.com

I've been practicing deep breathing and lovingkindness meditation this week, aiming good vibes at myself and others around me. This morning I heard on the radio that a pilot had to crash-land his plane on the side of the road in Kansas City because his engine failed in mid-air. He talked about how he had to just keep thinking, keep breathing -- he couldn't believe he was alive. The radio announcer said someone told him he should buy a lottery ticket.

I think he's probably alive because he was able to keep himself calm.

It's becoming more and more apparent to me that this ability to stay calm is a much more important survival technique than I had given it credit for, and breathing really is the key to calm. Air is important to calm.

- Rita Arens, BlogHer.com’s assignment and syndication editor

Freeing yourself from corrosive resentment, that phrase stuck with me. So, for the past few days, instead of letting my friend's snippy emails get under my skin and reacting angrily, I've turned off my computer and taken several hours to think about what she's going through. When my mind wanders to her while I'm meditating, instead of letting my angry feelings bubble up, I've sent her thoughts of lovingkindness. Little by little, I've begun to feel less resentful, and finally, yesterday, I was able to write her a kind and sympathetic letter, reminding her all that we're thinking of her and sending our love and inviting her to be honest with me about what she's going through. It wasn't easy, but deep down I knew her well enough to know that something difficult was causing her to act that way.

- Rachel Hiles, Managing Editor at Tricycle Magazine www.tricycle.com

In Real Happiness Sharon tells us about one of her students who thought “the whole idea of lovingkindness meditation seemed hokey and rote to her, but she focused on the phrases nevertheless.” I’ve thought the same exact thing about lovingkindness meditation. It’s a group hug, mushy, mawkish. As much as I like the idea of lovingkindness in theory, I’ve never taken it very seriously. I might say to myself “May I be happy,” a few times and think of my mom for a while, but sooner or later—usually around the time I start trying to extend that warm feeling to some jerk or other—it just starts to feel silly and I go back to the serious business of trying to develop concentration.

Not today. Today I’m going to try to do some lovingkindness in earnest. Why the change of heart? To be honest, it’s because it’s been a long week. I’ve felt defeated and have been harder on myself than usual—mostly about perceived transgressions against my body. You’re not sleeping enough. You’re not working out enough or meditating enough. How can you eat so much crappy food? It’s endless and it’s exhausting. So today I’ve decided to try to meet that negativity head on and give myself a little love for once.

- Sam Mowe, Editorial & Web Assistant at Tricycle Magazine www.tricycle.com

As I was I was doing the dishes on Monday morning I was thinking about who I might think of during Loving-Kindness meditation this week. I was thinking of one person particular, a mother at my children's school who has made some very insensitive remarks regarding my ten-year olds seizures. ( I am being really polite here, As one friend asked - did you hit her?) I was all set to really focus on her when I was set to bring to mind a person whom you might have a difficulty or conflict with. I was ready!

But something happened, she faded far away as did her behavior but during the sequence where we think of someone we have gratitude for there seemed to be a never ending parade of people that came to mind.

I learned how easy it can be to put all our energy into the negative, even though the positive so far out weighs it. I saw that fear and ignorance have very little power when they are set against the landscape of love and goodwill.

- Christine Califra-Schiff, Writer

Today I listened to the lovingkindness track on the CD. It's a Saturday, so I feel like I have all the time in the world, yet I was not feeling particularly relaxed, or even welcoming towards my meditation. But, like every time I make the time, the results are so rich, so surprising, and so grounding. I remain grateful for Sharon's continual reminders that whatever comes up is OK. It's so obvious as a theory, but it helps immeasurably in practice.

Each week I start the new form of meditation with a lot of latitude -- getting myself to sit down often seems like such a chore that I spend a lot of time reassuring myself that it's OK if I don't follow the plan or the instructions exactly. And then, at the end, I'm usually gratified by and grateful for the experience.

So today, when I heard Sharon say, memories might come up, I reflexively added to myself, lightning fast, but it's OK if they don't. And then, moments later, there they were. I don't know if I hadn't been listening to Sharon, that I would've even registered them as memories -- maybe I would've gotten caught up in them, maybe I would've pushed them away. Instead, there was a moment of, oh, look, memories, oh, look people, and then I was right back to the phrases.

