I consider myself a spiritual seeker.
I read about many different religions and philosophies because I am a naturally curious person. I find truth in all kinds of places, and truth resonates deeply in my soul in a déjà vu kind of way. I constantly look for ways to learn and connect with the world around me. We as living beings are all interdependent, our happiness is linked in a web of universality.
There is a Buddhist meditation practice that helps me grow my ability to stay connected with other beings. It focuses on what are called the Four Immeasurables, qualities that infinitely have no measure or boundaries. When I meditate in this way and think about how my own personal meditation benefits all beings, it is not being self-important, it is echoing the sentiments of the first meditation directions.
All beings benefit from my efforts, through the ripple of my influence.
Loving-kindness is the wish for happiness for all beings. A search for “loving-kindness” or “metta” guided meditations will yield a motherlode of useful material. Meditating in this way, we start with ourselves, and then radiate this love outward to all beings. Some say the words “May you be safe, happy and loved.” Others, “May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you live with ease.” These simple phrases hold in them the depth of unconditional love. It’s no exaggeration to say that when we do this meditation, it benefits all beings.
Compassion is that response to other beings and their suffering that compels you to help. I feel empathy and I understand others and their pain—compassion is that thing that makes me get out of my chair and do something about it. Or maybe I don’t get out of my chair. Maybe I work a shift on a hotline. When I listen to the story of another person, give them that safe container to share their thoughts and feelings, I feel compassion for them and I help by listening.
Sometimes I give advice, steering them to meditation, breathing exercises, self-care. Sometimes I encourage professional help, tell them it’s okay to feel things and professional help is warranted. But I always feel positive about helping, because I can do something about someone else’s suffering.
3) Appreciative Joy
Appreciative joy is the state of being where we experience happiness for the successes of others. If someone is happy, even a stranger I just met, that makes me happy. The best example of this for me is when I did volunteer work with the AARP preparing tax returns. No one really likes doing their taxes, it’s complicated, expensive and the IRS has the reputation of being really bad guys. The baseline for this experience is that it’s going to be awful and just get it over with. But as a volunteer, we provided a service that retails for between $200-500 U.S. depending on the complexity of the tax return. We would tell people this while we told them what their tax overpayment refund would be. The clients would leave happy because they got a refund, they didn’t have to pay hundreds of dollars to get their taxes prepared and they finally got this admittedly unpleasant task over with. And I got an AARP shirt. I think it makes me look older.
Equanimity is the end game of the other three immeasurables—it is about its Latin root, balance. Staying balanced in the moment, knowing everything changes and that one has stability in the midst of it all.
This one is hard to practice, it’s the last of the four and the natural outcome of the first three. I have done per-diem work as a non-clinical counselor. Seeing someone’s recovery process once they have hit bottom and are clawing their way up would be really draining if I didn’t have some kind of way to balance my thoughts. I don’t judge, I don’t criticize, and I lovingly accept whoever my client is in that moment. I listen as they sort through their recovery. I encourage them when they do well, and I help lift them up when they have problems along the way. I also don’t take it personally if they are not ready to make their changes, because it’s their process. I try to observe where they are without attachment to a particular outcome, because it’s their outcome. I’m merely a guide for their way and I am grateful to be included in their lives, court ordered though it may be.
We can meditate, sit on our cushions, roll out our yoga mats and work on our own peace. But for me, when I started that process, it opened my eyes to a lot of things. I could no longer blithely ignore the world around me. I felt some dis-ease when I saw the suffering of other beings and I wanted to help in some way.
Once my eyes were opened beyond my immediate surroundings, I noticed suffering and things that needed to be done. What I also noticed was that I could do something about it. One afternoon, I was setting up a conference room for a meeting, and the opportunity presented itself to help the AARP with their tax services. As I put myself out there, I found more ways to help. A few hours on a beach cleanup here, a shift to help with crowd control for a local event there—these magically popped onto my calendar with very little effort on my part. I have opportunities to be of benefit continually before me, all I have to do is pay attention.
Mindful meditation opens the door for that attentiveness. Anyone who opens their heart and their mind will find that these possibilities existed the entire time—possibilities to be of benefit, chances to make a difference.
“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” ~ Jane Goodall
Author: Josie Myers
Editor: Emily Bartran