Radical Compassion

CanolaFields2
Humble, yet beautiful canola fields.

Most of us know what it feels like to hold dear in our hearts a family member, friend, or beloved pet. When we cherish someone, we love and appreciate them, care for them, and try to keep them from harm. We may even prioritize their wellbeing over our own at times, if it truly helps them to do so.

What would it be like to cherish a complete stranger in this way? What might happen if we treasured even those who try to harm us or our loved ones or who engage in despicable acts? Could there be any benefit to such a thing? The very thought of this might feel so vulnerable and so contrary to everything we’ve been taught.

Most people experience a visceral reaction when they first encounter the idea of cherishing one’s “enemies”. We are strongly conditioned to guard against the unknown and to protect ourselves from potential harm. For most of us, our reactions around self-protection tend to be very automatic, black and white, and unexamined. While its important to take care of ourselves, there is often more space than we believe to care for others, as long as we do so in a wise and skillful way.

Is it ever useful to disdain someone – even if they have done some awful thing? Hatred is a profound feeling of aversion. It drives us to act in a way that is intended to reduce our unpleasant feelings – generally by fighting against, escaping from, or ignoring the perceived source. In this sense, hatred can be highly motivating and may result in behavior that at least partially or temporarily alleviates our own suffering. However, hatred also has some unfortunate longer term side effects.

It takes an amazing amount of mental space and energy to hate. Although it may be directed at our “enemies”, anger also burns us from the inside. Chronic anger has harmful effects on our health and what we practice only becomes stronger. Not only is prolonged resentment and disdain bad for the health of the individual, anger can also become a threat to public health. It is easier to mistreat those we judge as fundamentally bad, thus creating a self-perpetuating cycle of hatred and counter-hatred. Research shows that punishment is not nearly as effective for behavior change as reinforcement and people generally live up to or sink down to the expectations we set for them.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. …The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Do you believe there is a glimmer of goodness that resides in everyone? If so, it can be helpful to remember this when you encounter someone who seems hard to love. If not, you can at least acknowledge the common humanity we all share, reminding yourself that this person too was once a helpless baby – that like you, underneath it all they desire happiness. It can also be helpful to recognize that you are not immune to the misfortune of others. Right or wrong, societal unrest and dissatisfaction ripple out in ways that impact us all. Everyone benefits when we value each other. Its possible to respect the disrespectful and love the unloving without endangering personal integrity. We do this by acting with wise compassion, wishing wellbeing, and doing our best to avoid harm. Cherishing another does not have to mean placing ourselves in danger – sometimes the best way not to harm someone is to set a loving boundary. It can be more effective to love from afar in some cases.

Cherishing someone who might seem hard to love takes humility – a modest estimation of one’s own importance in the grand scheme of things. Humility comes from the Latin word humilitas meaning lowliness – or – humus, the earth beneath one’s feet. How can you cherish another when you believe they are less deserving? We are all very small in the big picture and we are inextricably connected – the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. According to a classic teaching tool for high school and college chemistry students, if you take a deep breath right now, at least one of the molecules entering your lungs came from Julius Caesar’s last breath.

Can we acknowledge the limits of our control and understanding – especially that we can’t truly know the heart of another? Is it possible to see that we aren’t separate from or above anyone else – even from humanity’s worst offenders? If we can truly accept these things, our automatic reactions will be more likely to come from a place beneficence and compassion. One way to start practicing radical compassion is to make a regular practice of lovingkindness or giving and taking meditation (tonglen). A simpler way is to just begin noticing in our daily lives the ways in which judgmentpride, and anger show up in our relationships with others and to perhaps make space for responding more skillfully.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. – Dalai Lama

 

Being With Difficulty

rainbow2Sometimes we get onto the cushion, chair or mat and soften into a deep inner stillness and profound sense of peace. On these days, practice is full of ease. It feels like coming home to ourselves, which can be quite a pleasant place to rest. Other times we experience discomfort in the body, thoughts crowd in like an impatient mob, or intense and overwhelming emotions pour over us. On these days, practice can seem difficult to bear – and yet there is so much to learn if we can open to and even welcome in these challenging experiences.

