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Build compassion with T.W.I.M: tranquil wisdom insight meditation. Have you ever heard that meditation can help you build compassion in your life? Many have heard this stated, but they don’t exactly know why or how they can begin to flex their compassion muscle by starting a meditation practice.

It may seem like a tall order to begin cultivating compassion, and begin putting the needs of others before your own, but in fact the answer might be right in front of you. Begin a meditation practice that is specifically designed to build loving-kindness and compassion. You may not have heard of T.W.I.M before, but I wanted to share why you should know about this practice and how to start adding it to your life to build compassion. 

T.W.I.M- stands for tranquil wisdom insight meditation. It was created by Bhante Vimalaramsi as a way of infusing life with Metta or loving kindness. In this style you meditate by radiating loving kindness to yourself and all beings around you not just during your sitting practice but during your daily activities as well. T.W.I.M is believed to be the most pure form of what the Buddha talked about when describing meditation. It is sometimes referred to as Metta meditation

Metta means loving-kindness, friendliness, goodwill, caring and compassion. It can also be understood as a strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others or oneself. It is a word that originates from the teachings of the Suttas and the Buddha, and is a foundational piece of the practice of T.W.I.M.

I was first introduced to this practice, when I picked up my life for a few weeks back in 2015 and went to study with Bhante Vimalaramsi and his team in the middle of a forest in rural Missouri where his center resides. Yearning to deepen my meditation practice and to learn from Buddhist monks on how to build my compassion and find happiness in my life I thought an intensive study from the master himself was the best place to start.

Vessel of loving kindness

When I first arrived, I was asked to turn over all of my devices, and agree to immerse myself in the practice of meditation starting right now. (Gulp!) I instantly began to learn about Metta, T.W.I.M  what it was about, how it worked, and surprisingly the importance of smiling. This meditation emphasizes the use of smiling to allow the mind to relax. Yes, you actually start this meditation by putting a big, goofy grin on your face. The idea is that  It is a way to turn your entire body in a vessel of loving kindness. It has been shown that when you smile the casing that surrounds your brain, known as the meninges, relaxes alleviating tension around the brain. So by starting each practice with a big grin, you are already alleviating mental tension and begin to cultivate loving kindness, but that’s not the only thing you have to do when practicing T.W.I.M.

This meditation practice is broken into 7 simple steps

Steps to Practicing T.W.I.M

  1. Begin in a comfortable position with a long spine where you will not fall asleep but can sit comfortably for a while
  2. Smile
  3. Begin by radiating loving and kind feelings to yourself. Remember a time that you felt extremely happy and let that feeling wash over you. Wish yourself happiness. Love yourself and mean it
  4. Then send this feeling to a “spiritual friend” someone of the same gender that you care for deeply
  5. Repeat this after time with someone you are neutral towards
  6. Repeat this after time with someone you find challenging or disagree with
  7. Radiate loving kindness to all of these people and eventually the universe

Playful style of meditation

The purpose of this meditation is to become a being of loving kindness, and to create lightness and joy in your heart. It is a playful style of meditation. Your overall attitude in this practice should be light, gentle, exploratory, and playful. It’s not meant to be too serious or heavy, as that will make your heart serious and heavy. This practice should be fun, and may quickly lead to powerful, pleasurable feelings and openings of the heart. If you take anything too seriously it can lead to heaviness of the heart, and stop the feelings of loving kindness and flow of compassion. 

This meditation practice isn’t designed to have you go through all 7 steps at once. In fact, when I first started practicing with Bhante I was surprised that he had me work with my spiritual friend for several days before I began to move on to other people. He told me that the point was to really tap into my feelings of compassion and metta so that I could then send them full force to someone I was neutral towards and eventually take the big swing and send this loving kindness to someone that had deeply hurt me. Although I was surprised at first, I have to admit that the more I worked on growing my feelings of metta and compassion towards myself and a spiritual friend the more naturally it came to sending it to those that I was neutral towards and the people that have hurt me in this life. 

Compassion for the world and universe is free-flowing

Then, towards the end of my two week intensive study I began to find myself being able to radiate this loving kindness to the world around me, even when I wasn’t sitting in my meditation practice, it was just a part of who I was. I found compassion and love for the universe was free-flowing and had become natural to me. I would walk and feel gratitude for the strong earth beneath my feet, I would appreciate the shade of the trees over my head, and I was no longer lost in my cycle of negative self-talk and feeling like a grump. I was happy, and I wanted everyone else to feel this happiness too. 

To say I was transformed during this time is an understatement, but when I left my immersion and finally had access to the internet again I found myself wondering how this all worked. Was it placebo effect? Was it just the nice surrounding and daily teachings from Bhante that had me feeling so good? Or was it something else? Turns out it was something different all together, and the happiness and compassion that I was feeling was happening on a neurological and cellular level. 

Here’s what’s happening in your body during loving kindness meditation

During the act of meditation it appears that focusing on one thing lights up the parts of the brain that are associated with behavior, concentration, memory, compassion, and emotion. It also produces extra GABA, which gives you a sense of calm, and releases dopamine, the reward and pleasure chemical, norepinephrine, the chemical involved in anxiety drops. The parts of the brain that are associated with fear and anxiety become less active, leaving you feeling happy, calm, and kind. It is also reported that those who meditate regularly report a feeling of being more connected to themselves, and the world around them. This leads people to think of other’s needs and how their actions are impacting others which makes you a more compassionate person. 

When you take these overall benefits of meditation and combine them with a practice like T.W.I.M that focuses directly on building your compassion and metta, it is like taking the volume on your compassion and turning it up on full blast. When I think of T.W.I.M I think of it as compassion training. Like I am going to the gym and strengthening my compassion muscle a little bit each day making it stronger, more refined, and able to work harder and longer when I need it. 

And I don’t know about you, but right now during this time of crisis and fear I am asking my compassion muscle to work overtime, and I am grateful for the training that I have been doing through T.W.I.M over the last 5 years. 

Click below if you are interested in learning more about T.W.I.M or diving into Bhante’s teachings for yourself or you can listen to one of my guided loving kindness and compassion meditations on the Mindful in Minutes Podcast