Posts tagged #the four immeasurables

What to do in life: notes for those who have failed and are incredibly depressed

 I want to congratulate you on your devastating failure.

YAY! You've utterly failed! YESSSSS!

I am completely serious and not trying to be mean. I am truly, really, honestly happy for you. I'm thrilled, in fact.

I'm thrilled because you're an adult and you have no idea what to do in life.  Oh, it's not like  you never knew what to do.  You once did.  But Your Best Plan completely did not work.  In fact, it not only didn't work, it blew up in your face just like your face was Hiroshima and your plan was the atom bomb.  Thanks a lot, Harry Truman.

Now you're living in the nuclear winter of your discontent. You bitterly regret all that has transpired. You might feel like harming yourself.  At best, you probably feel like laying in your bed and only getting up to microwave a Hot Pocket, shove it in your face, read gossip blogs, smoke cigarettes and call your mom while hysterically crying.  At least that's all I felt like doing for six weeks when it happened to me.

That's okay.  Have all the Hot Pockets you want. But don't harm yourself.  You're a precious jewel. I don't care if you've massively fucked up.  My favorite people are the ones who have massively fucked up.  They're the really interesting ones.

So instead of hating yourself this as a way of finding what to do in life:

1) Take a moment to appreciate your uncomfortable state of being really clueless about what to do in life.  It hurts. Horrifically.  I know.

But! The fact that you're open and curious now about how to live life has put you leagues ahead of most human beings.

2) Consider how much your original plan, the one that failed so painfully and spectacularly, centered all around the effort  to gain security and pleasure and power for yourself.

This effort is called "self-cherishing." It's the act of trying to gather things up to make yourself safe and pleased.

It's pretty much everyone's default plan. The thing is, it doesn't really work. Think of how your self-cherishing has put in you in conflict with other people, especially with people that you love, and how much pain this conflict has caused you.

It's true that some people half-assedly make self-cherishing sorta kinda seem to work their whole lives.  They never wind up in the writhing state of abject misery which you now occupy.  But the thing is, they never really get the giant light bulb of freedom to go off either.  The fact that you're in total despair means you're unbelievably close, closer than all the middlingly okay people! - to genuine, deep awesomeness.

4)  Understand that you don't have to continue with your self-cherishing.

I know it doesn't feel that way.  It doesn't feel like you have an option way because you're addicted to it.  Self-cherishing is your smack, my junkie friend.  And you've overdosed.  It's either get clean now, die ingloriously, or dwell in derelection.

So know that you really can try something else.  Something very radically different.

It's called "other-cherishing" and it's the act of devoting yourself to the well-being of others rather than to the service of your own pleasure and comfort.

Hmmmmmmmm. I can tell if you're anything like me you're probably not too keen on this idea.

5) Don't feel bad that your mind immediately recoils at the thought of other-cherishing.

My mind recoiled intensely from it for years. "But I'm a human being, too! Who's going to cherish me?  If I devote myself to serving others, I'll just be taken advantage of and nothing good will be left for me.  Besides, there's way too many people out there, human suffering is too overwhelming.  There's nothing I can do that would truly benefit everyone."

6) Contemplate this answers to your objection: if you give up self-cherishing, the whole universe will cherish you.

The universe freaking LOVES people who are earnestly surrendering their self-cherishing more than preteen girls love Justin Bieber.  And that is a lot of love, guys.

Why? Because that's what life, the universe, and everything have wanted you to do all along.  Once you start to give up self-cherishing, everything else you do becomes massively easier and takes on much greater, more satisfying meaning. Synchronicities start whirling and the blessings start raining down.  They were there waiting for you.  But in the past they were too repelled by your grasping and greed.  Grasping and greed are repulsive.  They repel good fortune.

And also, actually, there is something you can do to benefit everyone.  You can liberate yourself from your own self-cherishing. I know I may be sounding repetitive here, but listen. This is massively, hugely beneficial.  It's so beneficial that the human race joyously celebrates for thousands of years people who have done it, people like Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the Buddha and Rumi and Mirabai and St. Francis.   You can wake up from your nightmare of chasing security and pleasure.  As soon as you do this, you'll no longer generate conflicts everywhere you go.  Instead you'll create joy and be a place of kind refuge and calm for others.

