spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily
PictureGo Warriors
I’m a happy Golden State Warrior’s fan, one who loved reading the sports page throughout the team’s campaign to take the Western Division. I delighted in rereading the wins and hearing the losses explained. But most of all I liked stories about the players themselves. For instance, sportswriter Rusty Simmons wrote how David Lee, once a starter, pulled a hamstring muscle and by the time he healed had been relegated to coming off the bench. He’d lost his starting power forward position to Draymond Green. I imagined that Lee, a strong player before being traded from the Knicks, couldn’t like not starting. But when interviewed by Simmons, Lee talked about what an unbelievably good job Green was doing. He said, “When you’ve got a full team of guys who want to see the guy next to him succeed, it makes the game a lot easier.”

If David Lee felt envy, and in his heart of hearts hoped that Draymond Green might not play quite so well, that wouldn’t be odd. After all sports is about winning and losing, and we live in a society that believes in winners and losers. Often, we compare our own successes with those of our peers. If Lee viewed Green’s gain as is his loss, he’d be right in step. But no, Lee praises his teammate’s good play and sense of accomplishment.

Wanting to see the guy next to you succeed and feeling happy for his success is mudita in action. As I was following Warrior action, I was also being with this one of the four brahma viharas as part of my practice. Reading about David Lee fit in with my thoughts about this different kind of joy, this way of being that responds to others’ successes not with withdrawal or envy, but with active delight. In Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism, mudita means sympathetic or appreciative joy. It is one of the four brahma viharas, or Divine Emotions, which means these four conditions of the heart are good to cultivate – good for you and good for everyone else. The other three brahma viharas are loving kindness or metta; compassion called karuna, and equanimity, upekka.

I have long suspected mudita was not my strong suit and if I hoped to cultivate it, I would have to come to terms with envy, curtail judging, and cut down comparing. Even as recently as my short stay at Hotel Lake Merritt, the place for independent senior living, I would have loved to be wholeheartedly happy for those residents whose adult children came often to visit. But no. Where were my adult children? Didn’t they think I might appreciate a visit?

Several years ago when I was Corky’s girlfriend, I envied her her eight grandchildren, for having been present at the birth of each one. However, I chose to discount the pleasure this gave her by thinking of those eight as eight more excuses for her to go out and spend money. I did not appreciate the joy shopping afforded her. Rather, I awarded myself a one-up star. Good for me, I am not acquisitive. I discounted Corky’s pleasure because it came from an activity or lifestyle choice that was not my preference. Now I am asking myself, “Did her choices really threaten the validity of my own?”

I get to experience appreciative joy during Small Group Ministry meetings at the Unitarian Universalist church when during our gatherings, group members speak about being deeply happy or feeling lucky. And believe me I am grateful for this recent ability because, as I said, accessing mudita hasn’t been easy. I’ve read that it is the most difficult of the brahma viharas to cultivate. Clearly, that’s true for me.  

Not to cultivate appreciative joy goes directly against the UU seventh principle: our interdependence with the world around us. Clearly, another person’s joy does not diminish the supply of joy in the world; another person’s joy contributes to the joy available to all of us. And just maybe, our own joy in response creates even more.

Go Warriors. Sorry, Corky. And thank you, members of Small Group Ministry.


Comments are closed.