Last night I ran across an article in Yoga Journal about the practice of mudita. It's a Sanskrit word that means "to take active delight in others good fortune or deeds".
Oh, how I needed this article….we have been trying to sell our house for, well, let's just say a long time now, and I continue to hear stories about the "friend" that sold his house in 48 hours or the "relative" that sold her house quickly and for above market value. My response to these stories is usually grrrrrr…..
This is my emotional response, fueled by envy and frustration because I am bumming that I am not having the same experience. This is normal, just like it's normal to feel grrrrr when your friend goes on a long kid-free vacation, or when your best friend's baby sleeps through the night immediately, or when you hear that all your sister's children are academically gifted or when your neighbor was just offered the part-time job of her dreams.
But it's simply an initial response, and it doesn't need to be self defining. Just acknowledge the negative feeling because denying it can be more painful than the feeling itself. Having an initial negative response does not necessitate loads of inner criticism (I'm a bad friend, I shouldn't feel this way), it's actually a good reminder and an opportunity for deeper awareness.
It's an opportunity to look more closely at your own joy, to have gratitude for your own life, loves, and experiences. To appreciate what is and focus on what is working for you right now, in this moment. Maybe it's a difficult time and you can only find a few things….that's OK, focus on the few things. Finding personal joy is a grounding and mindful experience and it's the first step towards sharing the joy of others.
For me this is actually a selfish act because it feels so much better to be happy for the friend with great news or the neighbor that sold the house quickly. Feeling frustrated or deciding that it isn't fair is just a great big drag. I end up carrying around my own frustration and the frustration that someone else is happy. Not a very healthy or productive use of my time.
Of course it sometimes seems like good things happen to certain people all the time, but take it from a therapist that has worked with a lot of different families - everyone has challenges, no matter who they are. There is no need to compare experiences, pain is pain, and challenges are challenges. We are all living the balance of light and dark, between good times and not-so-good times.
There are people with seemingly endless challenges that choose to focus energy on appreciating their blessings, and there are people who seem blessed beyond measure who choose to focus on their difficulties. We all have a choice on where we want to focus our attention, and practicing mudita is an opportunity to focus on the light.
And within that light we can realize that good fortune is limitless. The universe is not a pie with only a certain number of pieces to hand out, it's limitless, and within it is a limitless supply of good fortune. This means that every one of us has the potential for greatness. Or maybe we can grasp that everything is already great and that our real work is just realizing it.
Bottom line is that when a friend sells her house it doesn't mean that I won't. It actually has the opposite effect - it makes it even more possible. Each positive experience spreads more positive energy, and every person that sells a house benefits the community, the economy, and the greater good, which of course benefits me. We are all undeniably connected and we all reap the rewards of each other's joy.
Yes, it's a little idealistic, but I am not completely off my rocker. I still live in this world and I know it's not easy to see things this way. That's why mudita is described as a practice. It's the revelation that there is another way, a way to transcend a negative response and find the divine good in it all.
It's the realization that we all benefit from each other's happiness, and that it's about time we join in on the celebration.
Does this sound doable or am I indeed off my rocker? Feel free to comment.
Cathy Adams is a certified parenting coach, yoga instructor and mother to three girls.
See more of Cathy's stories here.