The Four Immeasurables may seem like insurmountable idealism, but don’t be fooled by your own ego. There are four easy ways to cultivate and nurture compassion, loving-kindness, sympathetic joy and equanimity.
Meditation is the classical way to practice the Four Immeasurables. Observe your passing thoughts and feelings while sitting in meditation—see how often or rarely you can identify any of the Immeasurables in relation to your experiences. Do you feel compassion or indifference for someone who had an unpleasant experience? Do you sincerely desire happiness for yourself, family, friends, loved ones and adversaries – or do you wish anyone misfortune? Do you feel joyful about success and the good fortune of others, or begrudge them? Do you look upon others who are different than yourself as equal or inferior?
Later, in a deeper stage of meditation, contemplate which Immeasurable would be the best to apply for directing subsequent thoughts or feelings in a more positive and constructive manner. Try it and observe what happens.
Chants and prayers are also effective ways to practice any of the Four Immeasurables. One such practice, specifically for loving-kindness,
can be used either for chanting or praying. It has four parts repeated separately, once for yourself, once for a friend(s) or loved one(s), once for an adversary or enemies, and once for everyone.
It begins: May I be safe from harm; may I be happy; may I be healthy; may my life unfold with ease.
Then repeat the same sequences for a friend or family member, etc. Notice how it makes you feel and your thoughts afterwards.
Journaling is another way to practice the Four Immeasurables by analyzing what we do, think, feel and say—in relation to how other others react and the quality of our day. Also, write about how applying any of the Immeasurables to a given situation would cultivate more wholesome and favorable attitudes and outcomes. Alternatively, simply write about the events of your day, what happened, how you felt, what you did, and how it might have turned out differently in the context of any of the Immeasurables.
Embody the Four Immeasurables by applying them to everyday situations as much as possible. Rather than perceiving someone in unfortunate circumstances with disgust or indifference, try actively wishing and thinking that person can find relief or a solution to the causes of their problems—maybe even offer to help or listen empathetically. While sitting at a red light or waiting in line, instead of feeling impatient, create a joyful moment by looking at flowers growing in the highway median, admiring the sky, nearby architecture or beautiful scenery. Treat a store clerk with respect, rather than an object to direct frustration.
There are infinite ways to practice. It’s usually a matter of replacing whatever your ego is craving or avoiding in any given situation with one or more of the Four Immeasurables as your frame of reference to encourage more positive consciousness, and you change the world—one breath at a time.