The Force of Kindness

"The Force of Kindness" by Sharon Salzberg is a small format book plus a CD which helps you learn how to develop a loving-kindness meditation practice. It is strongly grounded in Buddhism, so it is definitely helpful to understand the philosophies of Buddhism before you undertake this "how-to" book based on those thoughts.

Sharon provides a wealth of tips for us to focus on. Thank someone each day for their help. Notice how the mood of a person you meet affects your own mood. This reminds you how your own actions affect others. Give yourself loving attention without a "I me mine" obsession. Offer yourself remorse so you forgive and use your energy to do better next time. Guilt consumes your energy eternally so you have less energy available to improve and grow.

Meditate daily - focus on the good you have done. Imagine a circle of followers supporting you. Again it's not about self-congratulation - it's about encouraging healthy behavior in yourself.

Sharon explains how in Buddhist philosophy you imagine a feather curling back from a flame - this is a person pulling back from causing harm when they have empathy. It's not about being self-righteous - it's simply about feeling a natural instinct. This happens when we see people as fellow humans, not as objects who are "in competition for the goodies we want."

We have all had times we have mistreated others - in this way we should be able to see how others fall into that situation. We need to remove all "us" vs "them" thoughts in our mind. Meditate on living-kindness thoughts for others. Start with those we love - then those we are neutral towards - then someone who has mildly hurt us. Our anger burns *us*. Keep in mind that it's not that we condone their act or pretend it didn't happen, but we accept it did happen and move on.

Sharon reminds us that life is over quickly - we need to make the best of the time we have. Before each meal, reflect on all the various people who made your meal possible.

While some might feel ethics are a theoretical mind-pursuit, Sharon instructs us, "ethics are not something to just think about or admire from a distance. They are active in this very moment, in this very thought or urge or decision, and in action we connect to them."

The CD with the book is meant to help a person move through the different stages of meditating - focusing on your own health, focusing on the health of others, and so on. I did not find the voice to be very soothing, and there were giant empty gaps where, I suppose, the listener was supposed to "think on their own." Really, though, if I am listening to a meditation CD I am doing it to hear the guidance of the speaker, not to have the CD player for long minutes with no sound at all. I would at least have music or something playing.

Overall I found the book had great information and wonderful practical advice. I wish it had been a longer book, with more background - I think some of these concepts may be confusing for people who haven't encountered Buddhism before. Also, I think the CD can use some improvements. While I really loved the book, I wasn't that fond of the CD.

Well recommended.

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