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Compassion: a load of techniques

In my last-but-one post, I offered three general principles to apply when cultivating kindness in meditation. In this one, I'll be more specific, and suggest some techniques to try. But these are only suggestions, because one of my three principles was: do what works for you, and be creative. The aim is to cultivate kindness, there are many ways to do that, and you should feel free to use whichever of them you like, and to come up with your own. So here is a laundry list of techniques to try out when cultivating kindness.

Calling people to mind One obvious method is to cultivate kindness for specific people - this is what's done in the traditional, classic metta bhavana ("cultivating loving-kindness") meditation. But don't feel limited to the "traditional" order (which is: yourself...a good friend...someone you don't really know...someone you don't really like... then finally every sentient being in the cosmos). You might, for instance, vary the order, e.g. start with a good friend before switching to yourself. Or you might just focus on one person, or on two. And you might choose people for all kinds of reasons: perhaps you'll focus on your neighbours, working through them in turn; or perhaps whoever happens to occur to you as your mind wanders during the meditation. But always remember the principle of balancing activity with receptivity. This means that as well as gently trying to cultivate kindness, you should also be cultivating awareness of how you actually feel, right here and now. To do this, stay in touch with your body, and the area round your heart in particular. When you first call someone to mind, notice how the body feels. And as you gently seek to cultivate kindness, keep on feeling the body, and noticing what's happening. Maybe you won't feel reaction at all; maybe you'll feel kindness; maybe you'll feel something quite different. That's all fine. What we want is a gentle effort to cultivate kindness (i.e. activity) and a sensitive awareness of what we're feeling as we do so (i.e. receptivity).

Ways to cultivate kindness So when you've got someone in mind, how might you try to summon up some kindness towards them? Here are a few ideas.

Words: a traditional method is to direct phrases of well-wishing towards whoever you have in mind ("may you be well...may you be happy..." etc). You might want to try out these traditional phrases, or you might want to come up with some of your own. You might want to say the whole of the phrases, or just single words ("peaceful", "happy", "well"). You might want to synchronise the phrases with the breath. You might want to say a phrase only every so often, and see how it lands. Play around, and see what works for you. Imagery: why limit yourself to using words to cultivate kindness, when you can use images too? You might call someone to mind, and imagine their face as they receive your kindness. Perhaps you can see them smiling in a totally relaxed, open way, or just looking peaceful. Perhaps you can imagine them bathed a warm light or colour, that seems to express kindness. Perhaps you can imagine that light to be radiating out from you towards them, or perhaps you can imagine that you are breathing out kindness as a warm colour that envelops them. You could imagine a candle flame burning in the centre of your chest, and the same in theirs. Play around - the possibilities are many. Touch: when the object of kindness is yourself, perhaps you can imagine kindness as warmth falling on your skin.

Giving and receiving Don't limit yourself to sending out kindness to others; you can also receive it from them, and you can do both at the same time. You could imagine some person or other entity (e.g Buddha, Jesus, a friend, an animal, a tree) sending you kindness. You could imagine it radiating towards you as a coloured light, or that you are breathing it in as a coloured vapour. You could imagine yourself breathing in kindness from someone else, and then breathing it out back towards them. You could imagine yourself breathing in kindness from someone, and then breathing it out to your neighbours, your neighbourhood, or the whole world. You could combine it with phrases ("may I be well; may you be well"). The possibilities, once again, are many.

Non-dual kindness

Non-duality is a whole big thing, and one that I'll get into in a future post. But I'll tease it here with a suggestion for cultivating non-dual kindness. Just try imagining that kindness is everywhere. That it's not you sending kindness to anyone, and nor is it anyone else. Kindness is just there, surrounding and infusing everything. Kind of like The Force in Star Wars. Just notice (or imagine) that it's there, and let it touch you.

And that's it - a non-exhaustive list of ways to cultivate kindness. Please don't be limited by the suggestions I've made here. The idea, more than anything else, is to illustrate that there are a lot of options here, and that you can come up with your own.


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