Appreciative Joy

Appreciative Joy: Morning session

Transcript: Four Immeasurables: SympatheticJoy.pdf

Saturday 7 January 2017: Sympathetic Joy, the Four Immeasurables

I hope you are beginning to understand how the foundation, the ground if you like, of all practice is being able to recognise and accept our mind-states and feelings.This comes through calming the mind. Through this recognition we develop the ability to shift our attitude. This is such a simple practice that we forget to do it! Noticing what is happening as it happens!  This is how Jon Kabatt-Zinn described mindfulness. It is a really pithy little sentence, which when you start to unpick it, it is really because our minds wander all over the place. So our habits are so deeply ingrained that it can take years to be able to comprehend how we chug along stuck in the same deep ruts of our internal environment’s habitual way of perceiving the world. This course started with the four preliminaries, or the four reminders, which are:

  • appreciating being human,
  • the impermanence of everything, nothing is going to last for ever, the good and the bad.
  • Karma or cause and effect, so our actions, words, deeds, they affect what happens in the future and how we are now is a result of past stuff.
  • and, the fourth, that once we have been born there will be suffering,

The practice of these preliminaries is the foundation of our understanding and embodiment of the Four Immeasurables qualities of

  • loving kindness,
  • compassion,
  • appreciate joy
  • and equanimity.

I hope you had time to read the transcript and listen to the recordings from our last meeting in November. They are on the web page. If you haven’t yet had time, they are there for when you can give yourself a few moments.

An essential part of the development, the unfolding of our innate compassion is deeply linked to one of the four preliminary practices: that as human beings we will experience suffering, in ourselves and others. Lama Rinchen told us that the whole practice of compassion is to allow our suffering to be totally open, without shame, restriction, or the note we stick on ourselves that says: ‘it shouldn’t  be like this; at my age I ought to be etc.’ All the little rules and restrictions we put on ourselves of how we ought to be. The quicker we recognise and accept our emotions the quicker they dissolve. The beauty of this path is that we learn not to be afraid of our emotions. Gradually we can truly appreciate how strong they are – and what a problem they are to us, so we have to be wth them, in a meditative situation. Not an explosion in the middle of the supermarket but allowing ourselves to feel them fully during meditation. We let the emotion travel through us, we pluck up the courage to be with them fully – and finally they will dissolve.

During the last session we revisited the ton len practice, the sending compassion and taking suffering practice using light as the tool of transformation. This is a very skilful way of cultivating compassion, of opening our hearts. It allows us to delve beneath the actions, however reprehensible, of others to see that, like each one of us, they too are suffering. Once we have allowed ourselves to glimpse the essence of another we can open our hearts to everyone and recognise the ground of our human nature – which is pure, vast, and kind and open. Like a clear blue sky.  The opposite of that openness arises when we are in a place of negativity: the clouds come in and we close down, we harden and narrow in our view. Our language is often filled with ‘should’s’, ‘ought’s’ and ‘musts’ and ‘why can’t he, she or they be…’ and our likes and dislikes are very firmly opinionated – the opposite of acceptance.

Compassion training challenges us daily! There are always opportunities around us and within us, because the first person we practice compassion for is ourselves. Remember to be kind to yourselves. It is amazing how often we forget this and give ourselves a hard time, or sit in pain without offering ourselves the softness and openness of kindness.

And through the practice of loving kindness and compassion our innate capacity for unlimited joy and appreciation will emerge. Today we are exploring the third immeasurable quality of appreciative joy, or empathetic joy: ‘May all beings know true happiness that has no taint of suffering.’ Unalloyed joyfulness.

Alan Wallace says of this practice that as it is so straightforward you would hardly think it is a practice. And yet, why not be a practice? You start by bringing to mind a joyful acquaintance of yours – a person who is normally buoyant, lively, happy. It could be a friend, it could be a holy man or woman. Are you able to bring such a person to mind? I hope so.

