What Your Meditation Practice Has Been Missing
Kindness is what our mindfulness meditation is often missing, according to Buddhist teacher Venerable Ajahn Brahm. Last month in Bangkok I had the privilege of attending a one-day retreat with him, where he taught and guided us in ‘kindfulness’ meditation practice.
Kindness… Mindfulness… Kindfulness. I’ve never heard the term before and I have to tell you, I am completely enamoured with it.
The great Ajahn (a Thai term of address for an esteemed teacher) is right, of course—what is so often missing from my meditation practice is kindness. Kindness towards myself, my body, my limitations, and not least my mind that loves to wander.
Sitting on the cushion, how many times do we catch ourselves lost in a daydream, planning a shopping list, or obsessing over the itch that has suddenly taken over our upper lip? While the practice of meditation is simply to recognise that’s happened and then bring our mind back to the point of focus (be it the breath or a mantra) without judgement, who among us hasn’t experienced that useless thought, however fleeting, of ‘Oh come on, seriously—not again!’
Or perhaps, ‘My practice should be better than this by now!’
Or maybe we become annoyed at our body for defying the command to ‘Sit and don’t you dare move’ for the next hour.
But it’s important to note this tendency to rebuke and reprimand ourselves for falling short of perfection (which sounds ridiculous, may I add, even as I type it!) Within the Buddhist training of meditation, ill-will is one of the five hindrances that stand in the way of our progress. By ‘progress’ I mean developing the tranquillity of mind and heart through which wisdom insight arises.
The other four hindrances are sensory desire, sloth and torpor, restlessness, and doubt.
Luckily, all is not lost for us monkey-minded practitioners, as for each of the hindrances there exists an antidote. According to the teachings, the antidote to ill-will is—yep, you guessed it—loving-kindness, or what’s known as metta.
It’s much easier to think of being kind to someone else, isn’t it? But we mustn’t forget to be kind to ourselves, too; the peaceful mind and heart that a kindfulness practice develops will no doubt bring immeasurable benefit to all our fellow beings.
Ajahn Brahm’s reminder to be kind to myself struck me deeply. You see, my first experience with putting the Buddhist teachings into practice was with kindfulness. At the time, I felt my body had let me down—it was harbouring pre-cancerous cervical lesions. My accompanying mental suffering, in the form of anxiety and vertigo left me in an even stronger state of ill-will towards myself.
But when I started to learn about training the mind, the first thing I did was bring my mindfulness to my body. I sent love to all the fragile parts of me. And the effect was…well, life-changing. (For more on that note, you’ll have to read the book.)
I consider myself hugely fortunate to have spent one Sunday learning from Ajahn Brahm. It was a powerful reminder of a truth that lives inside me, as it does in all of us: kindness is key. Without it, our mindfulness and meditation practice will be neither powerful nor effective.
By the way, if you’re interested in learning more from Ajahn Brahm yourself, you can head over to ajahnbrahm.org. His meditation guide, ‘Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond: A Meditator’s Handbook’, is one of my all-time favourites; you might also enjoy this free PDF book, ‘All You Need is Kindfulness: A Collection of Ajahn Brahm Quotes’.
With kindfulness, Narissa
Narissa Doumani, author of A Spacious Life: Memoir of a Meditator
live mindfully ~ love openly
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