for the New Year
Firstly, I want to wish you all to be well, happy, and free from suffering as we head into 2021.
However, I expect that your inbox has been quite full these last few days with emails wishing you a 'Happy New Year.' I hope that this one will at least be a little different.
As I look at my own email inbox it is full of emails trying to entice me with promises such as:
- Things I can buy at amazing prices
- Ways I can improve myself
- How my donation will save the world
Now not all of these are bad, but they all perpetuate a myth - that somehow there is something outside of me, something external, that I just need to read / buy / obtain this one thing, and all will be well.
As we enter a New Year it is traditional to take stock and reevaluate where we are with our lives. Many people choose to make resolutions for the New Year. Now I have mixed feelings about these - on the one hand it can be good to address some of the habits we have fallen into and even small changes to unhealthy habits can lead to a big change. However the danger is that we start to look at ourselves as projects - as things that need to be 'fixed.' When we look at ourselves this way we fall into the trap of believing that we are somehow broken, somehow inadequate. And it is this feeling that the advertisers prey on - wanting to emphasize what we lack, what we don't have - because, of course, they are the ones who are more than happy to sell it to us.
So what is a healthy way to head into the New Year? It is at this time of the year that I like to remind myself - and all of us - of the Brahma-Viharas, the divine abodes or immeasurables. We can focus on cultivating these without falling into the trap of focusing on what we don't have.
Now the Brahma-Viharas may or may not be a new concept to you, but the good news is that you already know them and have the capacity for them. There is nothing new you have to attain, nothing you need to acquire, we just need to recognize them and choose to cultivate them. They are:
- Love or Loving-kindness (metta)
- Compassion (karuna)
- Sympathetic Joy (mudita)
- Equanimity (upekkha)
Nyanaponika Thera teaches us this:
They are called abodes (vihara) because they should become the mind's constant dwelling-places where we feel "at home"; they should not remain merely places of rare and short visits, soon forgotten. In other words, our minds should become thoroughly saturated by them. They should become our inseparable companions, and we should be mindful of them in all our common activities. As the Metta Sutta, the Song of Loving-kindness, says:As we head into 2021 I would like to encourage us all to contemplate and cultivate these four abodes, and while I am not a great fan of resolutions I can say that choosing to cultivate these in this time will bring benefit to us all. One great place to start is reading the full teaching by Nyanaponika Thera that I have quoted from above and linked here. Another is to practice their cultivation through meditation. If you already have a bhavana (cultivation) practice then I would encourage you in that. If you are new to this then I have linked below a fully guided half-hour meditation on cultivating the Brahma-Viharas in the New Year. A few of us have committed to press 'play' on this together at 7pm PT on Sunday, January 3rd. You are welcome to join us then, or of course listen at any time.When standing, walking, sitting, lying down,
Whenever he feels free of tiredness
Let him establish well this mindfulness —
This, it is said, is the Divine Abode.
These four — love, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity — are also known as the boundless states (appamañña), because, in their perfection and their true nature, they should not be narrowed by any limitation as to the range of beings towards whom they are extended. They should be non-exclusive and impartial, not bound by selective preferences or prejudices. A mind that has attained to that boundlessness of the Brahma-viharas will not harbor any national, racial, religious or class hatred.
Whatever you choose I hope that we can all generate more love, joy, compassion and equanimity as we start this year.
May you all be well, happy and free from suffering,
"The Four Sublime States: Contemplations on Love, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity", by Nyanaponika Thera. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel006.html .