Bodily Discomfort

If we hold any posture long enough, we will all eventually encounter some level of bodily discomfort. Aches and pains in the body are often the harbingers of unrecognized emotional unease. Even when physical pain is associated with an injury or disease process, its frequency, duration and intensity can be impacted by one’s psychological state. During practice, we can experiment with opening to the experience of physical discomfort so that we can see it more clearly and objectively. The richness and diversity of the topography and trajectory of what we might consider to be unpleasant bodily sensations can be quite surprising. We can learn much about our habits and patterns and develop a measure of equanimity, even around very intense physical sensations.

Discursive Thinking

Contrary to popular belief, the goal of meditation and yoga is not to “empty the mind”. Our minds are always thinking. Even the act of recognizing what is happening inside of us is a form of thought. Rather, it is discursive thinking that can become an obstacle to meditation. This is the tendency of the mind to ramble aimlessly from subject to subject, narrating stories about our experiences. The interpretations we make during this type of thinking is what often leads to judgments of “unpleasant, unsatisfactory, unwanted”, urges to fix, avoid, or distract, and consequently give rise to afflictive emotions. Non-discursive thought involves the direct experience of phenomena – it is immediate, factual, and descriptive. Over time, a dedicated practice allows discursive thinking to recede into the background as the mind becomes more skilled at resting in the now, non-discursively.

Powerful Emotions

Discursive thinking lends itself to emotional reactions because we must make an interpretation in order to have a feeling about something. When we are on automatic pilot, these interpretations can be made in split seconds below the level of awareness. If we aren’t tuned into our own internal experiences, we run the risk of acting impulsively and unwisely in order to hold onto desired emotions (grasping, clinging) or to avoid, fight against, or distract ourselves from unwanted emotions (aversion). The afflictive emotions: passion, aggression and ignorance tend to cause us the most difficulty. But, just as with body sensations and thoughts, we can learn to notice emotion as it arises and observe it with curiosity and friendliness so that we can learn from it.

Mindfulness is intentionally attending to what is already here, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, without judgment. When we impulsively try to avoid that which is both inescapable and difficult, we eliminate a wide swath of experience from which we might learn. How can we respond wisely and with compassion when we are unaware? When approached gently and with a spirit of kindness, we can learn to trust our inner knowing to guide us in skillfully facing any challenge that arises.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

–  Rumi, “The Guest House” from The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks

Yoga: A Portable Practice

 

I am so very grateful for my ashtanga yoga practice for making me a more independent yogi. Because it has become a deeply ingrained routine, it is easier for me to continue my practice uninterrupted when I travel. There is so much to learn about oneself, one’s habits and inclinations when we take our practice with us. Of course it is an adventure balancing on new terrain or stretching under fresh circumstances, sometimes in the company of diverse teachers and fellow practitioners. It can be a challenge to squeeze a mat into places yoga may never have gone before and to find time to practice within the chaos of an unpredictable schedule without disturbing others. But, as always, the rewards tend to be self-reinforcing.

HaveMatWillTravelI encourage all yoga practitioners to experiment with taking your practice with you wherever you travel. A yoga mat is easy enough to pack, but the usual trappings are unnecessary. I remember David Swenson saying he and his brother practiced yoga on bed sheets in a park. It is a testament to the practice that we can find yoga communities almost anywhere in the US and many places abroad. But, we can also find value in practicing alone, alongside the bed in the hotel room or on the lawn of our host’s home.

Make travel yoga a challenge and an adventure. Just as with going on retreat, “leaving behind one’s homeland” offers a unique opportunity to deepen a practice. Maintaining our devotion under uncertain circumstance takes dedication and becomes an exercise in cognitive flexibility, patience, and acceptance. The fruits of this become like precious gifts we take with us to nourish and sustain our practice when we return home.

The most important pieces of equipment you need for doing yoga are your body and your mind. – Rodney Yee, Yoga: The Poetry of the Body

Have Mind Will Travel

FullSizeRender 2One of the benefits of a devoted mindfulness practice is that we develop stronger attentional control, become more adept at shifting focus intentionally and sustaining concentration through distraction when appropriate. This allows us to decide from where and how extensively we gather information for wiser responding.

