By Desiree Punwani
An excerpt from the book Being Happy, a story of the author’s fight with addiction, relying upon the metta and mudita Buddhist practices of loving-kindness
For years I lived the life of an alcohol and cigarette addict. Today, with God’s grace, I feel I have emerged into the light.
Among the many things that have contributed to this transformation has been the practice of metta (loving-kindness). It is a key Buddhist spiritual practice and indicates an unselfish love, which wishes for the welfare of all beings. My life was soon suffused with phrases like ‘May you be well, peaceful and happy’ and ‘May you be free from harm’.
Gradually, metta’s spell worked. Soothing vibrations calmed a mind ravaged by helplessness and hopelessness. The intentions sent out genuinely, started coming back. “‘May you too be well, peaceful and happy,” echoed the universe in voices from known and often unknown sources.
A life of addiction is bleak and frightening. However much it may seem that the individual is not exerting his or her will to break the dependence, the addict is in fact a lost and terrified soul, roaming through endless dark labyrinths, unable to find his way out.
Life in Control
Actually, in every way except the addiction, my life was in control. I was working as an airhostess with Air India and my marriage had been a happy one. I have two lovely little daughters. Their presence primarily goaded me into giving up alcohol, of which I was at one point consuming so much that I was totally out of control.
At one stage in 1984, I began tackling the problem on all fronts. From being a heavy meat-eater, I turned vegetarian and in consultation with a naturopath, I gave up white flour, white rice, excessive sugar, oil and salt. I gave up aerated drinks as well as tea and coffee. I drank plenty of natural juices and water. I wanted to help my body as much as I could, to eliminate the toxins inside, and to minimize my intake of fresh toxins. I began to exercise, joined a gym, stopped watching TV and violent movies and did up my drawing room in natural fibres.
Acupuncture helped control the physical symptoms of withdrawal such as nausea, giving me the freedom to look at my mind. I continued it for almost a year though the frequency diminished from thrice a week to once a fortnight.
All these were supporting players to the star performer, my Buddhist spiritual practice of metta and in time mudita.
Ability to Rejoice
Mudita is appreciative joy, the ability to rejoice in the happiness of others. Mudita and metta went to the core of the problem, by eliminating my mental patterns of negative thoughts and feelings and substituting them with peace, calm, joy and the ability to go beyond the hold of aversion and craving.
My breakthrough moment in harnessing these practices for my healing happened during a mudita meditation at a small retreat with friends. I just couldn’t get a sense of how to rejoice in the happiness of others. But in reality, life offers us innumerable opportunities to experience true joy in the happiness of others. When this insight flashed through my mind, a steady flow of reasons to rejoice came pouring in. When said with reverence in a group meditation, these simple phrases became a psalm of praise and gratitude for our shared human experiences.
Still your mind for a moment and say the phrases below, either in your mind or out loud, and you will see what I mean.
I rejoice with those who have the gift of laughter. May their happiness increase and may my joy for them increase.
I rejoice with those who speak with gentle words. May their happiness increase and may my joy for them increase.
I rejoice with those who dimple when they smile. May their happiness increase and may my joy for them increase.
I rejoice with those who can whistle a tune. May their happiness increase, and may my joy for them increase.
I rejoice with dogs who wag their tails happily. May their happiness increase and may my joy for them increase.
It feels, doesn’t it, that life is full of little joys just waiting to be found? Feel free to make up your own list, mining the events of your own life for material.
As we start reading or repeating the phrases, we begin to understand what transformation is all about. By repeating our intention to participate in the happiness of others, we clear the darkness that had been preventing us from seeing the countless opportunities we have for happiness, irrespective of whatever else may be happening in our life right then. We illuminate our consciousness with our own light.
Joy in the happiness of others gives us powerful bifocal vision. On the one hand, we start seeing the beauty of what earlier seemed too far away to be clear, and on the other hand, we begin to notice intricate details of things that have been right under our noses… the way a particular attendant always serves us; the quiet way a friend shows appreciation.
I rejoice with those who look nice in pink. May their happiness increase and may my joy for them increase.
I rejoice with those who can’t resist flowers. May their happiness increase and may my joy for them increase.
I rejoice with little girls in pigtails. May their happiness increase and may my joy for them increase.
When we set out to develop our potential as loving and caring people, difficulties will arise. Responses will be varied and unexpected because people will be how they are, and this may cause us to feel hindered, frustrated, disheartened and hopeless. Now is the time to remember that when we do metta and mudita we do it to refine our own consciousness and not that of others.
All happiness practices should start with us. Connect with others through the day, silently using a phrase for their well-being and yours.
May I be well, peaceful and happy. May you be well, peaceful and happy.
May I have peace of mind and fulfillment. May you have peace of mind and fulfillment.
If these are too long or difficult for you, then very simply say, “May I be happy. May you be happy.”
The important thing is to plumb into the depths of our hearts, to tap the source of love and happiness that’s there. Being able to love and rejoice with people without expecting anything in return is a potent way to live, a route to detoxifying both the body and the mind. Thoughts of hatred and jealousy spread toxins in our system. The practice of appreciative joy can help us overcome these poisonous effects.
The production of endorphin, which helps de-addiction, gives the body its natural ‘high’ that reduces the body’s need for substance dependence. One way is being happy. I am living proof that loving-kindness works.
Today, alcohol is absolutely out of my system. I stock my husband’s bar. Two years after I gave up, I threw a party for all those who had helped me beat the addiction. I took a conscious risk by having a drink on that occasion, because I had to confirm that the Buddhist refuge was working for me. Although I have no craving for alcohol, I take no chances. If a dessert I am offered contains liquor, I push it away instantly. Six months after giving up alcohol, I gave up smoking.
Introducing children to metta and mudita early in their lives gives them a brilliant life skill… Initially perhaps these could be made into games. ‘Spot a happiness’ can be a good start to mudita.
When teaching children metta, help them to first send loving-kindness to themselves.
I love myself.
May I be free from anger and sadness
May I be free from difficulties.
May I be healthy and strong. May I be happy.
They can extend loving kindness to their parents and brothers and sisters. And from there into the whole world. I know a father who has integrated geography lessons into the metta practice. The children send metta to different places, after locating them on the atlas.
In conclusion let me add: Don’t ever underestimate the power of your happiness. It is the voice that soothes the frayed nerves of the world, the hand that takes away the pain. Your happiness can reach out to the world and teach it to open its arms out wide and to wholeheartedly welcome life.
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Your happiness soothes the frayed nerves of the world, the hand that takes away the pain
Mudita is appreciative joy that eliminated my patterns of negative thoughts and feelings