But I am going to share an observation of mine, so this might appear a little trivial. Years ago I trained with a dancer called Gabriel Roth who had developed a system that offered liberation and realisation through dance. She used a Laban-type analysis of movement dividing it into five different rhythms: flow, staccato, chaos, joy and stillness. I used this method a lot over many years for my own development and with others.  As well as open workshops with the general public I used the 5 rhythms extensively and very deeply when teaching actors. The was a wonderful opportunity because I was with them week in, week out.  I used it to help them to connect to their feelings and to deepen their visceral understanding of language. To develop authenticity. Most people I have worked with in those rather wild days of the Rhythms practice could connect quite rapidly with four of the qualities: flow, staccato, chaos and stillness. But one quality that was hard to access and had been lost by so many was joy. Joy is danced in this practice by lightness, the ability to skip, leap, be expansive, fluid, yet grounded. Joyful! I realised through this work and also by observing others around me in varying different situations that so many of us bury our joy, or only ‘perform’ joy when expected, so it has a false quality to it.  Connecting to the uninhibited joy of a child is so often a lost quality. It seems to get subsumed by the challenges of being a responsible adult. Of course it isn’t lost, it has simply become buried beneath the sheer challenge of daily life.

So if you do find it a bit of a struggle to identify someone who does exude joy, this might be some part of explaining how we close our hearts as we go through life and get submerged by the challenges we all meet.

Alan Wallace does suggest that we bring to mind a holy person – and someone who is buoyantly joyful is our dear friend Lama Samten. He has had immense suffering in his life, yet through his prolonged and dedicated practice he does not let the loss of so many of his family when they fled Tibet in 1959, becoming a refugee with nothing, he does not let this define his life. The Dalai Lama is also radiantly buoyant almost all the time. Or Lama Yeshe, the Abbot of Samyé Ling who for years now has been encouraging all to join his ‘joyful club’. Maybe we could instigate a branch here in Monmouth!

He started a recent teaching at Samye Ling which is in the Borders, not a place known for its fine weather and can frequently be rather damp, with these words:

I feel very sorry for all those people camping in the field, because I wouldn’t want to be sleeping there!  There is a lot of rain, but then to have the chance to learn such a virtuous path, a little suffering is acceptable.  Even more than acceptable, you should have joy.  But if I insist that we must have joy – but there are those of you who are comfortable with being miserable and want to remain miserable, it will be your choice.  I did tell you that we have a choice, so we can never force you by telling you, ‘You have to be joyful’; that is not my view.  My view is that when we have a choice, we make the right choice.  If you would like to be joyful and happy you are welcome to join my Joyful Club.   And if you like to be how you are, you are welcome to be that person.

The cultivation of appreciative joy is not easy for everyone. The thing is to notice which choice we may habitually take. We may have practiced being grumpy, and not really noticed this. This is a very common practice. Kate, who is Lama Samten’s attendant, some of you know her, She used to be my lodger in my little flat in Isleworth. One year she gave me a lovely plant for my birthday. I put it in the corner of my small garden and it sat there in its pot. And I used to see it every day as I did my daily outdoor T’ai-Chi practice. Some months after I had had this plant I looked at the label – it’s common name was ‘Grumpy! This was a wake-up call! Had I fallen into the trap of being negative about most things? Yes, I had.

After the ‘grumpy’ revelation I began, very tentatively as it was unfamiliar territory, to start to see what I had to be grateful for, and not just see the lack in my life. This practice is where we wish that all beings have a true happiness that is free of suffering, has no taint of suffering. It is filled with appreciation and gratitude. This of course includes ourselves.  This wish is connected with the remedy for jealousy, and envy. This immeasurable quality reminds us to develop a true capacity of rejoicing, to be happy when others have happiness. We sometimes, instead of rejoicing in another’s good fortune, might make an aside like ‘bully for them’, or ‘ very well for him – or her’. Take a recent kerfuffle in the news, and this may raise a few hackles in people’s backs. You may remember there was some criticism when Theresa May told the Sunday Times how much her leather trousers cost in an interview she did for that paper. Nicky Morgan in particular, criticised the Prime Minister’s choice of clothing. Did we join this criticism? Or can we rejoice that Theresa May has lovely leather trousers? Or Nicky Morgan can has a beautiful designer handbag? These sorts of public opinions very swiftly get reduced to envy, criticism and jealousy, but never are named as such. Yet when we notice a public display of envy is it because we do this ourselves? These toxic emotions slide under the radar so often and can take on an air of logic. Rejoicing in another’s good fortune takes a hugely open heart and an uncritical mind.

So are we able to rejoice at another’s good fortune? Rejoicing is very important in Buddhism – and other spiritual paths. Currently Jeanne and I are learning to play the piano, and and both of, I think Jeanne is as well, are sorting out how to play ‘Joy To The World’, a traditional Christian hymn that is totally celebratory.  The wish for joy is everywhere.

