Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Heavenly Abodes right here on earth

One of my favorite meditation practices derives from the Theravadin tradition: the four Brahma Viharas or heavenly abodes. These are a set of contemplations that encourage the cultivation of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. In working with myself and with students, I've found that these practices hold a hidden danger -- they can be done in such a way that they inadvertently contribute to the old familiar feeling of wanting things -- myself, the world -- to be different. For example, saying the traditional phrase "may all beings be at ease," can subtly create a feeling of aversion to the way things are and a desire for things to be better. While hatred and greed are natural human feelings, cultivating them might not be so useful for a meditation practice focused on seeing through the clinging to a self that is the cause of most of our suffering. In grappling with ways to clarify these practices for myself, I've begun to suspect that they could be phrased in ways that helps rather than hinder our waking up to reality. One entry point is to first bring attention to any subtle or strong feelings of desire or aversion to the present moment by asking something like "How could it get any better than this?" and then allowing an opening to all the variations of desire that arise with this simple phrase. In future posts, I'll continue to explore ways of investigating the heavenly abodes, experienced right here, right now.