Boundless joy is the practice of seeing the goodness in others. In the present moment or remembering a past event, we try to take joy in another person’s happiness. The Pali and Sanskrit word for this practice is mudita.

Mudita has been a transformative practice for me because it is not my natural inclination to seek out the joy in others throughout the day. I don’t necessarily notice those small moments of joy that others around me are experiencing. But this practice has made me more likely to. If you try it, you may find this infectious practice as transformative as I have.

Find a space that puts you at ease, where you can adopt a posture that’s relaxed yet alert. Allow the back and spine to become straight but relaxed, and everything to remain not too tight but not too loose. You can close your eyes, or leave them half-open or fully open.

Begin to connect with the breath in the body, with the breath coming up from the earth, into the feet, on the inhalation. And on the exhalation, let it come down into the earth and rest there. If you prefer to connect with the breath at the tip of your nose, or the feeling of the abdomen expanding and contracting, do that. Just find a place that helps to center yourself in this moment, where you can start to cultivate a sense of mindful awareness.

We’re going to bring to mind one person or a set of people. If you’re new to the practice, work with someone who’s close to you. If you are more seasoned or advanced in this practice, you can bring in a difficult person or someone you’re indifferent toward.

Invite this person or group into the room through imagination—felt, visual, or auditory. We open up all of our senses to make this practice lifelike. Imagination is a powerful tool, so we try to use as many of the components of our imagination as we can.

Try to recall a moment when the person you have in mind was experiencing happiness. With someone close to you, that’s probably easy. With someone whom we have difficulty with, we might still be able to recall moments when they were experiencing joy or happiness. If not, we’ll have to imagine it. And with someone we’re indifferent toward, we’ll very likely have to use our imagination.

When I have to use my imagination, I try to bring in a human experience that most of us share, like the joy of a good meal after being really hungry, the joy of seeing a family member after being apart for some time, or the joy of being around our children or pets. We have ups and downs in any of these relationships, but just imagine this person laughing or smiling. As they laugh or smile, take joy.

Joy feels like love, but there’s also a sense of awe and a sense of connection. Share in that joyful moment with them. If they’re smiling or laughing, maybe you’re smiling or laughing too.

When I take joy in someone’s smile, an inner smile comes to me. See if you can reflect their joy in that way. It can be infectious. Starting out, it might be a little difficult, but the more you do it, the more it’s like a ball rolling downhill: it gains momentum. Give yourself a chance to gain that momentum.

Of course, if you’re working with someone close to you, you might have many moments where you’ve already felt joy in this person. Bring that into the present. With someone we have difficulty with or with someone we’re indifferent toward, we have to be a little bit more creative. But joy is also there.

Let your heart smile. It’s another way to think of joyfulness: allow the heart to open, to see the goodness in another person, and to rejoice in that goodness. Goodness doesn’t mean the person did something good. Goodness means their innate basic being is already good.

We all seek connection and love. We also do things that can disturb others or ourselves, things that are harmful. From a Buddhist perspective, harm is done out of confusion or misperception, which can be remedied and removed. What remains is connection, our basic warmth, and our ability to be awake and free.

As we start to expand our range of focus, we can zoom in on different moments, or we can just focus on the sense of innate goodness, both in ourselves and others, and take joy in that.

Now, if you haven’t already, move to work with someone you’re indifferent toward. As I said earlier, this can be the most difficult part of this practice.

For example, when we’re walking around our neighborhoods, we’re often with people we recognize but don’t really know. We’re more neutral toward them; we don’t notice their moments of joy so actively. Maybe some of us do, but for me, it’s not something I do naturally. I need to actively reflect on that joy.

Now imagine the people around you experiencing small moments of happiness. Start to take joy in that. We can even imagine the last time we walked down a busy street, what that felt like. We might not be able to see the smaller moments of joy here, but we can infer them. Maybe someone’s just enjoying a walk in good weather. Or maybe they’re going to work but enjoying the project they get to go work on.

In my case, I might work with someone playing music late at night, like my neighbor. Instead of growing resentful toward them, I try to take joy in the fact that they’re enjoying themselves.

For these more difficult people, where we tend to have resentment, practice in small doses. Take joy and think, “How amazing,” “Good for them…” Any phrase that helps you to open up into a sense of joyfulness. I find it best to use a phrase that’s relatable, that fits how we would normally speak. So when I see someone enjoying something, I’ll say something like, “Awesome.” “Oh, that’s great.” That’s how I speak. That might not be how you speak. Make it real for yourself. Find creativity in the practice.

Here’s another example: There’s a store close to where I live, and there are a lot of busy people going in and out. Sometimes I focus on the people when they come out. They might not be smiling, but they have just what they need. They went into the store seeking a drink, snack, or whatever they needed, and they came out having received it. I imagine there’s a sense of relief and maybe some happiness, and I practice taking joy in them, taking joy in their happiness.

Finally, of course, there’s all of us meditating with this kind of practice: in the past, in the present, and in the future. This has been practiced since the historical Buddha taught. We can take joy in all the practitioners who have embodied these practices, who have realized them, who have uncovered their boundless state of being. There’s a lot of room to take joy, both in the things that we see and in the things we don’t see.

Adapted from Scott Tusa’s Meditation Month Dharma Talk Fostering Boundless Compassion: The Root of Connection.

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