I experienced the arising of the Metta phrases recently in a difficult situation. While driving I was struck from behind by another car traveling at high speed. Fortunately, my injuries did not turn out to be severe but my car was totaled and I was take away by ambulance. As I was loaded into the ambulance and looked back on the rather dreadful accident scene, the Metta phrases arose spontaneously, a beautiful way to relate to the suffering of the moment and one for which I am very grateful.
As I returned home from retreat with Daeja Napier at Southern Dharma, I was sensitive to the structure of disciplines. This retreat was held in silence, no eye contact, routine bells, no shoes in the lodge etc…This space created a womb to nourish seeds that were planted moment by moment, day after day, of the beautiful teachings of the Bhrama Viharas. As I sat in meditation practice at home, I found the body as that retreat center…still, clear and disciplined. A fertile space of possibility.
— Jana, student of Life
On retreat, I am relieved of the tyranny of doing.
Some perceived requirement I impose upon myself to keep my life under illusory control; some obsession that takes form in a compulsion; some simple task or a complex chore.
It is, in part, the tyranny of the to-do list.
On retreat, the to-do list recedes as I form the intent to embrace that which is right before me.
Once on retreat with DaeJa, I told her about the tyrannical regime under which I have chosen to live. About life under the boot of thinking, thinking, thinking about what’s next. About what I should do prevent something from happening—or cause it to happen. Another entry on the to-do list.
DaeJa gave me a gift: a three-word antidote. A simple question to ask myself. A query that is not unlike washing one’s face in cold, clean water. There is a shock of clarity, followed immediately by a wave of relief.
Oh yeah, just this. Just this life right now.
Since that retreat, when I am imposing upon myself the tyranny of doing, I often remember DaJae’s three-word question: Is this urgent?
The question is a revelation for someone like me who comes from a long line of tree shrews who huddled in the canopy at night, terrified of predators.
Is this urgent?
I told DaeJa that behind my sometimes bold bluster, I am timid. She said: “No, you are tender.”
Maybe she’s right. Or maybe I’m timid and tender.
Either way—timid, or tender, or both—it takes courage to climb down from the trees and walk the face of the Earth.
These retreats are a refuge from reactivity, an invigorating splash of cold, clean water, followed by a wave of relief.
Just the thing while walking the face of the Earth.
I remembered an old friend out of the blue. We met when we were 13 years old and were close friends into our college years. Along with the memory, I felt so strongly that he was a true benefactor to me by being a trusted friend during those lonely teenage years. Seeing him that way, I spontaneously recited the metta phrases for him a few times. It felt right to share that intention, to wish him well so many years later.
After several years of practicing Metta meditation, in retreats and at home, it occurred to me to use the practice when driving a car. I began by using “may all who are travelling be safe from harm.” Over time, this changed my way of driving, my attitude towards others (including other beings) from that of competition and judgment, to cooperation and desire to help others get where they wanted to go. At one point, as I came to a red light stop, I realized that “it’s someone else’s turn to go,” so that I wasn’t taking the red light personally, as an inconvenience. I have found the same practice helpful when in a large store, or anywhere in a crowded area. I am certainly happier and more appreciative, rather than harassed and tense.
On Mudita – One of the places of true refuge for me are the Brahma Viharas also called the Heavenly Abodes or the Divine Abidings of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. To dwell in any of these states of mind and heart is to experience our Buddha nature and to take The Buddha taught over and over and again, repeatedly throughout his discourses, that the Brahma Viharas are naturally occurring qualities of mind and heart that with a spacious mind arise naturally within us. The Dali Lama calls them our “spiritual birthright”. The Brahma Viharas are part of our very essence as humans. We need only to carefully tend and cultivate them and give them the space they need to fully mature.
Mudita or Sympathetic Joy is considered to be the most difficult of the Brahma Viharas to practice. I find it both interesting and curious that it is considered more difficult to find joy in other’s good fortune than it is to have compassion for them. One of the reasons for this is that we have so many deeply conditioned constrictive mind states that keep us from open heartedly rejoicing in others good fortune. It is a rare and beautiful quality to feel truly happy when others are happy or when they have material success. There is that tendency to be happy for someone but to hold back just a little. Being able to rejoice in our own good fortune and that of others challenges some of our deepest assumptions about what can make us happy.
For some reason a profound sense of insufficiency is programmed into humans at a very early age. This is not new. It is not just occurring in this century. The Buddha recognized this tendency 2500 years ago and it is still today part of the human condition. This sense of insufficiency tells us that we never have enough and others always have more and the fact that they have more is not only painful but it is also a cause to rationalize our negative emotions such as–”he or she gets too much attention, their head is already swollen, if I say something nice isn’t it just going to make them more inflated.” This does not just occur on the material realm; it goes much deeper into emotional realms. If we look closely we can discover the truth of this.
