Those who see all beings in themselves
And themselves in all beings,
How can the seeming diversity of life
Delude the one who has seen its unity?
Isha Upanishad 6-7. Translated by Donna Farhi ('Bringing Yoga to Life)
Sheila was a spitfire. A red-headed no BS, tell it how she sees it kind of women who attended one of my trainings. I adored having her in the program because she brought up thoughts that often go unsaid. As we discussed philosophy around connection and the idea of loving all beings Sheila became edgy. She blurted out something to the effect of, “I don’t buy this. It’s stupid to think I’m suppose to love everyone all the time - it just makes me feel guilty when I don’t or I can’t.
As a facilitator I love these moments. It was raw, honest, and opened a discussion around what loving others actually looks like. It’s not easy with some people, it’s not something we just do; it’s a skill that requires presence, self awareness, and huge compassion because we will always be working with it. When we skip steps, feign empathy, or repress our feelings because we think we “should’ be more compassionate, we create more problems. Once we appreciate this, we can move forward knowing that as we build a sense of connection, mutual respect, and care we will do so imperfectly and through practice.
What does it mean to communicate from love?
Love is action over words and presence over posturing. Communicating from love is more then being polite, saying what we ‘should’ say, or trying to please. To communicate from love is a willingness to engage with respect, honesty, listening, care, and compassion to ourself and another. It can be hard, gritty, confronting, and seemingly impossible with some people.
When we communicate from genuine love our relationships transform. We deepen our experience of empathy, intimacy, and create a greater sense of mutual trust and possible growth.
“Our spiritual fitness can only be tested in relation to others”- Donna Farhi
4 Attitudes For Loving Communication
Our ability to engage from love varies depending on circumstances. When we feel safe and heard it’s easier to express ourself effectively then the we feel jealous, hurt, or angry.
The 4 Brahmaviharas, or ‘sublime attitudes’ from the Buddhist tradition offer a compass for navigating our relationship to self and others. These virtues are inter-related and build upon each other. Below I have outlined these virtues and how we cultivate them in our communication and relationships. We begin where loving is easy and progress towards those more difficult encounters and situations. The key is to start where love is accessible and grow from here.
1: Loving Kindness/ Friendship (Maitrī/Metta)
Friendship. Kindness. Goodwill.
It’s easier to be honest, caring, and a good listener for people who are pleasantly disposed to us. These relationships give us a place to clarify our thoughts, acknowledge ourselves, and connect with others from genuine interest and care. In friendship we build our confidence and skills in communication.
As you read this think of some who makes you feel safe and notice the feeling of appreciation and love you have for them.
Take a breath, and feel it.
What do you notice in your throat, your heart, your belly? Is there a sense of freedom or expansion?
When we feel a genuine sense of goodwill and friendship our throat opens, our belly softens, and our voice has freedom and clarity. Cultivating this within our bodies enables us to better handle stress and respond from a clear heart and steady mind.
Where there is friendship and goodwill love and kindness flourish.
2. Compassion (Karuna)
Compassion is cultivated both inward towards ourselves and outward towards others. When we have compassion for someone we acknowledge the pain of their suffering and share in their humanity. We meet people as they are, listen, and respond out of the sincere desire to support their well-being. Compassion allows us to tune into another person and recognize that pain is not isolated, it's experienced by all of us.
Self compassion permits us to meet our own suffering with tenderness and recognition. It creates the esteem and capacity to meet our emotions and inner dialogues with care, and prevents us from getting lost in another person’s experience. Compassion without self compassion can lead to martyrdom or feeling overly responsible for another. Self compassion without outward compassion may prevent us from acknowledging suffering outside of our own sphere. Together these attitudes enable us to meet another in their suffering and support them while still remaining anchored and grounded in ourself.
3. Empathic Joy (Mudita)
Empathic joy, the ability to delight in another’s happiness, opens the doors to genuine curiosity, new ideas, and inspiration. However, you may realize pretty quickly how meeting someone here could be challenging.
Envy, comparing ourself, or secretly hoping another fails are common obstacles to empathic joy. Whether conscious or unconscious these difficult emotions affect our communication - we try too hard, seek approval, or become passive aggressive. Often these emotions are compounded by our own guilt around feeling or thinking this way.
As mentioned earlier, the Brahmaviharas work together and build upon each other. When we arrive at a situation that is beyond our current ability to love, we cultivate resilience by stepping back into the virtues that are possible. Perhaps we reach out to a friend or take some time to meet our emotions with tenderness and compassion. As our system calms and we feel freedom in our voice, belly, and chest we are better prepared to meet the joy of another with empathy, curiosity, and celebration.
We also cultivate empathic joy by turning this virtue inward in the form of gratitude and self recognition. The practice of gratitude improves mental health and increase our own experiences of joy. By consciously recognizing those specific moment of grace and beauty in our day we train the mind to appreciate the positive, and begin to override our negativity bias. This will also support our ability to acknowledge and experience the joy of others.
4. Equanimity (upekṣā/upekkha)
Equanimity is a virtue that integrates all the prior attitudes. Communicating from equanimity is powerful - to meet those who have hurt us, or wronged, us from a place of tolerance and respect for their humanity. It requires autonomy, compassion, a sense of good will, and conscious detachment from our anger, grudges, and victimhood.
In equanimity we realize that the need to be right, personal pride, and vendettas only serve to perpetuate our pain. Instead of fingering our wounds we integrate our experiences and ground them in inner strength.
True equanimity is achieved not by bypassing the challenges of life but in reclaiming even the darkest parts of ourself as necessary polarities of love. We expand the dimensions of our perspective to see not just the person who ‘wronged’ us but acknowledge the infinite number of occurrences that lead to this moment. We may not be able to fully love the other, but can see through this expanded lens and tolerate them.
In many ways equanimity is freedom - freedom from our stories, freedom from our patterns, and freedom to express from a pure and honest place.
If we were able to remain equanimous how would our dialogues change? What would we finally say, hear, or release?
Practice Begins Here.
Cultivating the 4 Brahmaviharas is a practice. Each moment is different. Some days we may feel love for everyone and others we may barely be able to communicate with our dearest friend. Begin where you are. If you feel envy, begin with self compassion or friendship. If you feel clear and equanimous perhaps now is the time to open the door to forgiveness.
The key is not in perfection but practice. These virtues are guides not measuring sticks. The beauty of these virtues is that they grow inside of us. As we deepen our sense of connection and union with ourself we naturally become more present and caring in our communication.
Donna Farhi, ‘Bringing Yoga to Life,’ HarperCollins, 2005
Linda Graham, ‘How self compassion beats rumination', Greater Good Magazine, Aug 20, 2014
López, Sanderman, Ranchor, & Schroevers , ‘Compassion for Others and Self-Compassion: Levels, Correlates, and Relationship with Psychological Well-being,’ Mindfulness, July 18, 2017
Joel Wong, Joshua Brown, ‘How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain, New research is starting to explore how gratitude works to improve our mental health,’ Greater Good Magazine, June 6, 2017
Domyo, ‘The Four Brahmaviharas, or Sublime Social Attitudes – Part 1’, Buddhist teachings, June 18, 2018