Today, I’m so excited to share a special post with you. As you probably know, I’m a practitioner of a meditation practice called metta. What you might not know is that metta – or lovingkindness – is just one of four “Divine Abodes of the Heart,” according to Buddhism.
In this post, I’m sharing a bit about each one. These are excerpts from a blog post series I did for Grace Quantock‘s site over the fall and winter 2016-2017. If you enjoy, I’d be delighted for you to go back and read each post in its entirety.
Enjoy, beloved ones!
Meditation Can Heal Your Heart
“Meditation is a wildly popular practice, renowned for its benefits on the physical, mental, and spiritual planes. After practicing meditation for many years, I can attest to this. But what happens when we feel heartbroken or stuck in our daily lives? Meditation can help there, too.
In Buddhist meditation practice, there is a concept called the Four Heavenly Abodes (in Pali, called the Brahma Vihara). They have other names: the Four Sublime States, the Four Divine Emotions, but the concept is the same.
Brahma means noble or divine — here, it is referring to the practitioner’s relationship to a path of purification. According to Buddhist teachings, these are the highest attitudes a person can cultivate toward other beings.
Vihara means abiding and living — not a residence, but a way of being. Therefore, those who cultivate them are said to be abiding in the divinity of that state.
Each of the “abodes” explores a different variation on the experience of love: metta (lovingkindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), and upekkha (equanimity). While traditional texts offer instruction for cultivating each of these states, they are also a natural result of consistent, compassionate meditation practice.”
Compassion as a Healing Path
“Compassion, in its purest form, allows us to recognize our interconnection with all beings everywhere. When we incorporate it into our interactions, compassion offer us the opportunity of a, “Me too,” moment. The ability to recognize ourselves in one another and to treat others with the gentleness we so crave.
When we approach the world from this perspective, that we are all a part of the fabric of humanity, we can act in a way that lifts everyone up, that build a new foundation of relationships from dignity and respect.
We do not place ourselves above anyone else, whether through blame, problem-solving, criticism or dismissiveness. We can observe those instincts, including toward ourselves, and let them go as we would any other thought during meditation.”
Sympathetic Joy in a Time of Comparison Traps
“Comparison traps — the pitfall of sizing up your insides against someone else’s outsides — seem to lie around every corner. It doesn’t need to be ever thus. The ability to reframe the story the comparison trap is trying to tell us takes skill. It takes self-empathy.
In my practice, the ability originates from the practice of mudita, or sympathetic joy. Simply put, mudita is the ability to derive genuine happiness from the happiness of others. To take joy in others’ joy. To celebrate on the occasion of others’ success.
Meditation helps us get there. Through meditation, we can learn to take things less personally.
Things simply happen, and it is our thoughts and emotions that give them their significance.
Which means that my friend is not having professional success at me. She is having success. That doesn’t mean there is less left for me. It certainly doesn’t mean that she is having that success in order to hurt me.”
Lovingkindness & falling in love through meditation
“Lovingkindness meditation (or Metta Bhavana) is a mantra meditation practiced by repeating a set of well-wishes and aiming those well-wishes at a particular person or group. Common phrases include: may you be happy, may you be safe, may you be free, may you be filled with lovingkindness.
They are repeated silently during meditation. The practitioner imagines the person or people standing in front of them. It is a concentration practice, a mindfulness practice, and a mantra practice.
It is also a shockingly powerful practice.
One works through a set list of beings, beginning with yourself, then beloved people or mentors, then neutral people, and then difficult people. In many traditions, the practice closes by aiming wishes of lovingkindness toward all beings everywhere.
Lovingkindness is a unique form of prayer. By beginning with yourself and repeating those phrases on your own behalf, you begin to create an interior attitude that may be different from your everyday inner narrative.
Through consistent practice, we can create a loving attitude toward ourselves. Over time, this replaces the (often negative) baseline chatter that may dominate your inner realm. Instead, you experience loving and beautiful feelings toward yourself.”
Equanimity in the face of uncertainty
“Equanimity (upekkha), as I understand it, is flow. It is a sense of trust and receptivity toward whatever will arise. When we rest our minds in equanimity, we are not attached to outcome. We are at peace in our actions and in our purpose. But we do not act in alignment with our purpose in order to achieve something in particular.
In the Bhagavad Gita, there is a line in Chapter Two that states that we are entitled to our rightful work, but not to its fruits or results. This is equanimity: goodness for its own sake. Rightful action because it is rightful — not for any greater benefit.
Upekkha can support us and ground us in what we know to be rightful, while freeing us from disappointment, attachment or aversion. For instance: we do not meditate to “win” at meditation. We meditate for its own inherent goodness…
Likewise, there is space for equanimity practice in the larger world as well. Whether it’s an election outcome, a particular injustice, or some other situation in the world, we may feel powerless to affect a desired outcome. But what if we reversed that perspective?
What if, instead, we simply went about our work anyway? We could use the energy that we might otherwise spend on worrying or feeling helpless, and instead, roll up our sleeves and do what we can. None of us can change the course of history alone. None of us can do it all. But we can choose to do our own little bit.“