It often seems that others have more attention, more love, and more luck. There is a sense that happiness is a limited commodity and that, if someone else has it, then there is less for me. I can remember when I was a child and my mother would pour milk for my brother and me. We would do this endless whining of “he or she got more that I did.” In frustration one day my mother took out a measuring cup and measured out the exact same amount for each of us. What we were really whining about was—”you love him more that you love me and it shows because you gave him a quarter of an inch more milk that you gave me.” As adults we may not do this externally anymore, but inside it is still happening. Whole nations, ethnic groups, religious groups are doing it to each other. We see it all of the time. What a hopeful gift our practice gives us of offering the possibility of cultivating and responding from spiritual maturity and not from that whiny child.
The Buddha referred to sympathetic joy as the “mind deliverance of happiness”. That word deliverance is important because it describes exactly what mudita does—it helps to deliver us from oppressive and constricted states of suffering.
Appreciative or sympathetic joy or mudita is the antidote to envy, jealously, judging, and the demeaning of others and all of the constricted states of aversion. Happiness will not go away when it is shared. In fact it can only increase.
The Brahma Viharas work hand in hand with mindfulness/vipassana to help us recognize constrictive states when they arise and help us they to form new habits in our minds and hearts. The two are not really separate practices they are totally intertwined. The practice of any of the Brahma Viharas meets those unwholesome mind states. Sometimes the words “overcome” or “wards off” are used as well as the word antidote. So we cultivate mudita to counteract and overcome jealousy, envy, judging and demeaning of others.
Mudita both intends that others experience the same joy that I experience and it also takes delight in the joy and good fortune that others have. It is a form of generosity of the heart. To be able to let go of envy and wish others joy and success without holding back even a little is one of the most profound forms of generosity. Taking joy in the joy of others has the double benefit of learning to let go of constricted mind states and of receiving the joy of giving.
To practice mudita in this way puts joy and gratitude into our lives. As mudita grows we see that the joy and good fortune of others is our joy also. There is no yours and mine it is just joy and happiness, with plenty to go around for all.
This quote from the Dali Lama sums it up:
“It is important to understand how much your own happiness is linked to that of others. There is no individual happiness totally independent of others.”
May all of our good fortune continue and increase. – Mary
I have found many simple ways to cultivate metta, not only during a sitting, but for instance, sending metta to lost children after seeing their pictures on the wall in Walmart.
Four years ago, at my first Brahma Vihara retreat, I did a lifetime of forgiveness work. It really cleaned out a lot of harmful (for me) stuff and brought tremendous peace and joy.
It is my good fortune that the sense of connection and calm I found during the retreat are still with me. DaeJa’s emphasis on the Brahma Viharas and direct experriences have guided my reflections and choices since I left the retreat. Even ordinary house tasks I now consider yogi tasks, and they bring me a stillness and quiet that I relish.
Gratitude in relation to the mudita practice has been so helpful to me. Opening to the blessings and successes in my own life, and seeing how much I truly have, has helped me to have deep joy for the happiness of others. There is more than enough joy to go around. It is a shared joy that is available to everyone. Once I started to experience that joy it also began to bubble over to others.
I never know when my practice of the four Brahma Viharas is going to come into play in my life; I’m often surprised when one or another spontaneously arises. I remember a challenging time when I needed to go easier on myself as the mother to 2 young children: I sat by our backyard fountain and started reciting my metta phrases and transformed a difficult emotional state into a more healthy perspective. Karuna was my companion as I watched my mother struggle through 11 weeks in a Cardiac Intensive Care Unit – and ultimately survive. There are mudita reminders often in my daily life when I observe the various joys of my loved ones. And now I am embracing upekkha as I face midlife, an impending empty nest and other life transitions. The Brahma Viharas are like dear old friends who come to my side just when I need them most.
…mudita experiences abound everywhere, from my cat’s nose on my nose to the smell of wet grass after a heavy rainfall.
When I read the newspaper headline that an outspoken fundamentalist leader had died, I paused to wish him good will and to recite the metta phrases in my mind. It was my first response. At other times in my life, I perceived this leader as an enemy for his bigotry. I was so grateful for the choice to wish him well. It had nothing to do with condoning the harm he may have done. I could put my attention on metta, the goodwill and kindness that all beings deserve, and let go of any anger I might hold onto.