To understand this, just consider how much pain others have given you when they've behaved in self-centered, self-cherishing ways and trampled over your feelings.  Your own self-cherishing has caused at least that much pain for others.  If you relinquish it, you'll stop causing that pain.  You won't be irritable and easily offended.  Instead, you'll be welcoming and warm to be around.  Folks won't have to tip-toe on egg shells around you.  They'll feel honored and loved in your presence.  And this means there's a good chance that they will be inspired to surrender their own self-cherishing just by knowing you.  They'll succeed, and then they'll go around inspiring others to do the same.  Everyone will get freer and freer, safer and safer, happier and happier.  It's a virtuous circle.

Literally, you can deeply contribute to everyone waking up from the nightmare.

7) Consider that your belief that you can't give up self-cherishing isn't true.

I certainly used to believe that giving it up was impossible- I could see that it would be theoretically great to be able to let go of my self-centeredness, but I just had no notion how to do that.

At some level, I didn't really want to learn because I still thought I could make self-cherishing work for me.  Well, that turned out to be assuredly not the case.

Happily for you and for me, the processes for ending self-cherishing do exist if you've had enough of your confused pain and you're willing to try something radically different.  The four immeasurables cultivation and tonglen are a great place to start and can go a very long way to rubbing out your self-cherishing. Try them yourself.

8) Seriously.  Tell yourself that every day for a month you'll do four immeasurables cultivation and the meditation on exchanging yourself with others.

And then do it.  Make it a higher priority than watching cute cat videos on youtube.

9) The more you do those practices, the more clear everything else will become.

Your whole mental and emotional make up will shift.  Your perception will no longer be so distorted.  Your creativity will activate like never before.  You'll know what to do.

10) Write to me and tell me how it's going: sweetsongofjoy at gmail dot com.  I would love to know.

 

 

How to use metta to both disarm your internal meanness and also to get drunk

The funny thing about metta practice is that in attempting to radiate boundless goodwill, I discover just how much ill-will I've got in my heart.

It's a lot.

I can have barriers of ill-will built up against even my dearest friends - and not know it unless I deliberately try sending them metta!

These aren't giant resentments – I tend to be aware of those – but they are places where my heart has unwittingly contracted and shrunk because  my ego took offense to something my friend casually said.

Metta vs. Your Internal Meanness

Similarly, in giving metta to myself, I begin to gain insight into just how much of my usual internal monologue (filled with worries, self-criticisms, doubts – all the tastiest delicacies of self-involved neurosis) is actually motivated by ill-will towards yours truly.

Here's how this works: I'm sitting still, earnestly wishing "May I be happy" - not "May I get filthy rich so I can be happy" or "May I be transcendently perfect so I can be happy" - but just, you know - happy. With no conditions attached.  Just wishing this for myself starts to make me feel happy - and then I hear the thoughts that are like, "Oh, but Carolyn, you did this and this awful thing, you really don't deserve to feel happy..." or "You're almost 29 and practically penniless. How can you have any self-respect? Really, you're pathetic....."  and it becomes very obvious: those thoughts do not wish me to be happy.  They wish me to feel bad.  They lack metta. They're the voice of what my friend Andy has always called "Mean Carolyn," my inner relentless critic.

Mean Carolyn sucks.

Luckily, in the work of cultivation, I can quiet her down.  I just need to send my good wishes to myself louder than those harsh thoughts. "Doesn't matter what I did or what I lack! - may I be happy, goddamnit!"  And then – oddly enough – my smile broadens and my cheeks glow. The feeling of happiness continues and gets stronger.

The Hard Liquor of Benevolence

That's the other weird thing about metta practice - you discover just how much joy there is in the act of making positive wishes. It wouldn't seem that those little namby-pambly phrases of niceness ("May you be happy, May you be well, May you be free from suffering....") and the act of visualizing yourself and others in states of happiness would pack such a giddy punch - but after awhile it certainly does.

I've found that it's entirely possible to get drunk on good wishes.  And I mean tipsy, loopy, kissing-strangers-can't-stop-singing-show-tunes drunk. It's rad. And the neat thing is, there's no hang-over. Also, it's free.

I think this propensity for giddy drunkenness to arise is one of the reasons why teachers like Ken McLeod in his in-depth teaching on the four immeasurables recommend balancing loving-kindness meditation with compassion cultivation.  Because unless you're actively sensitizing yourself to the suffering of others, you might get so happy with your loving-kindness that you drunkenly overlook that suffering and become boorish.

Fascinating, yes?

So what's your experience with metta like so far?

 

image: [mnen]