This week in our Awakening to Your True Self Series, we continue with the four Brahma Viharas. These translate as supreme states, desired dwelling, divine abiding, or our best home. They include loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. The brahma viharas or the four divine abodes are the teachings on the way we relate to ourselves and others. For example we meet friendly people with love, those who are suffering with compassion, successful people with joy, and unpleasant people with detachment.
Sharon Salzberg, loving kindness or metta meditation teacher, speaks of the four brahma viharas as our best home. She says, just like our home, we might not be in these states all the time, but we will feel our most authentic and most at ease when we are at home, when we are expressing love, compassion, joy and equanimity.
This week, we will focus on the third brahma vihara, sympathetic joy. This past weekend I had the opportunity to experience sympathetic joy. This past year we have had much compassion for friends of ours who have suffered the loss of a key family member. We have watched them struggle to travel across the country to be with their Mother. We have watched them outgrow a home that just doesn’t work for them any longer. Over the Christmas holidays we had much compassion as we witnessed them go through a nail biter of a process of selling their home and the touch and go between being able to move into their “perfect home” or having to renovate a home that would never be quite right.
This past weekend we attended a housewarming party at their new and perfect for them home. It brought us all so much joy as our friend showed us around their home and how well their whole family fit, parents, children and grandmother, everybody had their perfect space. We were all grinning ear to ear for their good fortune. This is sympathetic joy.
Sympathetic joy can be one of the most difficult brahma viharas to cultivate. It reminds me of an image Tim showed me on social media the other day with the words, “To all my friends and family on Facebook posting photos of your vacation, stop!” In the world of social media, where we feel the pressure to perform our A-reel, for likes that somehow translate into self-acceptance, to actively feel happy for somebody else’s beach vacation when you are stuck at work or with a teething child, is difficult.
Sharon Salzberg offers brilliant teachings on sympathetic joy. She suggests that happiness is not a limited commodity. She gives the example of watching somebody who has so much going for them and the very natural human tendency to think, “I’d be happier if you had a little less going for you.” We must understand that when somebody else is experiencing happiness, it is in no way a threat to our own happiness. We can shift our perspective and know that at any moment we have a choice in our belief system about happiness. Our status is not relative to another person’s. Our happiness is not defined or threatened by another person’s.
We can take a skillful course of action when we become aware of comparison. Without making ourselves bad for comparing we can recognize that comparison is simply an attribute of our mind. Our mind compares non-stop. However, the state of comparison is unwholesome and unskillful, it will always lead to suffering. We can know that there is more than enough happiness to go around and that it is not a limited commodity.
Reflect on how good it feels when somebody is genuinely happy for your happiness. Notice too how it feels when somebody is not so happy for you, how you feel then. To take delight in the happiness of others is one of the greatest pleasures of the heart you can both experience.
Resource: Sharon Salzberg, Metta Hour Ep. 25 Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity
Props Needed: blocks, meditation cushion, folded blanket or chair, bolster
Yoga Postures/Asanas: Sunshine Arms, Knee Sways, Supta Padangusthasana or Hand to Big Toe Pose. Gate Pose or Parighasana, Hamsi Mudra, Breath of Joy, Trikonasana or Triangle Pose, Wide-legged forward fold or Prasarita Padottanasana, Reclined Bound Angle Pose or Supta Baddha Konasana, jathara parivartanasana or reclined belly twist, Knees to chest pose or apanasana, Savasana or Corpse Pose
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