Learn how to cultivate compassion, equanimity, loving-kindness, and sympathetic joy with the 4 Brahma Viharas
The 4 “Brahma Viharas” translate to the “four immeasurables” - that is, 4 boundless qualities that connect us to everyone around us. The 4 qualities are equanimity, loving-kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy. Many Buddhist practitioners have found that contemplating these 4 qualities leads to a better state of mind and better connection with those around them. Whether you practice Buddhism or not, these 4 qualities can provide valuable teachings and practices for everyone on a healing or wellness journey.
Quality 1: Equanimity
It is generally recommended to start with equanimity. Equanimity refers to the ability to maintain calmness and centeredness, even in the midst of difficult times or difficult emotions. Equanimity does not involve pushing down, denying, or distracting from difficult emotions, but rather staying centered, like a captain calmly navigating a ship during stormy weather, knowing that it will eventually pass. You are practicing equanimity every time you access core self when you are struggling, whether within sessions or in daily life.
Quality 2: Loving-Kindness
Loving-kindness refers to wishing basic goodness on other people. A common loving-kindness meditation involves repeating the following phrases to others, “may you be happy, may you be well, may you be safe, and may you be at ease”. Practicing loving-kindness opens up our heart and makes it easier to show up from a loving place, both for ourselves, and for others.
Quality 3: Compassion
Compassion takes loving-kindness a step further, and is specifically present when we see ourselves or others suffering. Imagine the feeling in your heart that would awaken if you saw a small child or a puppy get hurt. Compassion is the ability to recognize and hold space for the suffering of others, without taking it on. It is also the ability to hold space for our own emotions, without getting completely wrapped up or absorbed in them.
Quality 4: Joy
Joy refers to our ability to delight in the positive things that happen both to ourselves and to others. We can practice joy by pausing to savor gratitude for our own good fortune, and by taking and showing delight when others experience joy as well, which is called “sympathetic joy.”
Bringing This Into Daily Life
Take a moment to imagine how your life might change if you spent time each day, or each week, to contemplate the 4 brahma viharas in any way that works for you. How would you feel after you finished your contemplation? How might you change in the way you show up in your relationships? Would it be worth it to you to bring the 4 brahma viharas more into your life?
If you believe that contemplating the 4 brahma viharas would impact your life positively, you might want to consider setting aside regular time to contemplate them. Equanimity can be particularly helpful when you are navigating stormy times. Compassion is a good quality to tap into when you or others are suffering. (P.S., this quick meditation can help you if you're emotionally struggling).
Loving-kindness and sympathetic joy are great practices to do regularly. One suggestion would be a regular gratitude journal, regularly sending loving-kindness to 3 people in your life through journaling or meditation, and regularly writing about positive things that have happened in the lives of others, or taking time to tell your loved ones how genuinely happy you are for them.
If you'd like to learn more about the 4 immeasurables, please check out this article and this article, which I consulted as I made this blog post. I hope this blog post was helpful for you! See you in session,