This is Post 21 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
As previously, when reflecting on the brahmavihāras, I feel a need to emphasise that muditā, which is often translated as Sympathetic Joy, but better translated as Appreciative Joy, is not merely a mental state, but an attitude of Consciousness, and a way of being that gives expression to a quality of the universal Consciousness as we relate to the practicalities and specifics of human life. While we need to acknowledge that it is a cosmic attitude, it is also an attitude that individual people will often embody in rich personal ways even if they are not choosing to adopt the practice of resting as Consciousness. Muditā involves being in this physical world in way that is informed by, and supported by, the healing, evolutionary, and compassionate energy of our transpersonal source – so if we express this consciously it is extremely powerful source of blessing and creativity.
Muditā can perhaps be better understood by contrasting it with its egoic counterpart, which is the ordinary egoic Sensation function, which Buddhist tradition speaks of in terms of the vedanā skandha. Through meditative self-inquiry we come to recognise that we habitually and unconsciously bring multiple assumptions to the experience of Sensation and the experience of being in a physical body – assumptions that we come to recognise as untrue. Foremost among these incorrect assumptions, is the way we take the physical body to be absolute evidence of our ultimate separateness. This sense of separateness, and the ways in which we live with it, or seek to overcome it, is fundamental to, and characteristic of, the experience of being human. Buddhist tradition speaks of this habitual perception of separateness and the associated preoccupation with ‘looking after number one’ in terms of the klesha of māna, which is usually translated as ‘pride’, and sometimes as ‘conceit’.
The Human Realm – Separateness healed by Appreciative Joy
Of the Buddha’s Six Realms, which I have talked about briefly in a previous post (here), the realm associated with the Southern Quadrant of the mandala, is the Human Realm. This Human Realm, in which we find ourselves, occupies an archetypal position in the mandala of egoic styles, and can be regarded as the egoic counterpart, and polar opposite, of Appreciative Joy. The Human Realm is regarded, in Buddhist tradition, as a very special and fortuitous place to be reborn, but it is also the realm associated of the egoic Sensation function, and has particular problems for us, and a particular style of egoic unconsciousness, which we need to explore and become familiar with.
Not only does the apparent physicality of the realm of Sensation confirm our assumption of separateness – more than this, it seems to demand that we withdraw and exclude our attention from most of the sensory input that we are receiving in order to focus effectively on our own preoccupations. This somewhat necessary narrowing of our focus as we engage with the practicalities of the physical world, very easily becomes an unconscious habit, and is a distinguishing feature of the Human Realm.
Part of the formation of individual and group identity in the Human Realm is the habit of exclusivity which makes a virtue of our separateness and difference, and our seeming need to exclude other people from our awareness. The open, expansive, and inclusive way of being, that Indian tradition calls muditā, or Appreciative Joy, provides us with a very necessary antidote to this, and an important path of personal, social, and perhaps even global, healing.
In Consciousness we are Equal
The egoic style of the Human Realm separates, categorises, and excludes people according to various distinctions of occupation, origin, nationality, race, religion, education, skill, intelligence, etc. Appreciative Joy on the other hand, is an attitude characterised by a deep sense of human solidarity – an inclusiveness and a sense of equality that springs directly from the equalising and unifying nature of Consciousness. However different we are on the surface level, in such things as skills, appearance, and life experience; at the level of Consciousness we are fundamentally equal. Consciousness is equally available to everyone, and the more time we take to ‘rest’ as Consciousness, the more we recognise this equality.
Appreciative Joy is powerfully appreciative and generous. So much so, that even as it affirms and celebrates all expressions of true individuality, it challenges our individualism, and naturally gives rise to egalitarian, democratic collaborative instincts. Those important people in our world, who wish to serve and protect ‘community’ and ‘society’ as values, all find an important part of their sense of what it is to be a human being in that attitude of Consciousness which we call Appreciative Joy.
Resting the Physical Body ‘as’ Consciousness
By resting the Physical Body as Consciousness, and noticing the way Consciousness fills the body excluding nothing, we open ourselves to a process of deep relaxation. The realm of the physical tends however, at least on the egoic level, to be unconsciously associated with a sense of constraints and limits. The recognition in meditative-inquiry therefore, that the Physical Body is also embodied Consciousness, and implicitly connected with that spacious energetic reality, is a deeply empowering revelation.
The Physical Body is usually profoundly effected by the fear and anxiety that drives the egoic will. It is because of our pervasive and usually unconscious background of fear, and the need to control our experience that flows from that, that our bodies are so often effected by permanent patterns of neuromuscular tension and hormonal stress, and our brains are habitually wired for hyper-vigilant attention – ever watchful for signs of danger.