This ability to rejoice is linked with a sense of contentment. Our inability to rejoice reveals our own wobbliness. We wobble when we have a sense of dissatisfaction, or insecurity. Jealousy is based on insecurity, that thing of not being sure we have everything, that edge that things could be better, if only I had this or, that, or had different parents, or if that other person did things my way. We can so easily start to recap on everything and see how desolate things are. When we do this we are propagating the poverty mind. Which grows into paranoia where we think that there is always something missing. Having a sense of appreciative joy is the remedy for this, when we are feeling truly happy for others’ happiness. It is the same with gratitude, the heart fills up. By being happy for another’s happiness you feel happy too, so this is very handy!

Empathetic joy is an extremely useful practice. It is important. It works with interdependence. That is how we live, we are not separate from others. Raising our awareness of how our society is based on lack, how it is encouraged all the time to have more, buy more, get bigger, better, faster, latest etc – or that happiness will happen when we have this or that, these attitudes bring on a constant drone of dissatisfaction. We live in a culture of complaining. If there is not dissatisfaction then the whole system collapses.  Dissatisfaction in the mind brings on jealousy. You look around and see someone else has got it and you haven’t. All the marketing and advertising that permeates our daily lives is based on this.  Unconsciously we have a feeling of lack, what can I do to get that? This creates feelings of insecurity, and promotes our tendency to wobbliness. This is what brings on competitiveness, and a compulsive movement to try to fill that lack, that we need to do something about it. This is constant busyness. And often times this is wrong, it doesn’t have the effect we want, we just create more neurotic situations. Lama Rinchen spoke of busyness being a place of great suffering, when we are caught up in that web of having to ‘do’ all the time.

Rejoicing in others happiness is a very good remedy. May all beings never be separated from the sacred happiness, healthy happiness, that is devoid of suffering. If it isn’t healthy then it has a backlash, so no rejoicing.

To help open our awareness to be open to celebrating another’s good fortune we start by choosing someone to whom we feel we can do this with ease. Traditionally this practice starts with bringing our mother – or anyone who you feel very close to and for whom you have unconditional love, into our awareness. We celebrate any good fortune they have in their lives. It doesn’t have to be winning the lottery! It can be something simple as them having friends, being able to eat sufficiently each day, being able to keep clean and warm, still breathing – there are thousands of seemingly mundane gifts each of us receive daily that we forget to notice and celebrate. Practising with a beloved helps us to clear out any grumpiness and envy that we might have habitually cultivated over time towards those around us.

This practice can be quite easy to do with those you don’t know, they don’t rub you up. When you are close to people, you love them dearly but they can also irritate us. It is quite difficult to celebrate the irritations, because they are giving us the chance to practice.  T

he billions of neutral beings, all those you encounter in your daily life with whom you have no emotional connection. Start to see how you can be joyful about aspects of their lives. Then we move into the realm of our enemy, those for whom we have no sympathy. If you struggle here to find anyone, just watch the news or read a paper, go to the BBC News web site, there is an abundance of choice for our practice.

As you approach this part of cultivating appreciative joy notice where the heart stops, where it closes, and it might be that thoughts arise that tell you that this person doesn’t deserve to be happy. So then we turn to ourselves, and allow ourselves to appreciate our own good fortune. for even if we are going through a very challenging period of our lives there is always something to be joyful about. Sometimes something seemingly small and mundane. Like still breathing. That is something that Lama Samten says: “How are you?”, “Still breathing”, he says. This will help us to break through our own conditioning around our opinions of others and open the heart fully. There is a saying that even Hitler loved his dog. So we can rejoice in that glimmer of humanity. And of course as in all of these practices we are not condoning any negative actions, but going beneath the activity into the essence of being human. And that potential in everyone for unlimited loving kindness.

When we practise opening our capacity to be joyful it is helpful to maintain ease.  We alternate with shinnay practice, peaceful mind practice where we rest the mind on the breath, and then expand the mind and heart as much as you can whilst celebrating another’s good fortune.  Then rest, don’t go too tense. Keep connected to the awareness of the body. Relax. Poised ease! And if you bring to mind someone to whom you have a long-standing aversion, don’t go into rejoicing you if don’t really feel it, this just brings sickness, you don’t want to do that. It is like when we perform rejoicing for the benefit of another, the ‘what does that person think of me?’ to hide our true feelings. The jealous mind is a tricky aspect of our personality, so try and watch it, look out for it. For example if you very are close to someone, a dear fiend or beloved, and they receive happiness from another source, and this happiness is nothing to do with you, it is outside your own sphere or mindset, see if there is a tinge of lack, the thought that this happiness is not coming from me. See if there is a neediness in the heart.

