Happy Hump Day, Yogis. As I had alluded to on Monday, I am dedicating a few days of the week to a specific focus within the yoga practice. It is the middle of the week and I know that we can all use some inspiration to get over that hump! Each Wednesday I will bring to you a Yoga Sutra, quote, or philosophy and how you can apply it to your every day life in modern society. So, let's get to it! Today's Wednesday Yoga Inspiration comes from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda: Sutra 33, Book 1 (Portion on Contemplation).
By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.
For time's sake I will be discussing the first half of this sutra today and the second half next week. I know we are all busy and can only absorb so much Sutra wisdom in one day!
This is a Sutra that one of my teachers, Yogi Charu, speaks about passionately. Charu does, however, edit Satchidananda's phrase regarding the wicked into: Love the wicked from a healthy distance. I really like this change of terminology so I am going to use that moving forward in these posts. You don't need to be a levitating yoga master to put the meaning of this sutra into your daily life. This is one of my very favorite Sutras because it gives the practitioner real-life applications in order for the "mind-stuff [to retain] its undisturbed calmness".
To take it one step further, this sutra explains that there are four “locks" in this world: sukja (happy people), duhkha (unhappy people), punya (the virtuous), and apunya (the wicked). The yogis believe that you can fit any person into one of these four locks at a given moment. And by practicing the attitudes (friendliness, compassion, delight, and keeping a healthy distance, respectively) described in this sutra, you have the keys to unlock these four categories. You will not get frazzled by dealing with a total jerk on the subway, a billionaire driving her rolls royce, or a saint in robes - you will remain calm and undisturbed.
What does "cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy" really mean and how can you apply it to your life today? To look at it with regard to the locks - when you come across sukja, use the friendliness key. Even when Patanjali wrote this sutra thousands of years ago, there were still people then who turned green at the sight of other's happiness. Recent events come to mind when I was working as a recruiter in New York. It was a competitive environment and everyone in the office knew when you made a placement and roughly how much commission was going into that recruiter's pocket from the placement. Sometimes, I would be having a rough month and another colleague was 'on fire'. Not at first but slowly, it became more and more difficult to be genuinely happy for that person who was hitting their streak of good fortune while I was struggling to make just one placement. The other person was not flaunting it or rubbing anyone's nose in their success but those thoughts started to creep into my mind that were...less than friendly. This sutra tells me that those thoughts of envy and malaise are affecting no one else but myself - and in a negative way! The yogis believe that we should make this happy person your friend and think, as Sri Satchidananda writes, "Oh, such fortunate people. If everyone was like that how happy the world would be...I will also get that one day".
Of course this brings us to the next lock: duhkha or the unhappy people. What key do we use for them? As yogis, we must have compassion for the unhappy. If we can lend a hand to help, an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, then we must. In our society today it is not entirely possible to give money to every homeless person we see on the street or to give ourselves over completely to every person in need. We must use our intelligence and common sense as well. Maybe give a hot meal to the homeless person who you pass every day on your way to work, send a thoughtful email to a friend who you know is having a tough time, bring home flowers for a loved one - it does not have to be a huge gesture or totally put you out either. As I was reflecting on the meaning of compassion and thinking about past experiences, a certain occasion came to mind when I was working at a restaurant shortly after college. It was December, close to Christmas, when one of the prep cooks (let's call him Jay) came into the kitchen the morning after his house had been broken into. Among other things, all of the presents that he bought his son for Christmas had been stolen. Usually in high spirits, this robbery had totally crushed him - he did not have the means to replace the stolen presents. Later that afternoon, one of the servers told me about his plan to collect money from everyone at the restaurant and then surprise Jay by replacing the gifts. At the end of the week, I went to look at the pile of gifts that my colleague had purchased. The 'pile' turned out to be a room filled with presents from a Wii, to roller-skates, clothes, Guitar Hero, and more. It was incredible. Knowing that his son would have a great Christmas, Jay was deeply touched by this gesture. Additionally, it brought our whole team closer together - we were looking out for each other. Doesn't hearing that story just make you feel good? No one person was put out or felt drained by giving a reasonable donation and together we not only made Jay and his family happy, everyone left that day feeling good.
Compassion towards the unhappy will not only help that person but will keep your own mind peaceful and serene. It is a win-win!
Next week, I will continue with the last two locks (virtuous and wicked) and keys (delight and keeping a healthy distance). More examples and strategies of how you can apply these keys to your life in modern society to come. To be continued...