Many of us have deep trauma patterns wired into our brains and neuromuscular systems, which are continuously being triggered by, and reinforced by, our difficult life experiences. Resting the Physical Body as Consciousness, is a powerfully therapeutic counterbalance to all this. By recognising the energetic benevolence of Consciousness, and receiving it into the Physical Body, we give ourselves the opportunity to start to heal this sort of patterning.
Appreciative Joy – an Abundant Sensibility
The ability to bring the particular energetic quality and attitude of Consciousness that is Appreciative Joy, to our experience of the Physical Body can bring a subtle but profound release – a sense of ease and blessing that allows the unconscious neuro-muscular and hormonal patterning to start to heal. It is possible, for some, to rest as Consciousness in the midst of life, through the practice of Mindfulness, but the practice of sitting meditation is a much easier place to start.
Sitting meditation, if badly taught however, often involves a very difficult ongoing confrontation with our underlying fear and anxiety. This might not be so bad if we were taught where to look for the antidote, which is to be found in Consciousness itself. I believe the pain and distress that some practitioners come to associate with meditation can be avoided, simply by approaching meditation as ‘resting as Consciousness’, and by giving balanced attention to all of the four brahmavihāras.
It is fear that locks us out of the abundant and appreciative sensibility that is Appreciative Joy, so it is essential that we understand the roots of fear and know how to overcome it, if we are to establish an effective meditation practice. Fear is, in part, a functional and protective mechanism on the egoic level, but it is spiritually disabling because it prevents us from rising above that level, and can completely prevent both our individual psychological progress and the progress of society.
Thankfully the unconscious residue of fear, which we carry as energetic, neurological, and hormonal patterning in our Physical Body, starts to fall away when we learn to rest as Consciousness. In place of the contractions, tensions, and the withdrawal of awareness, that is associated with fear, we start instead to experience the energetic qualities of expansiveness, gratitude, appreciation and generosity in the body – all the key characteristics of Appreciative Joy.
Abundance is Letting go of Fear
Fear is a theme that I shall be returning to in more detail when we look at the green Northern Quadrant, but I need to acknowledge here, that fear is closely related to the energies of desire, which our egoic patterns appropriate, and turn into painful feelings of deprivation and lack – which in turn gives rise to a fear of lack and a wish to control every aspect of our experience. Most of us are usually so burdened by the narcissistic desires and neurotic compulsions that keep us stressed, that we fail to discern our real needs amongst them. When we start to recognise that the energies of all our real desires arise from benevolent archetypal forces whose purpose is to bring fulfilment into our lives, the fear of lack will start to drop away – opening the possibility of a new, more easeful relationship to life.
The attitude which is Appreciative Joy, is closely connected to this release from fear and envy, and the embrace of the mystery of embodied Consciousness. As we recognise the deep spirituality of embodiment, or being in the body, and allow ourselves to expand empathetically into the collective dimensions of life so that we feel our natural physical sympathy with our fellow human beings, we find ourselves drawn to engage generously with the practicalities of Compassion – the practicalities of creating a reflection, in this concrete material world of skills and materials, of the beautiful world of potentialities that is revealed when we attend to real needs.
The Axes of the Mandala / Cross
The green Northern Quadrant is the last in the traditional brahmavihāras meditation-cycle, and I will be exploring it in detail towards the end of this series of posts. It has been necessary to briefly mention that investigation here however, because of the association of the Northern Quadrant with the Volitional Body; with Fear; with the egoic will; and with desire – all of which strongly impact our experience of the Physical Body, and our sensory experience. It is a key understanding in this self-inquiry framework that I am setting out here, and is of the nature of the archetypal and somatic dynamics that we are exploring, that all of the quadrants that are opposite to each other in the mandala are energetically connected and completely dependent on each other. This means that the northern and southern quadrants always need to be seen as an intimately connected psychodynamic pair, as are the quadrants at west and east.
These two pairs or oppositions form the axes of the mandala – very like the vertical and horizontal members of the Christian cross. An understanding of how these dynamics, which are experienced as oppositions on the egoic level, are resolved on the level of Consciousness, is of enormous value for the meditator, and essential, in my view, to our understanding of the nature of mind.
Zen practice – Living as Embodied Consciousness
I shall be returning later in this series of posts on the brahmavihāras meditation-cycle, to reflect further on these important somatic dynamics which are described by the mandala. In my next post however, I shall be talking a little about the Zen meditation practice of Zazen or ‘Just Sitting’, which has much to teach us about the art of living as embodied Consciousness in this Human Realm – and much to teach us about Appreciative Joy.
These articles are best read in sequence. To go to the next article in the series just click the ‘Next’ button at the bottom of the page. For an overview of the whole sequence of articles, with short summaries of each one, click here.