It is always good to start from the place of the tender heart. If there is not that warmth in the heart, this practice will remain intellectual. It has to be in the body, as a

sensation, then it is deeper, it has an authenticity. In a bad situation you will be easily toppled over if it is merely intellectual, conceptual, bound up with the ‘ought to be feeling this or that’ notion etc.. By being totally involved, with a warm and open heart, then our practice goes beyond theoretical and  intellectual understanding into embodied experience.

Then be content. As we go along with these practices we can experience how they go together, loving kindness and sympathetic joy. Rejoice in another’s happiness and be content.

We then see how much our happiness depends on others. We then realise that our perceptions are constantly tainted, they are constantly a result of our past, what we have been through.  It is very difficult to have a fresh outlook.  The four immeasurables help us to get over where our mind stops, our hearts close and judgement comes in. Because of the paranoia mind, that sense of being lacking, not adequate enough, we imagine all kinds of things. We imagine a whole novel, and then later we see it is all made up, we have it wrong. It is important to not be so sure about our judgments. Of course we have to function but the more we open our hearts the more limitless we become, the less we are hanging onto our judgments for our survival, we become more flexible.

Having enough space in the mind always leave a possibility of change, then the rejoicing is much easier.

Deep down none of us are insecure, we are quite happy with the fact that there are different ways of handling situations. The more rules, rigidity, the more fear there is. We are just pasting onto the deep security we have at the foundation of our being.  And that gets u stuck, there is no space any more. Space means there is room to dance, to move. Our jealousy transforms into all-encompassing Wisdom. Gradually through the practice of appreciative joy we are letting go of that delusive need to fill the gaps, that competitiveness, that speediness. We still have the ability to act in all differing ways but without the neurotic tension. Our ability to rejoice allows us to be the dance, which is flowing, which is light, it is very different to the movement of compulsion which manifests as busyness.

Appreciative joy is fresh, bouncy, and flexible. Take any kind of happiness, notice any sign of happiness, move the awareness towards something that is not the source of suffering. Work on recognising that feeling of lack. This practice is a good balance to doing the opposite to concentrating on suffering, now we are concentrating on happiness. There was a newspaper called ‘Positive Living’. It went under, didn’t last long. This shows how we are seduced by everything negative. This is part of human nature, we are more attracted to the negative than the positive. So this practice helps us to bring back a sense of balance.

It is interesting that when things go well we take it for granted. When things go wrong we endlessly analyse it. It becomes our next novel. So this is a good practice, sympathetic joy, it helps us to become aware of the basic goodness of all beings. Being positive means looking at what is really good in others’ lives. It is a good way of balancing the darkness.  By developing gratitude we open the heart and this makes us feel content and gets rid of that desolate poverty mind. Gratitude goes with loving kindness and links up with sympathetic joy, we grow more appreciative of what we have been given. Lama Rinchen told us that when she was in retreat and feeling low just thinking of what somebody did or how they spoke to her could fill her with love and appreciation. And suddenly everything was fine.  A few minutes before she was ready to commit suicide and suddenly all was wonderful.

We have the power and possibility for transformation with us. We have it within us to become limitless, vast. This has to come form inside. Sympathetic joy opens up the possibilities of the vastness of the mind, we can do this for the benefit of all beings because of the interdependence of all beings. People like Akong Rinpoche, my first meditation teacher and Lama Rinchen’s root teacher, were showing in daily life that all your actions are beneficial, that there is not one moment in the day when you are not caring or doing something for someone. This comes from utter contentment. So you are totally present, not thinking, or planning or believing that the future holds something better than this present moment, we are no longer caught up in the ‘if I had this or that’ then we can rejoice. We can rejoice right now.

As i worked on these notes I took a short diversion to Facebook, and one of my dear friend’s father had just died. She is a photographer, I have known her for many years, and also a reader of poetry. She posted this picture of her father, Captain Park (Gramps) born 1920 whose personality was defined by the skies and fair weather. Clare accompanied her picture of him with this poem which defines freedom and the untrammelled joy of our own vast, limitless minds. Yes, it is referring to death, but can we not find this freedom in our life?

It is called:

High Flight

by John Gillespie Magee (1922-1941)

‘Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.’

Photo, Clare Park

Pre-Lunch Q&A: