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Yoga in challenging times

This is my most favourite and often thought of quote from the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali.

“Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked.” 

What does this mean in actual daily life practice? Yoga is not just about stretching and relaxing on the mat, its about how we conduct ourselves in our day to day life. Yoga is a whole holistic life system.

“Friendliness toward the happy”, ok yes thats relatively straightforward, but also being mindful of perhaps resenting people, and not becoming jealous of them. Being genuinely friendly, with no ulterior motive , just being openly friendly for the sake of it, do we always do this? Try being friendly to everyone, even those who you find challenging, even strangers, see how that feels. Notice how it maybe alters their perception of you and their demeanour.

“Compassion for the unhappy”, again, seems quite straightforward, however, is it  as simple as it first seems? True compassion, from the heart, feeling the suffering of another being, there is no compassion without suffering. How can we cultivate this quality in ourselves. Must we suffer in order to be able to feel true compassion for other sentient beings (not just human but animal too), and if we must suffer to achieve this compassionate quality then how do we cope with our own suffering? If we know that suffering breeds the ability to feel true compassion then any suffering we experience is in fact a beautiful gift and opportunity to learn and grow. Do we alienate ourselves from others, or turn to substances to cope, or do we know that “this too shall pass”, and patiently quietly wait. Everything is always changing, the difficulties pass as do the happy times, and we must detach ourselves from this process in order to support others with their suffering once we have learned this lesson. In order to detach we practice, every day, even when we don’t feel like it, Asana practice, Pranayama, meditation, even when it feels impossible, we still practice, and it passes, eventually, with patience. The mind remains calm and still. We observe. Then we cultivate compassion with true understanding.

“Delight in the virtuous”, what does this actually mean in practice? What is virtuous? The dictionary definition is, “A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness.” Can we sometimes feel resentful of truly virtuous people, think that they are a bit goody goody? What is that all about? Why do we find goodness in others such a challenge at times, and does this say something about ourselves? This links so closely to friendliness towards the happy too. Can we practice genuine Mudita? Mudita is a pure joy unadulterated by self-interest, when we can be truly happy of the joys other beings feel with no agenda or benefit for ourselves. Why should we delight in the virtuous if it doesn’t benefit us in any way? Because everything is linked, cause and effect, karma, call it what you will. And isn’t it just good to feel good about things instead of envious or resentful?

And then, the most challenging of all…..”Indifference towards the wicked.” How do we begin to do this throughout troubled times in our lives and in the world in general? We must remind ourselves that all beings want to be happy. All beings want and have a basic need to be loved and cared for, and to experience a sense of belonging. Whatever route beings take to achieve this sense of inclusion, safety, identity, no matter how bizarre their actions may seem to us, we must remember, its all trying to achieve the same end result. They want to be happy, at peace and to belong in some way. This is all we ever need. From the homeless drug user to the president of the USA (yes controversial I know!), our practice aims to recognise that all beings want happiness and love, inner peace and a sense of belonging. When we genuinely view things in this way then aggression and hatred become impossible.

I know that what I am saying here may sound idealistic. I also know from personal experience that this works. When you can view things in this way then its not only better for other people, for society as a whole, but its better for you too. No hatred, no anger, no grasping, no judging, imagine that. Challenges in life although still difficult really do feel easier. It doesn’t mean you don’t care, you do care, very deeply, about yourself first and foremost, and then in turn you can give this gift to others.

The Yoga sutras of Patanjali were thought to be written some 5000 years ago. These ‘issues’ are not new, this is the human condition. See if you can cultivate your compassion, use your experience of life and suffering, and begin to notice what happens.