Author Topic: I've been unable to cultivate loving kindness because of my emotional numbness  (Read 1134 times)

Offline Self_Improver

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Hello everybody.

I'm new in this forum. As a short summary, I'm interested in improving myself in order to maximize my own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. I have spent quite a while researching about the best practices to improve myself as a human being, and meditation stands out.

I've been practicing mindfulness meditation on my own using guided meditations, but I also want to cultivate further positive mental states such as appreciative joy, compassion and loving kindness. Lately I've been trying to practice loving kindness meditation, but there is a problem that is preventing me from succeeding in this practice. The problem is that, in loving kindness meditation you have to start by visualizing someone you really care about, someone you would spontaneously feel love for, so that the "energy of love", so to speak, builds up, and then you go on to redirect this love to other people. In other words, the trick is to leverage the love that you already feel for somebody by bringing this person to your mind and letting the love you feel for that person to flow and gain momentum naturally, and then you bring to your mind other people and redirect this love to them. It makes total sense, but as I said, this is a problem for me. It is a problem because I don't feel love for anybody. I'm single, I've never been in a relationship in my life. I don't even feel deep love for my mother nor for my dogs. I mean, it's not that I don't care about my mother or my pets, because I feel a sense of responsibility for them and certainly  some affection too, if something wrong happens to them I will feel compelled to take action to do something about it. However there is no deep feeling of love within me, in the best case just a slight feeling of affection and a rational and moral sense of responsibility. In other words, I don't feel love even for those beings that are closest to me. So when it comes to the loving kindness meditation, I cannot even do the first easiest step of the practice because there is nobody I can bring to my mind in order to trigger a feeling of love. In the best case I managed to feel some vague, short-lived sense of "cuteness" when I visualized myself petting my dogs, but definetly I didn't feel anything close to a deep feeling of loving kindness.  In most cases I would just not feel anything at all. In fact,  I suspect that some factors and experiences during my childhood and adolescence shaped my psychology and made me become an emotionally numb person ... Anyway, the point is that now I'm trying to cultivate loving kindness through meditation, but the feeling of love is not arising at any moment and I haven't yet found a way to trick my brain into triggering the feeling of love. I have no loving memories nor "loved-ones" to do the trick.

What can I do? How can I generate a deep feeling of loving kindness in spite of being so emotionally numb, with no loving memories, no past relationships, no people that make me experience love? What would be the best approach to practice loving kindness in my current circumstances?

I hope that my explanation has been clear enough.
Looking forward to your responses.
Thank you very much.
« Last Edit: August 28, 2015, 06:31:07 pm by Self_Improver »

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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self improver:  "The problem is that, in loving kindness meditation you have to start by visualizing someone you really care about, someone you would spontaneously feel love for, so that the "energy of love", so to speak, builds up, and then you go on to redirect this love to other people. In other words, the trick is to leverage the love that you already feel for somebody by bringing this person to your mind and letting the love you feel for that person to flow and gain momentum naturally, and then you bring to your mind other people and redirect this love to them. It makes total sense, but as I said, this is a problem for me. It is a problem because I don't feel love for anybody. "


Hi.  Welcome to FreeSangha.

My first observation is that you are making a very typical mistake as to problem-solving in that you are jumping to the solution without first fully understanding the problem.  You seem from your statement to have defined the problem, but clearly do not fully understand it.

The solution you have jumped to is that "meditation" is your answer to your problem, but it is not, in the same way that a wrench by itself, is not the answer to replacing the oil in your car.  Sticking with this analogy, a wrench is simply a tool, which by itself is useless, but in the right hands, with the right parts, given the right materials, processes, manufacturer's service manuals, training, skills acquired through practice, time and motivation the oil can be changed to good effect.  The car will be said to be well maintained, and smooth running.

I suggest beginning with simply observing how your mind works, learning exactly what mind is, and what is going on inside your mind.  Find out from where mind comes, how it arises.  Learn to identify each species of your mind's contents, what Buddha called "mental factors" or "mental formations", such as thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, opinions, and most importantly intentions.  Learn through observation how each these factors arise, dwell for but a time and pass away.  See what is permanent, and what is impermanent.  Learn what feelings are, how many different kinds of feelings you recognize and have experienced in the past, what you are feeling now, how these feelings affect you, and those around you.  Seek, find, and identify desires, longings, regrets, and intentions.  Lean how you formulate intentions, and the process that your mind goes through in composing them, molding them, changing them, evaluating them, and deciding when to act or not to act upon them.  Examine your memories.  Exactly what are they?  How accurate are they?  Are they complete or incomplete?  Compare them to those of another, who experienced events along with you.  Have these memories changed or been modified over time?  What are the natures of your opinions?  How did you come to formulate them?  What events cemented them?  Are they rigid, or flexible in their construction? Study the way you arrive at your intentions.  What motivates you to come by them?  Do you act upon them reflexively, or do you take time in their construction following a process of thinking, planning, asking for opinions and assistance in evaluating their potential consequences?

