Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg

I picked up this book because I saw metta (or lovingkindness) meditation as a growth area of mine. I had been working on mindfulness meditation, which involves observing everything that arises (thoughts, moods, sounds, sensations in the body, anything that arises in consciousness). Although I’d done a bit of metta meditation and experienced the pleasant “expansive mind” that tends to happen after sending well-wishes to people, essentially praying for their good health and happiness, I wanted to learn the practice of metta in more detail. This book is the classic on metta meditation for English readers, and it’s easy to see why. Salzberg refers to Buddhists texts when outlining the benefits of metta, uses relevant anecdotes from her decades of meditation experience, and provides plenty of great meditation exercises for the reader to integrate into their practice. She also does an amazing job at tackling the different negative thinking patterns that can hinder people from developing true lovingkindness.

If you are interested in Buddhism or meditation, I could not recommend this book enough. I think this passage really captures the care of Salzberg’s writing. Here, she explains why it is beneficial to cultivate “skillful” states of mind:

“The integrity we develop along a spiritual path comes from being able to distinguish for ourselves the habits and influences in the mind which are skillful and lead to love and awareness, from those which are unskillful and reinforce our false sense of separation . . . Abandoning unskillful states that cause suffering is not something we do out of fear or of contempt from those states, or out of contempt for ourselves for having those states arise in the mind. Abandoning the unskillful states isn’t accomplished by angrily shoving or pushing away our habits of separation. Rather it comes as we learn to truly love ourselves and all beings, so that love provides the light by which we bear witness to those burdens, watching them simply fall away.”

The book outlines four Buddhist virtues, brahma-viharas (heavenly home in Pali):

  • Metta (lovingkindness)
  • Karuna (compassion)
  • Mudita (sympathetic joy)
  • Upekkha (equanimity)

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