[Self-Care Sunday Series: wellness experts worldwide are sharing their self-care expertise, practices, routines and personal stories. Our first guest post is by self-care revolutionary Christy Tennery-Spalding]
Meditation is a wildly popular practice, renowned for its benefits on the physical, mental, and spiritual planes. After practising meditation for many years, I can attest to this. But what happens when we feel heartbroken or stuck in our daily lives? Meditation can help there, too.
In Buddhist meditation practice, there is a concept called the Four Heavenly Abodes (in Pali, called the Brahma Viharas). They have other names: the Four Sublime States, the Four Divine Emotions, but the concept is the same.
Brahma means noble or divine — here, it is referring to the practitioner’s relationship to a path of purification. According to Buddhist teachings, these are the highest attitudes a person can cultivate toward other beings. Those who practice them are said to have noble minds. Vihara means abiding and living — not a residence, but a way of being. Therefore, those who cultivate them are said to be abiding in the divinity of that state.
Each of the “abodes” explores a different variation on the experience of love: metta (lovingkindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), and upekkha (equanimity). While traditional texts offer instruction for cultivating each of these states, they are also a natural result of consistent, compassionate meditation practice.
When we deepen our lived experience of these, we can access them more readily during difficult times. When we have the experience of love so readily available in our memories, our hearts can become more resilient. This doesn’t mean that we feel any less deeply. Instead, we are able to respond from a place of compassionate action, instead of anger, jealousy or debilitating grief.
Each of the Brahma Viharas contains an opposite. In the face of these opposite states, the Four Divine Emotions can offer an antidote.
Lovingkindness — a compassionate and universal love of all beings — can be an antidote to selfish affection, clinging, or ill-will. Compassion can be an antidote to both indifference and to the illusion of separation between ourselves and other beings. Sympathetic joy — taking pleasure in others’ happiness and success — is a salve for jealousy and covetousness. Equanimity is the state of being rooted in insight and having an unshakeable disposition, in the face of both good and bad outcomes. It offers us skillful non-attachment, a way to unhook ourselves from the duality of “good” and “bad”.
These states work on both a micro and macro level. On a micro level, we can cultivate these states for ourselves. We can free ourselves from suffering, from self-criticism, from our fixation with outcome. We can see ourselves as the incredibly precious and divine beings that we are. With this new outlook on ourselves, we can adopt behavior and inner narratives to match.
On a macro level, these states can shift our relationship with others and our place in the world. In response to conflict with a loved one, we can call up these states to resource us, so that we can act in a way that is aligned with our integrity. We can offer compassion, lovingkindness, sympathetic joy, rather than defensiveness, spite or jealousy.
This creates a global impact. If all beings are connected, as Buddhism states, than the impact of cultivating these heavenly states ripples outward. And frankly, when leaders in our communities adopt some of these states, this will be reflected in the ways that those communities operate.
This level of consciousness is a lot to ask, but meditation gives us the tools to begin. Right here, today, with our own hearts, in our families, in our communities in our own small way.
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Christy Tennery-Spalding is a self-care mentor, healer, activist, and writer. She works with world-changing individuals to help them craft amazing self-care practices. She is the creator of Hella Metta, a 10-day meditation e-course to cultivate fierce lovingkindness. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and their feral cats, Dorothy & Harriet. Find free self-care resources to start your practice on her website, ChristyTending.com.
What is your experience of meditation in healing hearts? Let us know in the comments.
P.S You might also enjoy top 5 mindfulness meditation challenges transformed and ASMR guided meditation for chronic pain.