Again, begin with simply sitting and observing your breath, and then your mind and its contents.  You will find this process difficult enough at first.  Then move on to each of the questions and suggestions above for each mental factor at separate and subsequent sittings.

Perhaps you will find that "numbness" is just another feeling or emotion, much like "love", "hate", and "fear."  But, you need to find this out for yourself, as each of our minds are unique, yet we experience them similarly.  So, it is good to share our experiences and to compare what we individually endure.

 :r4wheel:

Suggestions for Further study

Feelings:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel303.html

Feelings:  Self or Not Self? -  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.059.mend.html

Feelings Derived of Contact:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn36/sn36.022.than.html

Emotions:

Psychology of Emotions in Buddhism:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/desilva-p/wheel237.html

Meditations (Dhamma Talks):

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/meditations5.html
« Last Edit: August 29, 2015, 10:12:23 am by Ron-the-Elder »
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline Self_Improver

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Hi, Ron-the-Elder.

Thanks for replying.

What you are describing is called mindfulness, isn't it? I've been practicing mindfulness meditation for a while but I have had a hard time trying to keep a consistent practice. Let me explain why. I have always had an interest in searching for truth, purpose, happiness. At first I spent many years trying to find the truth in Christianism, I joined several churches and did a lot of christian things with the hope that the christian God would reveal himself to me in some kind of supernatural experience. I didn't have faith but hope. Long story short, after many attempts, things were not working, my old depressive and unhappy self remained untouched and trying to find some kind of direct experience of the christian God seemed like a lost cause. I would not afford wasting more years in something that might not even be true.
As my unhappy, suboptimal self remained untouched, I deciced that a better approach to improve the quality of my life would be to find out what Science can tell about self improvement. I've spent a lot of time reading about neuroscience, psychology, self-help books, watching self-improvement videos and the like. My summary of what I have learnt is that our experience of reality is determined by how the brain is "programmed" or "wired" to interpret reality, so if the brain is trained to intepret things in negative ways, it will trigger negative reactions such as hatred, anxiety, anger, etc., and the same is truth for positive emotions. Fortunately the brain possesses the ability to be reprogrammed, which is known as neuroplasticity. The negative neural pathways can be starved and positive neural pathways can be strengthened. Long story short, based upon this knowledge, I have spent the last year and a half trying to fine tune a framework for daily decision making that would optimize the rewiring of my brain. This framework basically gives me fundamental strategies to design the activities of every day, and I've been adding and improving strategies to capture as many psychological patterns as possible. As far as meditation is concerned, according to my framework the day must begin with a formal opening which includes 50 minutes of meditation. My morning meditation plan begins with a mindfulness meditation, then a loving kindness or compassion meditation, and then it finishes with 5 minutes of positive affirmations / visualizations listening to some relaxing music in the background.

The reason why I lose consistency is because there are some negative psychological patterns within me that sometimes arise and if I fail to catch them and take action right away, then they gain momentum and I feel powerless. It's like if I lose my self-control, my will power and my motivation to change. When I am dominated by these negative patterns, I waste a lot of time, usually end up sleeping too late and then I cannot wake up early enough to do my opening routine, therefore the next day I wake up with a suboptimal mentality and my decisions are supoptimal again. Sometimes I skip my morning routines many days in a row which sabotages all my attempts to reprogram my brain.

Actually, the last weekend I included more strategies to capture more situations that usually lead to the activation of my old patterns and I wrote if-then rules to know exactly what I need to do in those cases. Hopefully this will help, we will see.

Now, why am I specifically interested in cultivating loving kindness? The reason is that I need to find new wholsome sources of pleasure, wellbeing. My brain triggers cravings for unskilful and self-saboting sources of pleasure and I need to replace them with healthy ones. According to many wise people, the most fulfilling mental states are loving kindness, appreciative joy, compassion, inner peace. Since loving kindness is at the root of compassion and appreciative joy, I thought that a good starting point would be to practice loving kindness. This doesn't mean that I will neglect mindfulness. As I said, the first step in my meditation sessions is mindfulness and then I follow up with other things. I have to make clear, though, that this is a change I implemented a few weeks ago, before that I was going full mindfulness. After some updates to my framework I began to include loving kindness and positive affirmations / visualizations.

