What I've been chewing on lately...

October 7, 2013


Ocean Breath


This is a pali word that means empathetic joy. It is the happiness that comes from another’s happiness.

I think of mudita as the opposite of jealousy.

My meditation teacher, James Baraz, introduced the concept to me many years ago and it’s stayed with me as a powerful spiritual beacon.

In 2009 my sister got married and I spoke of mudita in my toast to the couple.

When it came to my sister’s marriage, mudita was an easy quality to cultivate. I was so genuinely joyful in response to her joy that it felt like breathing.

In Buddhism there are four “sublime attitudes” that, through spiritual practice, we cultivate: loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy (or mudita), and equanimity. It’s said that mudita is the most challenging of these “attitudes” to call forth.

I can attest to this. When it comes to situations outside of my sister’s marriage, this is where the rubber of the spiritual practice hits the road. Perhaps you can relate?

The other night I was scrolling through my Instagram feed. I like to do this before bed – catching up on the joys of people I care about and enjoying the day’s beauty from my favorite iphoneographers.

I ended up stumbling into a place I call ‘triggeredville.” Have you been?

There I was. Scrolling through the photos from a colleague of mine and her life seemed so perfect.

She sported gorgeous designer clothing. Her business appeared abundantly successful. Her marriage loving and harmonious. Her being: radiant and glowing.

I felt jealous. Not happy for her. Jealous and with a pit in my stomach. Taking a quick measurement–my life came up short.

The pit in my stomach was still there when I woke up the next day.

I named it. It was clear. I was triggered and jealous.

And it was an opportunity to practice cultivating mudita.

I chose to practice not because it’s easy. It’s not.

I chose to practice because my jealousy was based in illusions. The illusion that she has something I don’t or can’t. The illusion that there isn’t enough to go around. The illusion that she and I are separate…other from each other. The illusion that I am not enough. The illusion that my own hungers can’t be satiated. The illusion that her life was charmed and pain-free.

I chose to practice because I seek to live a life as awake from these illusion as possible.

I know these illusions create a separateness between myself and life and that separateness is a source of great suffering.

So I practiced.

I sat in witness of my thoughts. Noticing the spinning and the burning fire of comparison.

I sat in witness of my body’s reactivity.

I sat in witness of the stories that “she has it all (and therefore I don’t)” and “I’m not enough, because I don’t have…”

I invited in empathy, the ability to feel the experience of another. In this case: joy.

and even pain, as she, like of all of us, is not immune.

I empathized with her. Knowing her joy is my joy. Her pain is my pain. She is part of me. I am part of her.

I found pockets of life to practice. I stayed attuned to the physical sensations of jealousy.

I practiced not judging the jealousy, as it’s as human as a skin rash, but instead I chose to call forth a different state of being.

Mudita. Empathetic joy. Seeing clearly that your joy is my joy, your pain is my pain, and Instagram has a less than natural rosy hue.