Mudita is a new word that I discovered in my readings this fall. Mudita means unselfish or sympathetic joy. We experience mudita as parents when we see our child succeed and we feel happy and excited for them. Children teach us about Mudita when they give a gift they have made. Children wait, watch and explode with joy when the recipient opens the gift. I remember my son giving his father a gift on Christmas when he was little. He gave the gift to Chad, watched Chad’s every move and began jumping up and down when Chad’s eyes lit up as he saw the gift. As we get older, we tend to lose the ability to connect to this unselfish joy.
In Sharon Salzberg’s Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, chapter 8 is titled, “Liberating the Mind through Sympathetic Joy.” In this chapter, she considers the challenges to feeling joy for other people. One of the challenges is to be demeaning of another person’s happiness. We demean another person’s happiness when we wish that their situation would be made less or we make excuses for their success, so that we can feel better about ourselves. This way of thinking comes from feeling that happiness is in short supply, so if one person has happiness then there is less happiness available for me. This is the scarcity mentality.
This idea connects to my post last Tuesday when I shared that my word for this year is ABUNDANCE. If I believe happiness or success is abundant, then I can share in the joy and success of others knowing that there is plenty of happiness and success for me in this life.
Salzberg writes that other ways to cultivate Mudita include practicing rapture, gratitude and surrounding ourselves with good people who we can sit and explore truth together. She writes, “In practicing sympathetic joy rather than looking at others in order to define ourselves, we begin by recognizing that we do indeed deserve to be happy. Out of that confidence we are able to delight I the happiness of others instead of feeling threatened by it. Rather than losing ourselves in the centrifugal force of longing that pulls our focus outward toward what we think we don’t have, sympathetic joy reorients our relationship to the world into one of opening and effortless giving.”
Richard Rohr says that he needs to fall in love with something everyday. One way in which he practices this feeling of rapture is to sit outside with a common element like a leaf, rock, or flower. He sits with and gazes at the object appreciating the object not for what it does or can do for him, but just for simply being. Maybe this practice speaks to you today.
Sharon Salzberg offers the loving kindness meditation to encourage Mudita in our lives. In loving kindness meditation, we are extending our wish for happiness, wholeness, and love to ourselves and extending these same wishes out to others. The idea is that if we feel cared for then we can offer that same care and concern to others. If this practice speaks to you, then click on the yoga tab above and scroll down to find the loving kindness meditation.