So the reason why I am trying to practice loving kindness is because I want to feel good in a wholesome way in order to give my brain an alternative to the cravings for unskilful stuff, and furthermore if I become a loving person then I will be naturally useful to others, so it's win-win.

Another thing I have in stand-by is how to apply meditation on the rest of the day. Sometimes I manage to be mindful but most of the time I catch myself lost in thought when I'm immersed in my worldy activities of the day. I need to update my framework with strategies to apply the fruits of meditation on other activities. Any suggestions on this regard would be really appreciated.
« Last Edit: August 31, 2015, 09:40:17 am by Self_Improver »

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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self_improver:  "Another thing I have in stand-by is how to apply meditation on the rest of the day. Sometimes I manage to be mindful but most of the time I catch myself lost in thought when I'm immersed in my worldy activities of the day. I need to update my framework with strategies to apply the fruits of meditation on other activities. Any suggestions on this regard would be really appreciated."]


You don't have to meditate formally, to meditate.  You can learn how your mind operates while standing in line at the supermarket.  You can meditate while sitting at the traffic light, while hiking in the woods, or taking a walk at work.  As you suggested, all you have to do is be focused on what is going on within your mind, and in the case of walking meditations, with your body parts.  Don't try to control.  Just observe.

Loving kindness and compassion arise from two things:  forming intentions and acting upon your intentions.  In this way you practice beneficially.  It develops skills at being beneficial and you earn merit ( good consequences ) or kamma vipakha in Pali, as a result.  There is no way to eliminate or negate evil kamma that we have earned from past harmful intentional actions, we must endure the harmful consequences that we have created for ourselves.

We can, however outweigh our harmful results by earning good results with our good intentions and following up with good actions.  Think of it like the color of jelly beans that you put in a jar.  If at first you put only black jelly beans in the jar, the jar will appear dark at a distance.  But if we change later to add only pink jelly beans for the rest of our time here on earth, then the jar will eventually look "in the pink".

Kamma (Intentional Actions);  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sacca/sacca4/samma-ditthi/kamma.html

Kamma and It's Fruit:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/kammafruit.html

What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline Amara

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Dear  Self_Improver

Let me answer this accordingly with Buddha's teachings (Tripitaka) - Brahmavihāra-niddesa - THE DIVINE ABIDINGS - CHAPTER IX

[(1) LOVING-KINDNESS]
1. [295]

A meditator, who wants to develop firstly loving-kindness among these, if he is a beginner, should sever the impediments and learn the meditation subject. Then, when he has done the work connected with the meal and got rid of any diiness due to it, he should seat himself comfortably on a well-prepared seat in a secluded place. To start with, he should review the danger in hate and the advantage in patience.

So avoid doing after a meal as a starter. And patience is a key to achieve.

Then you should start Loving Kindness on your own self.

8. First of all it should be developed only towards oneself, doing it repeatedly thus: “May I be happy and free from suffering” or “May I keep myself free from enmity, affliction and anxiety and live happily.”

There was Bikkhu who was in trouble getting "sign" as well. It was later succeed by changing Meditation Object.

A young bhikkhu, it seems, had started developing loving-kindness inspired by his teacher. His loving-kindness made no headway at all. He went to a senior elder and told him, “Venerable sir, I am quite familiar with attaining jhāna through loving-kindness, and yet I cannot attain it. What is the matter?” The elder said, “Seek the sign, friend, [the object of your meditation].” He did so. Finding that his teacher had died, he proceeded with developing loving-kindness inspired by another and attained absorption.

You can also make this on all beings.

“In what five ways is the mind-deliverance of loving-kindness [practiced] with unspecified pervasion? May all beings be free from enmity, affliction and anxiety and live happily. May all breathing things [297] … all who are born … all persons … all those who have a personality be free from enmity, affliction and anxiety and live happily”

Also keep in mind that Loving Kindness is to break down the barrier between you and all beings (Meditation Object).

12. But if this bhikkhu does not rest content with just that much and wants to break down the barriers, he should next, after that, develop loving-kindness towards a very dearly loved friend, then towards a neutral person as a very dearly loved friend, then towards a hostile person as neutral. And while he does so, he should make his mind malleable and wieldy in each instance before passing on to the next.

You can read more about this here.

http://tipitakamyanmar2.blogspot.sg/2012/01/chapter-ix.html

 


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