With the impending Presidential election, we are facing an onslaught of one-upmanship, with no concession that one or the other might actually be right or have something to offer.
It’s an endless battle of my ego versus yours, my opinions versus yours, my brilliance versus your stupidity.
In a similar way, growing up in the streets of the Bronx meant Ed had to look out for himself and develop a me-first attitude. Winning his college dance championship, the NYC dance championship and a TV dance competition, greatly reinforced this. Winning got in his blood; he loved the feeling of being the best.
Things changed for Ed when he met two of his first teachers, Sri Swami Satchidananda and the Dalai Lama. They taught him, just as Deb’s teachers were teaching her on the other side of the Atlantic, that there is virtually no payoff in being selfish: selflessness brings us more happiness and is far more fulfilling, that taking joy in other people’s good fortune is really where it’s at, that giving is truly getting.
This is called mudita in Buddhist teachings, also known as sympathetic joy or deep gladness. This is a special kind of joy, as seen in our enjoyment of someone else’s good fortune, or when another’s happiness makes us feel glad.
Now, in essence, feeling joyful for another’s joy sounds very easy. But someone else’s good fortune may be at the expense of yours—they got the job and you didn’t. Can you still be happy for them then? Or it may make you feel less than, unworthy, unattractive. Can you actually feel joy for another person’s happiness when you are jealous of them?
Jealousy can often be unbearable. Mudita asks us to look at those places in ourselves that are wrapped up in jealousy, envy, judgment, comparison, and ego. It’s fairly easy to see how jealousy isn’t going to get us anywhere other than into further pain and suffering: it takes us out of the present and we get lost in the future, in the “what if.” Feeling envious of another’s success or beauty is based on the superficial conditions of life, not the deeper reality of our essential interconnection.
Yet how often do we wish someone does not succeed, as their success simply highlights our own sense of failure? Judgment serves the ego, making someone else appear wrong, clever, lucky or unlucky. Notice how you tend to do this, to judge people who think differently from you or look different; notice when you compare yourself to those who have more or less than you, how this either makes you think you are better or just feeds your unworthiness. The Presidential election personifies this truth.
Mudita, or wishing people well, suggests that we don’t cling to jealousy and judgment by seeing the other as ourselves, seeing the interconnectedness between all beings, seeing the much bigger picture. It means letting go of fixed patterns of thinking so that you can genuinely wish happiness and joy for others. You actually want them to be happy! You want them to be free from suffering. Your happiness and their happiness are no different. You experience a deep gladness that they are happy. This is like turning shit into gold!
A daily practice we use is the following short meditation:
Focus on a person you may be having difficulty with, someone you may be in competition with, envious or jealous of. Hold this person in your heart and repeat whenever you want: “May they be well! May they be happy! May all things go well for them!” This can change your life.
A four-week webinar (on-line course) with Ed and Deb Shapiro, on discovering the greatest friend you could have: meditation. You can join in and download classes anytime.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta
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