Often the mind wanders. We find ourselves reviewing interactions and activities from the past, forecasting the future, or daydreaming about fanciful nonsense. Wandering is aimless and rambling – there is no particular point or destination. We are just browsing through thoughts and images. Mind wandering is often a form of self-entertainment and ultimately an attempt to avoid something perceived as unpleasant. Research shows this type of cognitive activity can actually be correlated with decreased happiness. However, there is also some research indicating mind wandering may play a role in creativity. I suspect that many times the mind wanders because it feels lost – it is very familiar with doing, but it casts about aimlessly in the unfamiliar territory of being.

At other times, the mind “travels”. When we travel, our actions are goal directed – we are moving from where we are toward some destination. An external stimulus (like a phone ringing) or an internal stimulus (like a body ache) pulls attention away from the intended focus. Mind traveling may not be particularly choiceful when we are on automatic pilot – we may just be reflexively following some sort of habit or pre-programmed conditioning. But, mind traveling can also be quite conscious and adaptive. If we are in an unfamiliar place and someone is approaching, it might be very helpful to shift our focus to this presence.

Both mind wandering and mind traveling can become obstacles to mindfulness practice. However, if we are aware when these mind states arise, pass away, and are not present, we better understand them and their consequences. Each time we realize the mind has wandered, we can gently guide it back to the intended focus. Each time the mind travels, we can decide whether we might now focus on the stimuli that pulled attention away or whether it makes better sense to shift it back to the original object of intention. It is a process of experimentation through which we awaken to our habits and patterns and learn new ways of relating to them. We begin to truly know the mind.

…it’s in the process of mastering the skill of mindful concentration that true insight arises. – Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Interconnection: Wherever You Go, There I Am

evening_cloudsWe are all interconnected. On a most basic level, we all share the same planet on which we depend for survival. When one nation pollutes the air, we all breathe it. When one nation poisons the oceans, we are all impacted by the consequences to our water supply. We cannot escape the myriad ways in which we influence and are influenced by other beings and the environment.

No man is an island,
entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were.
as well as if a manor of thy friend’s
or of thine own were.
Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind;
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.

– John Donne

Even our own bodies are made of up microorganisms we depend upon to live. They help us digest food, support our immune system, and impact our moods. There are more microbes in our bodies than what we consider distinctly human cells and many of these organisms also depend on the specific conditions of the Earth’s environment to survive. Studies have shown that astronauts in space lose some of the microbes that help keep us healthy. If we destroy the Earth, we destroy ourselves.

In this modern world, even such manmade conditions as finance, are deeply interconnected. The global financial crisis of 2007-2008 started in the US with excessive risk-taking in lending practices and resulted in deleterious global effects. Businesses failed worldwide, people lost their jobs and homes. and income inequality has continued to grow. When we harm ourselves, we harm others.

Interconnection transcends space and time. There is evidence that seasonal, circadian, solar and lunar cycles can impact the behavior of both animals and humans. There is also emerging evidence that the stresses and fears experienced by one generation may be genetically transmitted to subsequent generations. One version of the Big Bang theory proposes that the cosmos is perpetually contracting and expanding as a result of the density and distance relationships among phenomena. The consequences of actions ripple out far beyond the phenomena that produce them.

Our own thoughts, emotions, and actions are also deeply interconnected. Mental conditioning occurs when we are unaware of the processes that are happening in our minds and we identify with them. We become attached to the perceived short-term and superficial “rewards” of our unexamined thought-feeling-reaction chain. This keeps us in a state of ignorance that can lead to unskillful behavior and result in greater suffering for ourselves and others.

“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” This famous cause and effect question is a metaphor for the dilemma that, although we know that all worldly things arise in dependence upon other things, we often don’t understand the origins. It is a compelling question, but it might not matter so much that we don’t know the answer. It may be more important that we clearly see and understand the interconnection of all things so that we can behave in ways that ultimately reduce suffering for ourselves and others.

