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[BREAKFAST WITH THE MUSE] Four Virtues that Will Support Your Writing Life
Contributor
Written by
Jill Jepson
June 2018
Contributor
Written by
Jill Jepson
June 2018

Lovingkindness. Compassion. Equanimity. Empathetic joy.

These are the four virtues I learned about in a single lesson from a Buddhist teacher. It was so many years ago, I can no longer remember the teacher’s name, but his lesson has stayed with me all this time, and I have never stopped trying to incorporate the four virtues into my life. When I am at my best, these virtues guide my actions, shape my decisions, and help me understand myself and my experiences. They also provide support, guidance, and clarity for my writing.

Lovingkindness and Compassion.

These virtues tell us to practice kindness and mercy to all beings, and to be aware of the suffering of others as fully as we can. They call us to empathize, offer aid, avoid judgment, and forgive. Compassion is empathetic awareness of suffering that leads to the action of lovingkindness.

All virtues have “near enemies”—a quality that is similar, yet negative. The other side of the coin. The near enemy of lovingkindness and compassion is pity. Like compassion, pity engages an awareness of the suffering of others. But, while compassion draws us to others, pity sets us apart. Pity is a mindset of superiority and difference. I feel sorry for you means I’m glad I’m not you. Compassion, in contrast, says, We are one and the same. Your suffering is mine.

Lovingkindness and compassion enrich writing because they open us to the experiences of others. Empathy with others widens the scope of our writing, offers deep insight into people’s fears, needs, desires, and motivations, and enables us to write with authenticity about a broad range of situations with understanding. While I’m far from a perfectly kind or compassionate person, working at lovingkindness and compassion every day has not only enriched my life, it has deepened my writing.

Equanimity.

Equanimity is the ability to step away from situations, out of the ebb and flow of emotion they cause, and the racing, jumbled thoughts we have about them, to observe events with a clear, steady gaze. Equanimity doesn’t erase our emotions—but it gets us out from under their control. It helps us act from a place of stillness and tranquility.

The near enemy of equanimity is indifference. While indifference and equanimity both let us step back from events and situations, they are not the same. An indifferent person doesn’t care what is happening. A person practicing equanimity cares—they are just able to quiet their thoughts and emotions so they don’t get swept up in events or carried away in their own feelings.

Equanimity is a challenge for me, but when I am able to practice it, I find it allows me to act with greater wisdom and skill.Instead of reacting to situations out of anger, fear, or desire, I can assess what is happening and determine the best way to respond.

As a writer, I gain perspective from equanimity. Equanimity creates a space from which I can view the world fully and with clarity. It is as if a cool breeze cleared away the dust and pollution leaving me with high-definition perception.

Empathetic Joy.

I found it strange when I was first introduced to joy as a virtue. I’d always thought of virtues as qualities that are good for us but not necessarily pleasurable, like the cooked peas a mother asks her child to eat. How could such a wonderful experience as joy be a virtue? But when I realized that virtue is any quality that enables us to live as good people, a trait that promotes excellence in life, it made perfect sense. Empathetic Joy is joy over one’s own existence, and that of others. We can be joyful simply because we are alive. We can be joyful when others experience happiness. Empathetic joy comes from love, community, gratitude, engagement, and acceptance. Put simply, joy is a full awareness of all life has to offer.

Ray Bradbury advised writers to always write with joy. Being a naturally grumpy person, I do not find this particularly easy, but when I am able to write joyfully, the result is surprising and delightful. Embracing the joy of others extinguishes competition and envy. Reminding myself that writing is itself a blessing makes every minute at my desk pure bliss.

Lovingkindness, compassion, equanimity, and empathetic joy have enriched my writing in innumerable ways. What virtues do you cultivate in your life? How have they supported your writing? What virtues might you develop to bring excellence to your writing life?

 

Hi! I'm Jill Jepson, author of Writing as a Sacred PathYou can receive my free biweekly strategies for writers HERE.

 

* This post was originally published in March 2016.

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