The Four Flavors of Love

Photo by Melissa Askew

Many of us with a dedicated mindfulness practice have explored the mindful attitude of compassion and do our best to cultivate it, but did you know there are several other interrelated factors that inform and support it? These include: 1) lovingkindness, 2) appreciative joy, and 3) equanimity. I like to think that these beneficial mental states are like four complimentary flavors of love that together form a firm foundation upon which authentic love can take solid root in a way that is boundless & indestructible.

  • Compassion is the acknowledgement of suffering and the desire to alleviate it. We have explored this quite a bit in this blog and won’t elaborate here.
  • Lovingkindness is friendliness and well-wishing – an attitude of benevolence toward self and others.
  • Appreciative joy is the willingness to celebrate beneficial qualities and circumstances wherever they arise, without jealousy or ill-will.
  • Equanimity is an internal state of balance and calm regardless of external circumstances. We have also explored this quite a bit in our blog in the past and won’t elaborate here.

Lovingkindness

Lovingkindness is an attitude of solidarity and open-heartedness that allows us to see others inseparable from ourselves. When we cultivate lovingkindness, we are able to see our fundamental interconnection – that all beings are united by a common desire for fulfillment and freedom from difficulty. This understanding cuts through differences and allows us to see others as interchangeable with ourselves. Many times we harbor preferences in our love of others and we somehow feel we have to save it up for those we see as most deserving. Lovingkindness transcends these differences, meeting all (including ourselves) with equal friendliness. Practicing lovingkindness meditation (LKM) is one way to cultivate this beneficial attitude. Research has shown that LKM is correlated with relaxation, feelings of social connection, increased empathy, compassion and positive emotions, decreased negative emotions and bias, improvements in migraines, chronic pain, PTS symptoms, and the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, increases in gray matter volume in the brain, and longer telomeres (indicator of decreased aging in chromosomes). Some degree of positive impact can be measured immediately, even in small doses, and the effects seem to persist over the longer term.

Appreciative Joy

Appreciative joy, sometimes also called sympathetic or empathetic joy, is the vicarious experience of taking pleasure in the true happiness of others and its causes, free from attachment and self-interest. We experience appreciative joy when we delight in someone else’s well-being regardless of our own situation. Most of us have experienced appreciative joy when we’ve observed an innocent child, puppy, or kitten happy at play or witnessed an act of kindness. Its more difficult; however, when other people succeed where we have not or when they receive things we want. It can also be difficult to appreciate another’s happiness when, by comparison, we feel they are undeserving. There is certain amount of fearlessness and courage that is required in order to rejoice in others’ happiness, because we have to let go of the worry that there may not be enough happiness left over for us. We can cultivate appreciative joy by meditating first on the happiness or success of a friend or loved one. We practice this until we are able to experience genuine feelings of joy and appreciation for the benefits of what they have received or accomplished. Then we gradually move, step by step, to neutral acquaintances, strangers, enemies, and eventually all beings everywhere.

When we do our best to cultivate all four of these beneficial mind states together, we are creating fertile ground from which the seeds of love can grow and flourish. Though engaging in these practices feels like we are offering something to others, its truly our own minds that are being transformed. We can make a habit of setting a compassionate intention and dedicating the benefits of our good fortune and our daily practice to all beings. We can make a formal practice of engaging in lovingkindness, appreciative joy, or giving and taking meditation. In our daily lives, we can notice and abide with the four flavors of love directly as they present themselves. Using these methods, with dedication over a long period of time, we may begin to discover that authentic love arises spontaneously, with fewer and fewer limits, radiating out and sending beneficial ripple effects far and wide.

Beloved,
you know who
I’m calling to,
though I mistake you
for the bird’s song,
the bud’s early blossom.
Here you are in
my pillow’s softness,
in the caress of
a young person’s eyes,
in the scent of summer
flowers, in the way
light drifts through
my window.  Even
my warm socks attract
my affection, the
letter in my mailbox
written by your hand:
wherever beauty
touches upon
me –there!—
as you read this,
it’s happening
again.

Richard Wehrman, No Mistake

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