When this is, that is.
From the arising of this comes the arising of that.
When this isn’t, that isn’t.
From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that.
Bodhi Sutta: Awakening

The Five Remembrances

Dawn5_2017One translation of the Pali word for mindfulness (sati) is memory or recollection. The five remembrances from the Upajjhatthana Sutta of the Tipitaka (a collection of texts forming the doctrinal foundation of Theravada Buddhism from which modern mindfulness practices emerged) are facts we can reflect upon regularly to help us overcome confusion, attachment, and harmful thought, speech and action. They are inescapable truths about life that we often ignore or try to forget:

  1. I am subject to growing old. I cannot avoid aging.
  2. I am subject to ill health. I cannot avoid sickness.
  3. I am subject to dying. I cannot avoid death.
  4. I will eventually be separated from everything I hold dear.
  5. I am owner of and heir to my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

The first four remembrances remind us of impermanence and the suffering that comes from attachment and aversion. We come to understand that life is fleeting, we cannot avoid all painful experiences, and any happiness we try to grasp through striving after or clinging to the external will eventually change or end, resulting in dissatisfaction. Through this understanding, we begin to realize that it is only in cultivating certain internal factors that true and lasting happiness may arise.

The fifth remembrance reminds us of the importance of living in congruence with our highest values. The harmful actions we commit, even if they don’t come directly back like a boomerang to haunt us, ultimately impact our internal experience. We become what we practice, strengthening the neural pathways and habit patterns associated with our behavioral tendencies. Do harm and marinate in anger, greed, jealousy, doubt or fear. Do good and cultivate an internal environment of compassion, kindness, courage, patience and peace.

It is also helpful to reflect upon the fact that all people are subject to these experiences. This is our common humanity and a great equalizer. It is through this knowledge of our interconnection that we see the ultimate happiness of one depends upon the happiness of all. How can we be truly happy when we know others are suffering? And as the saying goes, “Hurting people hurt people.” We cannot completely escape the harmful consequences of others unskillful actions that ripple out and touch us. Understanding this motivates us to act for the benefit of all beings including ourselves.

When we remember these truths frequently, we are more prepared for change and we accept it as inevitable, impersonal, and universal. This cultivates equanimity (calm amidst difficulty), increases compassion for self and others, and causes us take more responsibility for what we think, say and do.

There is only one mistake you are making:
you take the inner for the outer and outer for the inner.
What is in you, you take to be outside you
and what is outside, you take to be in you.
The mind and feelings are external,
but you take them to be intimate.
You believe the world to be objective,
while it is entirely a projection of your psyche.
That is the basic confusion . . .
– Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That

To Leave Behind One’s Homeland: The Practice of Retreat

IMG_0291Going on retreat is an important practice in many spiritual paths. Leaving home takes us away from the distractions of our attachments – family, friends, pets, and property that demand our constant care. In addition, going someplace new and relatively unknown disrupts our habitual patterns – there is no answering of cell phones, replying to email, interacting on social media, binge-watching TV programs, or browsing the internet. Silent retreats free us from the need for the social niceties that take up so much of our energy and focus. All of this allows us an opportunity to direct attention more exclusively to practice.

Retreats can be teacher-led or self-directed. Teacher-led retreats offer guidance and support. Specific topics are explored and the teacher is available to answer questions. Self-directed retreats require more experience and discipline from practitioners, but allow the freedom to follow one’s inner knowing of what will be useful. Retreats can be residential where participants stay onsite, or they can be “householder” style where they go home at night to sleep. Retreat centers tend to be away from the fray with beautiful grounds for mindful walking and solitary exploration in a natural setting.

ChapinMillAccomodationsThe accommodations at most retreat centers tend to be basic, but adequate and facilities are often closely shared with others. The food is healthy and usually vegan or vegetarian. At some centers, the cooks take great care in preparing home-grown, organic ingredients and serve their culinary creations with love and respect. The schedule for insight meditation or mindfulness retreats tends to be very similar everywhere you go. Retreat participants are guided through alternating periods of sitting meditation and mindful walking from early in the morning to late at night with breaks for meals.

The length of a retreat can range from a half day to a week, several months, or even years. Serious mindfulness practitioners are encouraged to take at least one 5-10 day, silent, residential, teacher led retreat every year. The longer and more frequent periods of meditation allow for a depth of practice that is hard to achieve at home with the demands of daily life. Many practitioners find it is useful to start with a shorter retreat period and work their way up to a longer retreat.

BridgeChapinMillSome people feel reluctant to leave their loved ones for any significant period of time, but the calm, balance, compassion and wisdom cultivated by a devoted mindfulness practice may be one of the most valuable gifts you can offer your relationships. Some people worry about the expense involved, but there are so many types of retreats to choose from these days, including some that are entirely donation based, so a little research will likely uncover one you can afford.

