By Sensei Ken Madden
I offer this as a gentle meditation style for people stuck at home but in the company of an animal friend, a pet, perhaps a dog or cat.
We all have experience with the unconditional Love that our animal friends offer us. There is a Teaching often known as the 4 Brahma Viharas, which are Compassion, Empathic Joy, Lovingkindness and Equanimity. In this practice we deepen our understanding of these Blissful States by deeply paying attention to our animal friends, as follows:
The next time that your animal friend comes to you, I ask you to really pay attention as you stroke or pet your animal friend.
Feel how their fur feels. Hear the sound of your hand gently stroking them. See your hand as it strokes their fur, the way the light changes. Does your animal friend have a smell?
Just notice these sense impressions, without judgment for now. Feel the warmth of your animal friend. Pay attention to the physical sense impressions for a good period of time.
Then, when you are ready, pay attention to your animal friend’s mood. When you do, you might understand that they are enjoying your attentions. By seeing this, you start to understand them. This is the start of empathy: to understand another being.
See the Joy that you are causing: when you are tuned into your animal friend, you understand them and that you are the cause of empathic joy. You can ‘sip’ from their joy, to know your own also. Also, notice that it is you who are offering this joy: compassion is ‘to have Empathy for a being and to act on their behalf’. You are being compassionate.
You are giving them this wonderful feeling selflessly: this is the definition of metta, Lovingkindness. To love selflessly.
After a time, you might see that this being—your animal friend—is a worthy being, not lesser than you or any other person, but unique and capable of life and love. This is a deep understanding of equanimity: seeing equity and the sacredness of another being’s life.
Continue to pay deep attention to your stroking of your animal friend. Then, being aware, you will know when it is time to stop.
Have Gratitude for the loving moment you have shared, and smile.
Sensei Ken was ordained in Kyoto and joins us after teaching for over a decade at a local Buddhist Temple. He is the University of Calgary Buddhist Chaplain and actively works for Interfaith harmony. He created and has run The Circle Sangha: their mindful practices of emotional intelligence align with Calgary Buddhist Meditation. His approach is non-sectarian and practical, and he is delighted when Buddhist understanding aligns with science. Oh! and this life can be joyful and fun and kind when we allow our difficulties to drift away!
Editor: Dana Gornall