The four qualities of the heart
I have just returned from a silent retreat with my mindfulness teacher Malcom Huxter. I met Mal last year when undertaking Mindful Self Compassion training and was delighted when I discovered he was coming to Adelaide to offer a 5 day silent retreat. I was not disappointed. It was an incredible experience. 6 days and 5 nights at the Lokanda retreat centre in Point Pass, to Adelaide’s north in the middle of an April heat wave.
We practised meditation, sitting, lying walking. We practised with guided meditations, but much was silent sitting.
Mal is an interesting Man. He is currently a clinical psychologist, and in his youth he spent several years in Thailand and was ordained as a Buddhist Monk in the Theravada tradition. The focus on our retreat was the Four Heart Qualities, or heart abodes, or Brahma Vihara’s.
These qualities are loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. They are not unique qualities to Buddhism, and the yoga traditions of Tantra Shaivism also discuss similar ethics, as do all of the religious teachings from a variety of faiths.
Mal stressed that mindfulness can not be divorced from ethics, and that these qualities are skills we can cultivate and develop, not just towards other people, but also towards ourselves. Using mindful meditation is one of the ways to cultivate theses qualities. He emphasised that mindfulness meditation is a spectrum of practices, from calming practices absorbing ourselves on a single point of focus or concentration, to enquiry practices to develop greater insight. A range of practices can be used to connect with the heart qualities, and different meditation techniques will suit different people.
In evening dharma talks, Mal outlined the near and far enemies of these qualities. I realised that some of my compassion for example can often “miss the mark” and really be a sense of wanting to rescue people based on my aversion to unpleasant experience. He outlined ways to “kindle these qualities”, a bit like you use kindling to light a fire. You can then focus on and nurture these qualities and allow them to grow and develop.
For example, appreciative joy is the ability to feel genuine happiness for another’s successes. Its far enemies (opposites) are things like professional jealousy, spitefulness etc. Near enemies (things that look like the quality but aren’t quite; include what Mal described as nauseating positivism, and superficial celebration. One way to kindle this feeling in yourself is to reflect on someone who you admire who is joyful and cheerful, such has a spiritual teacher, or a friend you know.
The Yoga Sutra’s also give guidance on how to cultivate these heart qualities. Through the next term of classes, I will weave ways to cultivate these qualities into your yoga and mindfulness practice. I will post more detailed blog posts on each of the qualities over the next few months. Mal has a website with a range of free guided meditations and resources, and can be found at www.malhuxter.com
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