The practice of all the bodhisattvas (enlightened, compassionate ones) is to leave behind one’s homeland,
Where our attachment to family and friends overwhelms us like a torrent,
While our aversion towards enemies rages inside us like a blazing fire,
And delusion’s darkness obscures what must be adopted and abandoned.

– Gyalse Tokme Zangpo, The Thirty-Seven Practices of All the Bodhisattvas

Serving with Wise Compassion

The love stoneIn the mindfulness and yoga community we are fortunate to have so many wonderful, loving, and giving practitioners. I have benefitted greatly from the guidance of more caring and talented teachers/mentors here in Kansas City than I can count on both hands. Much gratitude to them all!

We are each made for goodness, love and compassion. Our lives are transformed as much as the world is when we live with these truths. – Desmond Tutu

The heartfelt desire of most mindfulness practitioners, caregivers, coaches, teachers and educators is to alleviate suffering.  This is called compassion and it gives great meaning to our work. However, many of us do not get the kind of training needed to work with the most vulnerable people who are drawn to the practices. These include those who:

  • are suffering so intensely that they need more than we alone can provide, – or –
  • lack the insight required to prevent harm to self and/or others.

In these cases, our beneficent intentions may not be enough. Although we may feel a strong desire to help, uninformed or misguided action can actually make things worse in the long run. Our attachment to our identity as helpers and healers can override reason. Kind-hearted souls may end up doing inadvertent damage. It can be quite complicated.

My experience as a psychologist has shown me that not all caring, well-intentioned as it may be, is skillful. Benefiting others does not always mean giving someone immediate satisfaction. We are taught to believe that if someone is unhappy with us, we have done something wrong. We forget that one’s thoughts and feelings are more reflective of one’s inner experience than external conditions – and we can’t fully know someone else’s inner experience.

In the yoga community we endeavor to maintain a healing energy in the studio and in our minds, so we sometimes avoid confronting harmful behavior and setting boundaries. In meditation circles, we often practice non-reactivity and acceptance, so we may let harmful phenomena wash over us. We try to embody right speech and ahimsa, so we are careful not to “gossip” about others. We are giving, so we patiently listen, holding space again and again.

These are usually quite useful practices and qualities, but if taken too far, they can discourage us from speaking up when something seems wrong. A pattern of damaging behavior can be allowed to escalate. We may inadvertently enable, through reinforcing with loving attention, behaviors and qualities that should not be encouraged. As hard as it is to believe, some people do not understand the language of patience and compassion – they mistrust and defend against it or they misinterpret it as weakness and exploit it. By the time we realize we are really in a pickle, the situation is much worse than it ever needed to be. In the long run, this causes more suffering for everyone involved.

One of the most wonderful things about yoga and mindfulness communities is they tend to be inclusive and welcoming of differences. This creates a powerful sense of safety and belonging, and brings a richness to the practices. However, we also have to realize that a rare few people are on the “fringes” because their chronically harmful or abusive behavior alienates others. When this becomes apparent we must practice wise compassion so we don’t inadvertently support the proliferation of suffering.

Sometimes taking a step back, consulting with others, or setting a boundary is the most compassionate course of action.

Wise compassion can be firm and even fierce, but it is never angry. In both yoga and Buddhism we have the imagery of the spiritual warrior, understanding that love can be a powerful force for transformation. It takes courage and determination to set and maintain a boundary or to sit unwavering in the burning heat of another’s disapproval. Remember that setting a limit does not mean closing your heart. It means seeing the bigger picture and allowing your intention to help outweigh your desire to be comfortable.

…forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed? – bell hooks

The Four Loves: Lovingkindness

Field with dandelions and blue skyOne of the four loves or sublime attitudes in Buddhism is lovingkindness or metta. It involves the understanding that all sentient beings (capable of thinking and feeling), including ourselves, desire happiness and wish to be free from suffering. It also involves an attitude of friendliness and well-wishing toward all beings, including ourselves.

When we cultivate lovingkindness we are able to see our fundamental interconnection – that all beings are united by a common desire for fulfillment and freedom from misery. This understanding cuts through differences and allows us to see others as interchangeable with ourselves.

