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Compassion: getting stuff done

The most basic benefit that you'll get from cultivating kindness in meditation is that it will help you to keep on meditating. Whereas without kindness, your practice might stall. And if you manage to keep on meditating, and keep on cultivating kindness in your meditation practice, you might just find that it also helps you to get other stuff done, in the rest of your life. Because in meditation, as in other areas of life, you will run into difficulty. You will find that when you try to pay attention to the breath, you keep wandering off. You will find that you hoped to feel peaceful and mindful, but instead are tense and distracted. And you might get annoyed, with both yourself and the meditation. You might get self-critical. And if you do that, you will make the whole situation even more unpleasant for yourself. And then you might give up, because the whole project has become a drag. Whereas if you could be a little kinder to yourself while you meditate, and take a gentle, supportive attitude to your efforts, even when they seem to be failing, it's going to be that much easier to keep on going. And the same is true in every other area of life: pushing yourself hard with self-criticism can have benefits, but it's not very pleasant or sustainable. It's like learning to play a sport or an instrument under the instruction of a supportive, kind teacher, as opposed one who hectors and bullies you. The bully might get results in the short term, but longer-term, you'll find the whole situation aversive, and you'll probably quit. You can get better results by being kind and encouraging towards yourself. So if you train yourself to be a bit kinder to yourself in meditation, perhaps you'll be able to carry that attitude over into the rest of your life. How do you do it? How do you move from impatient self-criticism to kindly self-encouragement? Well, there are lots of ways, and you'll need to try things out and see what works for you. But the starting point is simply to notice your unkindness. Because as soon as you notice it, you are no longer buying into it and fuelling it. You are no longer snared by it. So if you keep on noticing every unkind thought, every tensing of the body with frustration, then you'll keep on stepping out of their clutches. To enhance your noticing, you might try labelling your unkindness. When a self-critical thought appears, try saying to yourself, silently, unkind, or self-criticism, and then just carry on with your meditation. Or you might go a little further and offer yourself some kind words. Perhaps, when you realise that the mind has wandered, you'll say to yourself, It's okay, or some other words that feel a little bit kindly, a little bit supportive. Or maybe you'll remind yourself at the start of your meditation that your intention is to meditate with a kindly attitude. Perhaps you'll say to yourself, Whatever happens during this meditation is just fine. Whatever I do is okay, and whatever happens as a result is okay. And then try to keep coming back to that intention as you meditate. But these are just a few of many possible methods. You'll need to experiment and see what works.


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