If you asked me in my everyday life, is there a right way to meditate and a wrong way to meditate, I would tell you (with compassion for your simple and reductive notions), of course not. And yet, over the past week, and especially after today's lovingkindness meditation, it seems clear to me that i have held these distinctions pretty tightly. And who, I'm realizing, could possibly judge my most private interior state. Only me? Would I ever doubt or judge the experiences of meditation that anyone else conveyed to me? Of course not. So, in the spirit of lovingkindness,it seems only fair to not doubt or judge my own.

Elizabeth Grove, Conference Management Associate

Like a butterfly resting on a flower, rest on the breath. It's always been the thing I would avoid. Sitting still. " Don't just sit there. Do something" this command echoes down the halls of my mind. In this morning's meditation, the din of Barcelona elementary school children screech in the back ground and resonant off the 19th Century tile floors of the apartment I am staying in. It brings up nostalgia. Longing to have just one day back when I could pick up my boys at school and stand there watching them play before they realized I was there. Why could I not have been more present with them when they were little. Always this pushing to do something that had not been done. Until then I could not rest. What was that unnamed something to do? This tangle of questions smooths out returning to my breath. With kindness I can inhabit my body. I can welcome myself in. The get ready, get set, go muscles always clenched are quivering on the edge of letting go. Right under my arm pits. I hear one child crying above all the others. I hover around the question of who has been pushing me. I return to the breath with out the answer.

I'd like to call "all-y- all-y in come free. Everybody that's hiding come out so we can begin the game again. Start over."

Lucinda Ziesing, Writer, Actress, Producer, and Teacher

I fully intended to finish up week 3 with a great body-scan meditation last night. This was not meant to be as, in the space it took me to walk from my classroom to my car, the roads in Pittsburgh became impassibly covered in snow and ice. A commute that usually takes me 20 pleasant minutes stretched beyond 2 hours.

I used the opportunity to be with my breath, even as I became a disabled vehicle along a very busy road. Things were so bad, so unexpectedly snow covered, that even 911 calls went to voicemail. I sat, terrified, as traffic went by me in both directions. I breathed as a snow plow--one of the big dogs!--nearly sliced my car in two. And I continued breathing when a cinder truck made a gentle U around my car so I could get some traction and move.

So far, this 28-day challenge has most taught me that meditation isn't just about sitting in a room, alone. The applications to all the places outside that quiet room seem much more important!

- Katy Rank Lev, Writer Katyranklev.com

As we head into the final days of the 28-day challenge, I’m feeling very grateful to you, Sharon, for coming up with this plan that has actually gotten me into the habit of meditating every morning. This is a goal that I have set for myself several times in the past and have not been able to meet. Somehow the combination of your vague oversight (and I say this as a compliment, as in: light, not too overbearing), the idea of a challenge (my competitive nature comes out), and the vision of all of us beginners (or not) setting off to do this together has helped cement it in. And it needed cementing.

I am still as imperfect as it gets as a meditator – it’s still amusing to me how busy my mind gets as soon as I sit down. But I can feel the benefits of this practice, such as it is, already – more space to consider things, less likelihood that I will just react in the moment, and a greater sense of peace even at difficult moments.

Thank you, Sharon, for giving us this wonderful and unusual opportunity.

- Merry L. Nasser, Divorce Lawyer

It only kind of snowed here in Seattle last night. But you wouldn’t know it by the media coverage. It was SNOWPOCALYPSE!! SNOWMAGGEDON!! SNOWLAPALOOZA!! It was nothing. Nothing for those of us who live in the city. Oh yes, there was a smattering of flakes that made the roads a little slippery but we’re not talking East coast blizzard. Pretty much everywhere around us got hit with significant amounts of icy precipitation but not Seattle.

We can’t really predict the weather with pinpoint accuracy and we sure can’t control it. For me, real happiness is about being able to sit on the cushion and let go. I actually got up this morning and didn’t run to the window like a child running to the living room at Christmas. I just knew in my bones I would be disappointed. As much as I would love to be able to control many things in my life (including the weather), it’s actually a good lesson in mindfulness to enjoy the passing frenzy, recognizing the futility of trying to manage, direct or manipulate anything, really. That has been the lesson for me these past 28 days. Thank you for that, Sharon.

- Debra Brown, Police Officer

In 28 days, I learned that meditation isn't always an all-by-myself, quiet room, sitting down with eyes closed proposition. Although I tried to make my practice a regular one with morning meditation, some days meditation happened in places I wouldn't have thought were conducive to mindfulness.

