Levels of Meditation and the Primacy of the Heart

June 21, 2009

Three levels of meditation
(1.) For individual health and well-being
(2.) To open the heart
(3.) To develop wisdom

Most people start out meditation in order to improve something and to feel good.

After persisting in meditation for awhile you may find that the path to your initial goal involves opening up to deeper levels of acceptance and warmth toward yourself, your moment-to-moment experience, and other people. You become more deeply aware of your interconnectedness to other people and to all of Life. Meditation begins to reconnect you to your Big Heart.

Over time, you also catch glimpses of vast sky-like mind and develop perspective and wisdom. Your understanding of interconnectedness deepens and you see that everything that happens arises from a web of interconnectedness. You become less reactive and more proactive.

The Importance of the Heart

A traditional meditation is on the “four brahma-viharas” or the four exalted emotions. These are lovingkindness (metta), sympathetic joy (mudita), compassion (karuna), and equanimity (upphek).

Sympathetic joy is the rejoicing in someone else’s good fortune. Compassion is feeling empathy for someone else’s bad fortune. From one point of view we could say that sympathetic joy and compassion are merely specialized forms of loving kindness.

Equanimity is what keeps us from getting “burned out” on compassion and loving kindness. Equanimity is not indifference — that is a mistaken understanding. Equanimity is what gives us the balance to extend caring in a way that is respectful of ourself and the other person.

Equanimity keeps things in perspective. We don’t always know what is best for a person. We can’t necessarily rescue people from the fate they have chosen. Sometimes there is a lesson that they must learn, even if it is painful.

Equanimity has a cooler flavor to it, but is not cold or indifferent. It balances the warmth of loving kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy.

Think of the famous Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can. . . .and the wisdom to know the difference. ” Equanimity would be similar to the serenity and wisdom elements.

Traditionally one meditates on loving kindness, then on sympathetic joy, then compassion, then finally equanimity. The sequencing of this teaches us an important lesson. Equanimity, or the basic awareness that we cultivate in silent meditation (vipassana), should be suffused with lovingkindness. The awareness is never cold, clinical, and detached. It has a basic warmth to it. It may be a subtle warmth, but it is intrinsic to true mindfulness.

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to read more on the brahma-viharas go to www.brahmaviharas.org

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