Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Meditating With The Four Immeasurables

May All Beings Enjoy Happiness
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This fall I've been attending a Tergar Meditation Group under the guidance of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche  and my meditation practice has been rejuvenated with a fresh taste of beginner mind. Blissfully anonymous, I soak up meditation instruction and commentary by the students in this new group. For several years I was actively involved in the busy-ness of a local zen community; now I am actively uninvolved. I'm just sitting, cultivating meditation practice.

The Tergar group has been meditating with the four immeasurables— loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. These meditations seem like kin to western psychology's cognitive therapy in that they transform thought patterns. This is a very different style of meditation for me and I'm encountering some ambivalence. Currently we're working with empathetic joy, rejoicing in the happiness of others. It sounds simple enough. But meditating on empathetic joy is not all sweetness and light. Do you ever have a sense of not being good enough, smart enough, creative enough? Do you know these not enough feelings? We all encounter them from time to time. Critical feelings like these can permeate our lives and block feelings of joy for ourselves and others. Thoughts and emotions, critical or positive, are not who you are and struggling to change them into something more desirable will not end the cycle of not enough. In my experience, looking at the mind, examining the thoughts and emotions passing through, is the most helpful way to loosen their grip. You have to see them for what they are— intangible,  and you can only do this by continuous examination. I wish for anyone who delves into this meditation, courage and resolve, because there is an endless supply of thoughts and emotions! That in itself is key. Like waves on the ocean, thinking is the natural function of the mind. Where do waves of thought come from? Finding a living breathing meditation teacher to guide you is best, but if that's not possible there are many good books on meditation. One of my favorites is Turning The Mind Into An Ally by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche; Ken McLeod's Wake Up To Your Life is invaluable as is The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.

It's also important to question— what is joy and happiness? I spent several months on the painting you see here, May All Beings Enjoy Happiness. It was a year of turmoil and tragedy in the world, but I wasn't aware of painting with any concept of joy and happiness for all. Words get in the way. I just paint. Concepts usually come later in my process, sometimes not revealing themselves until the title of a work emerges if at all. Though most of my artwork appears realistic, to me everything is abstract. I learned methods for breaking the white of the paper, for taking that initial leap into an abstract painting, from artist John Salminen whose work I admire. This piece started with cut out shapes from old magazines and scraps of paper. Some were glued to the painting, some were simply used as guides for the painted shapes. I also used stencils and lifting techniques. The light bursting through the heavy dark shapes, feels to me like a heart or mind breaking open. The light depends on the dark shapes for it's form and identity, just as joy and happiness depend on suffering. What does happiness mean to you? Can it include those experiences you define as suffering?

Of course everyone wants joy and happiness. We think we've found happiness, then it slips away again. We wish with all our heart, the best for all beings, but sometimes the good things we wish for lead to suffering. So it really is important to consider, what does joy and happiness mean to you? Superficial trappings of happiness, all the stuff we work so hard to get more of in order to feed these insatiable desires, keep us mired in dissatisfaction. When we wish for all beings to know joy, we are really wishing for hearts and minds to break open to the freedom beyond concepts of happiness and suffering.

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, 
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.

—Jelaluddin Rumi

May all beings know immeasurable joy.


  1. Great post Kris! I love the new painting, too. It seems to have a great freedom contained it is, and I'm also attracted to abstract, colorful work, so that's a bias on my end. This meditation group sounds interesting too. Even though I'm highly engaged in the "busy-ness" at Clouds right now, a little piece of me longs for quiet, anonymous sitting as well. It's all practice in the end.

  2. Wow! Kris . . . so beautiful. The writing, and the watercolor. The joy and happiness are coming through. So, I gladly, enthusiastically rejoice with you, and celebrate your travels on the path. Deep bow - Marguerite

  3. The painting is fantastic and I spent time in awe of how you did that! it's really great and I love the post. I'm taking your recommendation on the meditation books. Thank You. Many Blessings to you.

  4. Thank you for reading and commenting! It's awesome to connect across the miles. I always hope (pray!) there's a seed of something helpful in my ravings.

  5. I was thinking, wouldn't it be wonderful if that painting can move? Like the slideshow on the right, except of the same painting :D That's my lesser and lazier mind speaking.

    It's been awhile since I've meditated with a group, mainly because the group I like is located in another island. An eclectic group, the only thing binding them is their egolessness (and love for food).

    Yes, ravings and ramblings :-) but your joy seeps through.

  6. Hadv— being landlocked and buried in snow for part of each year, I'm curious about your islands, where you live and where the group you meditate with is. My neighbors are from the Philippines. Once over dinner, they told stories about their life. Even the smallest thing— from bugs to mangos (yum)— is fascinating!

    In this painting, I tried to give a sense of movement with the various elements, the shapes and colors swirling. But it sure would be fun to get the pieces animated and actually moving! Have to study animation software.

  7. Kris,
    Your art work is fascinating...each painting I've looked at so far draws me in with it's complexity, light, weight and many layers. I just wanted to let you know I just added a link to your blog on mine.