Lovingkindness provides the basis for two of the other loves, compassion and appreciative joy. Encountering the suffering of another with an attitude of solidarity and open-heartedness, we experience a spontaneous desire to alleviate that suffering. This is compassion. Likewise, seeing others as interchangeable with ourselves and witnessing the success of another, vicarious happiness naturally arises. This is appreciative joy.

Practicing lovingkindness meditation (LKM) is one way to cultivate this beneficial attitude. Research has shown that LKM is correlated with relaxation, feelings of social connection, increased empathy, compassion and positive emotions, decreased negative emotions and bias, improvements in migraines, chronic pain, PTS symptoms, and the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, increases in gray matter volume in the brain, and longer telomeres (indicator of decreased aging in chromosomes). Some degree of positive impact can be measured immediately, even in small doses, and the effects seem to persist over the longer term.

For one who mindfully develops
Boundless loving-kindness
Seeing the destruction of clinging,
The fetters are worn away.

– Itivuttaka: The Group of Ones

If you would like to try LKM, please enjoy this guided practice from the University of New Hampshire:

Happy, at rest,
may all beings be happy at heart.
Whatever beings there may be,
weak or strong, without exception,
long, large,
middling, short,
subtle, blatant,
seen & unseen,
near & far,
born & seeking birth:
May all beings be happy at heart.

Let no one deceive another
or despise anyone anywhere,
or through anger or irritation
wish for another to suffer.

As a mother would risk her life
to protect her child, her only child,
even so should one cultivate a limitless heart
with regard to all beings.

With good will for the entire cosmos,
cultivate a limitless heart:
Above, below, & all around,
unobstructed, without enmity or hate.
Whether standing, walking,
sitting, or lying down,
as long as one is alert,
one should be resolved on this mindfulness.
This is called a sublime abiding
here & now.

– Karaniya Metta Sutta: Good Will

The Four Loves: Appreciative Joy

beautiful sunset on the beachOne of the four loves or sublime attitudes in Buddhism is appreciative joy, sometimes also called sympathetic or empathetic joy. It is the vicarious experience of taking pleasure in the true happiness of others and its causes, free from attachment and self-interest. We experience appreciative joy when we delight in some else’s  well-being regardless of our own situation.

I declare that the heart’s release by sympathetic joy has the sphere of infinite consciousness for its excellence. – Metta Sutta: Goodwill

This attitude naturally arises when we are clear-minded and present – not caught up in attachments, aversions or afflictive emotions. Most of us have experienced appreciative joy when we’ve observed an innocent child, puppy, or kitten happy at play or witnessed an act of kindness. It is more difficult; however,  when other people succeed where we have not or when they receive things we want. It can also be difficult to appreciate another’s happiness when, by comparison, we feel they are undeserving. There is certain amount of fearlessness and courage that is required in order to rejoice in others’ happiness, because we have to let go of the worry that there may not be enough happiness left over for us.

When we explore the beneficial mental states, it can be useful to also understand their near and far enemies. These are detrimental mental states that undermine their beneficial counterparts. Near enemies tend to be subtle because they appear similar to the beneficial mental state on the surface, and it is only upon closer inspection that we discover they are not. Near enemies often involve comparison (especially self-referencing) and elements of insincerity or even hypocrisy. The near enemies of appreciative joy are:

  • Exhilaration – feeling exuberant about another’s happiness insomuch as it pacifies our own sense of lack.
  • Pride – appreciating others’ happiness merely in how it reflects upon us.

Far enemies are more obvious because they are mental states that are directly opposed to the original. The far enemies of appreciative joy are:

  • Jealousy – the fear that others will take what we perceive as ours.
  • Envy – the resent-filled desire for what others have.
  • Greed – wanting ever more than is needed.

We can cultivate appreciative joy by meditating first on the happiness or success of a friend or loved one. We practice this until we are able to experience genuine feelings of joy and appreciation for the benefits of what they have received or accomplished. Then we gradually move, step by step, to neutral acquaintances, strangers, enemies, and eventually all beings everywhere. Here is a guided sympathetic joy (mudita) meditation with Joseph Goldstein:

…abandoning the five hindrances, the corruptions of awareness that weaken discernment — keep pervading the first direction [the east] with an awareness imbued with good will, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth. Thus above, below, & all around, everywhere, in its entirety, keep pervading the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, without hostility, without ill will. – Metta Sutta: Goodwill