One morning, a voice in my head said, “Life is not meant for suffering. It is meant to be lived with unconditional, spontaneous joy.” All that is well, but how does one do that when there’s so much to worry about?
The same morning, while cleaning my bookshelf, I came across a forgotten gift – a little book called Being Happy by Desiree Punwani. It was a compact, harmless-looking manual, and so I decided to read it at one go. The author was talking about the Buddhist virtue of mudita – finding joy in the happiness and success of others without a trace of envy – and how she overcame her alcoholism by applying this noble emotion to her life.
Whatever happened, or whoever crossed her path, she’d apply a formula such as this: “I rejoice with people who can find pens when they need them. May their happiness increase and may my joy for them grow.” I finished the book, feeling warm and fuzzy, and decided to apply mudita right there. I said to myself: “I rejoice with those who write lovely books that uplift our souls. May their happiness increase and may my joy for them grow.” Hmm, that was nice.
Later in the day, a couple of models came in for audition for our next fashion shoot. Now, how does one not feel envious of the lithe bodies that stretch to the sky without a trace of fat? “Mudita,” the voice whispered. So, gritting my teeth, I went: “I rejoice for these beautiful young women who can walk in six-inch heels without tripping. May their happiness increase and may my joy for them grow.” And voila, I found myself smiling involuntarily in good will.
It became easier as the day progressed. “I rejoice for colleagues who look good in green. I rejoice for people who have made their passion their professions. I rejoice for mothers and fathers with babies to cuddle when they get home. May their happiness increase and may my joy for them grow.”
And the drive home became an exercise in finding things to celebrate: “I rejoice for couples who sit side by side in a car with peaceful smiles on their faces. I rejoice for the man who ran and caught his bus! I rejoice for young men listening to loud music with the vitality of youth pumping in their veins. May their happiness increase and may my joy for them grow.”
And each time I did that, I felt a glow emanate from the region around my heart and spread outward. I found myself taking a deep breath suffused with compassion and a sense of oneness with all. Pranic healers would call it the activation of the heart or hridaya chakra. A psychologist would say it was a release of oxytocin brought on by feelings akin to maternal love. Whatever it was, it felt good.
In a matter of a few days, I also found a gift of insight waiting for me. There is some construction activity going on in the neighbourhood, and each morning, along with the sound of birds chirping, I also wake to the sound of labourers going about their morning ablutions, raucously calling out to each other in brotherhood and mirth. Instead of grumbling about my few lost minutes of sleep, I applied mudita: “I rejoice for those who can sing Bollywood songs and begin their mornings on carefree notes. May their happiness increase and may my joy for them grow.”
Instantly, I heard the voice: “How would you, with your imaginary fears and inconsequential insecurities, compare with them on the street, with all their real dangers and struggle for survival? Yet they are singing, and you aren’t.” A seed of humility had been sown first thing in the morning, on waking up.
Soon, it became a habit. Each time I was confronted by something that would have earlier annoyed me or made me squirm in covetousness, I’d apply mudita instead, and find all negative emotions dissipate in a cloud of humour. And the voice in my head? It has fallen silent. For now.
First published in The Speaking Tree