There is a beautiful word that is used in the Dhamma, the word is rejoicing. To rejoice in our own good qualities. To rejoice in the positive aspects in ourselves. Seeing more and more the positive in ourselves, and learning to rejoice in our own goodness in this way can bring about lots of joy and lightness. And when we experience more and more joy and lightness in us, then it can also be infectious, it can also influence and inspire others to experience more joy and lightness.
In what ways do we become our worst enemy? One is that we can be extremely critical and hard on ourselves. The phrase that I like to use is: we give ourselves minuses – it can become a very strong habit. And when we have this habit of giving ourselves only minuses we’ll also be giving minuses to other people. We can create a hell where only minuses exist. So meditation of loving-kindness helps us to see this very clearly, how we become our own enemies by giving ourselves minuses and giving minuses to others; and then we learn to see more and more the positive qualities in ourselves and in others.
Metta in simple terminology means just friendliness. So the question is: where do we begin this friendliness? It is psychologically interesting that we are to begin with ourselves. I think it is difficult to be friendly to others unless you are friendly to yourself. A phrase that I would like to use is: Metta enables us to be our own best friend. But we don’t realise sometimes that we can be our own worst enemy. And generally speaking we see enemies outside ourselves, and maybe all our life we are trying to find and get rid of the external enemies but we don’t realise, as I said, that we can be our worst enemy.
There is a very important aspect in Buddhist meditation. It is related to developing four very important spiritual qualities in ourselves. They are called “The Four Sublime or Beautiful States”. They are also called “The Divine Abodes”, because when we develop these qualities we are like divine beings, like gods.
I would like to see these four qualities as our friends because if we can encourage these four friends to be with us most of the time, this will help us to experience a lot of joy and lightness and it will also help us to bring joy and lightness to others. To put it in another way, when these four friends are not with us this can create lots of suffering for ourselves and lots of suffering for others.
And these four qualities in Pali sound so soothing, so nice. They are Metta, Karuna, Mudita, Upekkha. So Metta is loving-kindness, friendliness. Karuna is compassion. Mudita is sympathetic joy. And Upekkha is having a non-reactive, equanimous mind.
It’s a very important aspect of the practice to experience joy and bliss in meditation. So when joy and bliss arise, when the body trembles, just know that the body is trembling, just try to find out what exactly is the sensation you are experiencing and just be with the sensation. What is important when we have these positive emotions is not to hold onto them.
I would like to present a Buddhist simile which shows how we can live in any environment and learn how not to be affected by that environment. And the simile is a lotus flower. As you know, a lotus flower grows in muddy waters. But though it is surrounded by muddy, dirty water the lotus is not affected by what is around it.
So in this modern world, there can be lots of challenges, lots of difficult situations, lots of problems that might arise, but with the practice of meditation we’ll be able to see them as challenges and learn, like a lotus, not to be affected by the surroundings that we find ourselves in.
Meditation helps us to learn to be our own teacher, to be self-reliant, to have complete confidence in ourselves. This is a hard teaching but it’s a very important teaching: to develop your own resources, to develop your own self-reliance, to develop your own tools, how to work with suffering when it arises. So what is the result of that? We learn to take responsibility for what is happening in us, without blaming others, without blaming the surroundings that we find ourselves in. When such a change takes place in our minds, then we’ll be able to handle whatever arises in a particular environment, in whatever surroundings we find ourselves.
I think everyone is familiar with other unpleasant emotions like anxiety, fear, sadness, guilt – all these are quite familiar to us. And what normally happens is that when we experience them, we have no way, we have no tools to work with them. So human beings have become helpless victims of these unpleasant emotions which really control us, overwhelm us and affect us. In meditation, there are techniques and ways to work with these unpleasant emotions. In fact there has been a very interesting book, “Emotional Intelligence”. The author, who is a Buddhist, says that human beings are trying to develop more and more high I.Q., but what is more important is to develop an intelligent way of working with emotions. This book has become a best-seller, and there have been lots of workshops on this problem, because in this modern world unpleasant emotions are a real challenge.
So here again, meditation, especially the aspect of awareness, helps us to work with these emotions. One method is not to repress them, not to control them, nor to express them but just to be aware of the emotions when they are there. In fact in meditation there are other tools, techniques, for working with these emotions. We cannot prevent these emotions from arising but what we can learn is how to work with them when they arise rather than continue to suffer as a result of them.
We can use awareness to learn, to discover, to explore, to investigate what is happening in our mind and body. A real challenge we have in everyday life is how to relate to unpleasant emotions. One problem modern man is confronted with is the problem of stress. It’s a problem everywhere. So now people are finding ways and means of working with stress. It is interesting that there are workshops, courses, which are called stress management courses. They’re not trying to get rid of stress, they want to manage it, control it. So awareness helps us to find out under what circumstances we feel stressed, what really happens to us, mentally and physically, when we experience stress. In this way, we can explore, learn, investigate, any unpleasant emotion that we experience.