Once you read the following meditation practice from The Wise Heart, it will come as no surprise to you that American Theravada Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield is close friends with Br. David Steindl-Rast, the Austrian Benedictine monk who wrote Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer. Buddhist practices of sympathetic joy and caring spring naturally from gratefulness; and, conversely, gratefulness opens the door to sympathetic joy. What we love about Jack's meditation is its sense of ease, flowing from an instantaneous awareness that all of life is given to us and so can be recognized as a gift.
A Meditation on Gratitude and Joy
"Let yourself sit quietly and at ease. Allow your body to be relaxed and open, your breath natural, your heart easy. Begin the practice of gratitude by feeling how year after year you have cared for your own life. Now let yourself begin to acknowledge all that has supported you in this care:
With gratitude I remember the people, animals, plants, insects, creatures of the sky and sea, air and water, fire and earth, all whose joyful exertion blesses my life every day.
With gratitude I remember the care and labor of a thousand generations of elders and ancestors who came before me.
I offer my gratitude for the safety and well-being I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the blessings of this earth I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the measure of health I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the family and friends I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the community I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the teachings and lessons I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the life I have been given.
"Just as we are grateful for our blessings, so we can be grateful for the blessings of others.
"Now shift your practice to the cultivation of joy. Continue to breathe gently. Bring to mind someone you care about, someone it is easy to rejoice for. Picture them and feel the natural joy you have for their well-being, happiness, and success. With each breath, offer them your grateful, heartfelt wishes:
May you be joyful.
May your happiness increase.
May you not be separated from great happiness.
May your good fortune and the causes of your joy and happiness increase.
"Sense the sympathetic joy and caring in each phrase. When you feel some degree of natural gratitude for the joy and well-being of this loved one, extend this practice to another person you care about. Recite the same simple phrases that express your heart's intention.
"Then gradually open the meditation to other loved ones and benefactors. After the joy for them grows strong, turn back to include yourself. Let the feelings of joy more fully fill your body and mind. Continue repeating the intentions of joy over and over, through whatever resistances and difficulties arise, until you feel stabilized in joy. Next begin to systematically include the categories of neutral people, then difficult people and even enemies until you extend sympathetic joy to all beings everywhere, young and old, near and far.
"Practice dwelling in joy until the deliberate effort of practice drops away and the intentions of joy blend into the natural joy of your own wise heart."