I've meditated while waiting for my car's suspension to be fixed; while dining in a restaurant where service was slow; while parked in a car outside a school just before I picked up my child; while sitting in a food court at a suburban mall. In a state of mindfulness I've tasted whole wheat toast for what seemed like the first time; enjoyed the symphony of clinking silverware, chiming plates and glasses, and conversation in a restaurant; found patience standing in line for far longer than I normally tolerate by letting go of anger like a stray thought.

- Linda Lowen, Writer and Women's Issues Guide for About.com

This has been a great journey that I wish wasn't ending so soon. I didn't get to blog as often as I wanted to, or read all of your wonderful words, and I didn't get to meditate as consistently as I wanted to. Each time I felt like condemning myself for all of these things, I remembered Sharon's words, if you get lost in your thoughts you can start over. I worked hard at starting over with no self condemnation for these 28 days - and that felt unusual and good. I realize how many times I yell and curse at myself when I don't live up to my planned expectations, what I expected to achieve. Life is constant, never slows down,new and unexpected things are always demanding my attention - allowing myself the freedom to surrender to change and be okay with it frees up a lot of energy.

- Ellen Cuthrell, Teacher

Running up a long, icy hill in freezing rain this morning becomes a kind of balancing act, a moment-by-moment game of lost-and-found, coming unbalanced and rebalancing.

In this fast-and-slippery kinhin, I see again how this wonderful practice is still teaching me to find my breath. Steadying it steadies me – a whole new understanding of “following the breath!” Meditation builds the muscles of perseverance, strengthens me for abiding when I am off the cushion and in the world.

My heart opens in gratitude to all of you who abide with me. Thank you.

- Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie, Senior Minister at Arlington Street Church

Day 28 of our first foray with the meditation challenge is drawing to a close. Hearing from you on the website, on twitter, hearing the questions on the tweetchats, and sensing all the people tuning in thought they weren’t commenting has been a tremendous experience. I have truly loved it, and have been so happy to think that meditation practice has become a steadier part of so many peoples’ lives.

One of the earlier radio interviews I did for the book, which of course is titled Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day program, was “What happens on day 29?” that is a crucial question!

I never envisaged, or wanted to imply in any way that one was “done” in 28 days! But my experience from so many years of teaching is that you can build a strong foundation in that time, and if you choose to continue you can do so from a basis of lots more clarity and confidence.

At the end of retreats commonly I’m asked, “Should I sit with others or alone?” “Should I sit in the morning or the evening?” “Should I sit at the same time every day?” “Should I sit in the same place every day?” I always respond, “It depends on what works for you.” The hardest thing, and the most important thing, is to make it real, to actually have a practice. You have all had the opportunity to experiment in daily life situations to sense what supports you in meditating, rather than admiring meditation from afar! I hope you continue to experiment as you continue your practice.

May you all experience more and more real happiness, in every way.

- Sharon Salzberg

Read more at the 28-Day Meditation Challenge blog.



For the month of February we've invited a diverse group of people to participate in the meditation program that Sharon Salzberg lays out in her book, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program

In the group participating, we have a firefighter, a comedian, an investment banker, a teacher, an activist, a human rights worker, and so many more all over North America. We have asked them to reflect on their experiences going. They are blogging about their experiences on Sharon's website: www.sharonsalzberg.com/realhappiness/blog. All are welcome to post comments.

We hope that the challenge fosters real dialogue about the potential of meditation to change one's life, and intrigues more people to find out what meditation is all about.

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SHARON SALZBERG has been a student of meditation since 1971, and leading meditation retreats worldwide since 1974. She teaches both intensive awareness practice (vipassana or insight meditation) and the profound cultivation of lovingkindness and compassion (the Brahma Viharas).

Sharon's latest book is Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program, published by Workman Publishing. She is also the author of The Kindness Handbook and The Force of Kindness, both published by Sounds True; Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience, published by Riverhead Books; Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness and A Heart as Wide as the World, both published by Shambhala Publications; and co-author with Joseph Goldstein of Insight Meditation, a Step-by-Step Course on How to Meditate (audio), from Sounds True. She has edited Voices of Insight, an anthology of writings by vipassana teachers in the West, also published by Shambhala.

Sharon Salzberg is cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts. She has played a crucial role in bringing Asian meditation practices to the West. The ancient Buddhist practices of vipassana (mindfulness) and metta (lovingkindness) are the foundations of her work. "Each of us has a genuine capacity for love, forgiveness, wisdom and compassion. Meditation awakens these qualities so that we can discover for ourselves the unique happiness that is our birthright." For more information about Sharon, please visit: www.SharonSalzberg.com.

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