Our local music scene in the Hudson Valley is quite diversified, with most everyone bringing something unique and flavorful to the table—but there are, of course, some acts that stand out a bit more than others.
The front person of the local rockabilly band in town is cut from a different cloth than almost anyone else I know.
Her tenacity and unstoppable vision ensure that her calendar typically has no less than 20 gigs per month. She’s cultivated a bigger following than anyone in town and always seems to produce the slickest music videos and records around.
Like many art forms, music is teeming with…um, artists—and most of us are competitive in nature. In fact, you will always find some artists and musicians that simply resent anyone else’s success. It’s the nature of the business.
My aforementioned friend was on Facebook every day promoting new nationwide tours she was getting ready to embark upon. She also shared awards she won in far away cities, as well as the most exciting live photographs one could imagine. It was the kind of stuff that would inspire envy in even the most evolved and secure musicians and turn the more unstable ones into downright haters.
Knowing that jealousy and envy can be toxic, I would generally try to quell those feelings when they arose by reminding myself how I would want people to accept me and be proud of me if I was in the sort of flow she was in. However, I experienced a shift in all of that just this past summer.
I’d just finished playing a set with my band at a local music festival, when she was getting ready to start her set on the bigger, main stage. Looking out at the sea of faces that stood before her in anticipation of another great set of music, she began to cry tears of joy. I could feel in a visceral way that she was soaking in the fruits of all of her hard labor over the years.
I no longer had to coach myself to not feel envy, because for the first time in my life, I experienced an organic onset of mudita—also known as sympathetic joy.
If you’ve ever heard of the German word schadenfreude, which essentially means finding joy in another’s misfortunes—this word describes the exact and literal opposite of finding joy in another’s joy.
According to tenets of Buddhism, mudita is the third of “The Four Brahma-viharas,” or “The Four Sublime States.” If you look at the dictionary definition of the word, “sublime, so awe-inspiringly beautiful as to seem heavenly,” you’d realize right away that this is no small potatoes. In other words, this is one of the four states in which the enlightened mind dwells.
Now personally, I consider myself quite fortunate to have been delivered to this moment of mudita at the music festival in a very natural and effortless way; however, after years of living the way we Western folk live, mudita generally takes a little work to experience.
Using the situation I have laid out before you, it would go something like this:
“I know that I feel envious because I would love to feel the sense of significance and accomplishment that she feels right now—and that is totally normal. It must feel so wonderful for her to have so many people love and adore her and the music she creates.”
From this point, we would generally repeat: “It must be so wonderful for her to have so many people love and adore her and the music she creates.” And then, keep repeating it.
Of course, to be realistic, we might initially be saying this to ourselves through gritted teeth, but a lot of the slow journey to enlightenment is guided by a “fake it ’til you make it” mentality, and this is no exception. This practice will still remain effective, because much in the way that you can “trick” your mind out of low-grade depression by changing your overall physiology, you can also trick your mind into accepting an idea by exposing it to that idea continually.
What’s more, even though it may feel as if you might be doing this for the greater good, there is also a more pragmatic and immediate reason for embracing this sublime state. The toxins you will be releasing from your own mind and body are innumerable.
It is not even an exaggeration to theorize that you will inevitably share the feelings of joy with the object of your mudita, thereby increasing what still remains good and beautiful about the world we live in. And right now, we could definitely use all the good and beauty we can get our hands on.