Lately I find myself returning to the Four Immeasurables practice. I take refuge there, for these times cry out for compassion, and this is the best way I know to generate and stabilize a stream of compassion to send out into the world. The practice is simple enough. Focusing first on myself, then a beloved, then a neutral person, then a person with whom I have trouble (known as the “enemy”), then out into the world, I pray that we may all be free from suffering. The more deeply and frequently I practice, the more peace I feel and bring to my interactions.
I have been teaching this practice in my classes, planting the seed of possibility. We all want to behave compassionately in difficult times. It is our natural impulse. We forget we need to train to be able to do this. The Four Immeasurables is our training.
As the practice develops, we work with increasingly challenging people (though of course just wishing ourselves well can be surprisingly hard). In today’s political climate, there is no shortage of “enemies” with whom to work. As I look around me, I see incredible suffering being self-inflicted as the elections in this country draw closer. When we allow ourselves to divide into “us” and “them” and decide that some people are more worthy of our care and others of our derision, we solidify the very ground of all conflict, throughout history. This inevitably causes us pain, and does very little to rectify the wrongs we object to.
I hear my loved ones express stark fear at the idea of someone else’s candidate being elected. I want to soothe them, to remind them that it isn’t the end of the world. Many people are feeling this way, regardless of which candidates they identify with. Ultimately, however, each of us - no politician - is responsible for our own wellbeing, and the wellbeing of those around us.
I hear people say meditation won’t solve anything; the bad guys will take over while we’re sitting around wishing them well. I understand the fear. I also understand that when I let my practices slide, my vision clouds and I cannot perceive right action. I flail about and make things worse, the way a panicked person in the water will drown themselves and the person trying to save them. The traditional metaphor is a person sitting by a pond, stirring it with a stick while trying to see the bottom. The only way to see clearly is to allow the water to settle. The Four Immeasurables, or any contemplative practice you may use, allow the waters of our minds to settle, so we can see clearly what is required of us now.
I take comfort in His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He has every reason to feel agitated, angry, and bitter about how his people have been tortured and imprisoned and killed. Yet he is renowned for his gentleness, his grace, his humor. He bears no ill will. He is calm. He spends hours a day in meditation and practice, and he is one of the most respected and active agents for change in the world today.
My hope in writing this is to offer alternatives to stressing out about elections, financial institutions and intense weather events. This practice is a tool you can use to alleviate some of the suffering arising these days, and clarify your own path.
The Four Immeasurables
(Love, Compassion, Equanimity and Joy)
Repeat 3 times, or as many as possible:
May I be filled with lovingkindness
May I be well
May I be peaceful and at ease
May I be happy
May you be filled with lovingkindness
May you be well
May you be peaceful and at ease
May you be happy
May all beings be filled with lovingkindness
May all beings be well
May all beings be peaceful and at ease
May all beings be happy
Begin with yourself, recalling how you felt when someone showed you compassion. Then repeat for a beloved (even a pet), then a neutral person (like a store clerk), an enemy, and the whole world. It can take months or years to fully work this practice. Have patience. See Sharon Salzberg’s book Lovingkindness for further information.
Blessings, and may you be free from suffering.