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Date: 01/01/2014
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Four Abodes (Learning to See Each Other)

from chapter 13 of Coming Back to Life by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown; second edition, published 2014. Please acknowledge the source when you use any of these practices.


Shared as a milling or as a dyad practice



This meditative practice was adapted by Joanna Macy from the Buddhist Brahmaviharas, or Heavenly Abodes, sometimes called the Four Abodes of the Buddha. These abodes are loving-kindness, compassion, joy in the joy of others, and equanimity. The practice helps us to truly see each other and experience the depths of our connectivity.

We offer it in workshops as a guided meditation, either as a Milling with four different partners or with people sitting in pairs facing each other.

In many cultural settings, it is considered rude to look directly into another’s eyes. Be sure you don’t imply that participants should do this, but rather invite them to become aware of the full presence of the other. You may suggest that they face each other, but with their eyes closed, picturing the other’s face in the mind’s eye. Then from time to time as they wish, they can open their eyes and look at the other’s face to refresh their memory.

Similarly, when practiced as a milling, you may offer the option of the pairs joining hands, if each is willing, but again, the gift of the practice is simply being in the presence of another being, and touch is not necessary to have this experience.

Here are some words you can use for guiding this practice as a milling; adapt it for a dyad. 

Begin by moving slowly around the room as you are able, going in different directions, mindful of the other people around you.

Stop now in front of another person; if you wish, and if they give assent, you may and take their hand in yours. Rest into your breathing…. Before you is a human of planet Earth. The opportunity to behold the uniqueness of this particular being is given to you now…

To enter the first abode, open your awareness to the gifts and strengths in this being… Though you can only guess at them, there are, within this person, unmeasured reserves of courage and intelligence…. of patience, endurance, wit and wisdom… There are gifts that even this person is unaware of having…. Consider what these powers and potentials could do for the healing of our world, if they were to be fully believed in and acted on…. As you consider that, experience your desire that this person be free from fear… free from greed… from hatred and confusion and from all the causes of suffering…. As you feel how much you genuinely want this, know that what you are experiencing is the great loving-kindness… It is such good medicine for our world.

You may bow to this person and take your leave in any way that feels right, and go back to milling.

Finding yourself in front of another person. Perhaps you will join hands again. Open your awareness to the unique, unrepeatable human being before you, as we enter the second abode. Now let yourself open to the pain that is in this person’s life. As in all human lives, there are sorrows in this one. Though you can only guess at them, there are disappointments and failures, losses and loneliness and possibly abuse…. There are hurts that this person may never have told to another human being.… Now you cannot take that pain away, but you can choose to be with it. As you sense your readiness to be with another’s suffering, know that what you are experiencing is the great compassion. It is excellent for the healing of our world….

Again, bow and take our leave in any way that feels right. Mill about a bit more… and find yourself in front of yet another person.

Entering the third abode, you may put your palms together at shoulder height. As you behold the person before you, consider how good it would be to work together… on a joint project, toward a common goal, perhaps something big… What it would be like to plan and plot and conspire together, take risks… discover each other’s strengths in working together… celebrating the successes along the way, consoling each other over the setbacks, forgiving each other when you mess up… and simply being there for each other.…

As you open to that possibility, you open to the great wealth, the power in each other’s powers, the joy in each other’s joy. This is the third abode.

Again bow and take your leave in any way that feels right. Find yourself in front of a fourth person.

Now entering the fourth and last abode, let your awareness drop deep within you like a stone, sinking below the level of what words can express… to the deep flows of relationship that interweaves our lives through space and time, through myriad encounters and countless forms.… See the being before you as if seeing the face of one who, at another time, another place, was your friend or your enemy, your lover or your parent or your child.… And now you meet again on this brink of time, almost as if by appointment.… And you know that your lives are as inextricably interwoven as nerve cells in the mind of a great being…. Out of that web you cannot fall… no stupidity, or failure, or cowardice, can ever sever you from that living web. For that is what you are… Rest in that knowing. Rest in the Great Peace.… Out of it we can act, we can risk everything… and we can let each encounter be a homecoming to our true nature.… Indeed it is so.

At its close, we encourage people to use this practice as they go about their daily lives, when their eye falls on another person, on the subway, or waiting in a check-out line, or even in a teleconference meeting. It is an excellent antidote to boredom, and it charges that idle moment with beauty and discovery. It also is useful when dealing with people whom we are tempted to dislike or disregard; it breaks open our accustomed ways of viewing them. 

One does not, of course, gaze long and deeply upon the other. A seemingly casual glance is enough.

Contributor/Author: Joanna Macy & Molly Brown