What Yoga Teaches Us About Dealing With Others
Yoga has very little to do with your flexibility, whether you can do a drop back, or how straight your arms are in bakasana. It is about how you live your life and the choices you make.
The relationship you have with yourself and everything around you ultimately determines the quality of your lifestyle. It’s about understanding the other person. It’s about cultivating harmony, peace, and love in your life, even when everything seems to be going downhill. Cultivating peace of mind - that’s what the yoga practice is about.
We humans are social animals. We must interact with others, whether it’s with people we know and love or strangers. Being pleasant all day would be easy if you had no one around to upset you. But is living a life in solitude really the solution to achieve peace of mind?
Yoga Sutra I.33 offers some guidelines on how to deal with others.
“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.”
Swami Satchidananda says in his commentary:
"Whether you are interested in reaching samadhi or plan to ignore Yoga entirely, I would advise you to remember at least this one sutra. It will be very helpful to you in keeping a peaceful mind in your daily life. You may not have any great goal in your life, but just try to follow this one sutra very well and you will see its efficacy. In my own experience, this sutra became my guiding light to keep my mind serene always."
This sutra says that at any given moment you can fit any person into one of four categories:
- happy people
- unhappy people
- virtuous people
- non-virtuous or wicked people
And it goes on to tell us how to interact with each to achieve an undisturbed mind.
When we encounter happy people, we should be friendly to them and celebrate their happiness. Jealousy or envy is usually what you feel when others achieve that which you want for yourself. Cultivating happiness towards those who are happy will remove envy, which is one of the six poisons of the mind. Don’t steal their happiness by pointing out all the things that are wrong. They are happy! Let them enjoy their happiness. Celebrate with them even if you don’t agree with the reasons for them being happy.
To the unhappy people, we must show compassion. While showing compassion, you must try to erase their misery and unhappiness as if you were the one suffering. What if you took it upon yourself to vanquish unhappiness from those suffering, assuming everyone’s unhappiness and suffering as your own? Compassion means you truly care about the other person and feel their pain.
To the virtuous people, we must show joy or delight. Virtuous people are those with high moral standards. We should strive to be like them and cultivate those qualities in our own life. Not by following their standards but by following your own. Don’t criticize them for having found their truth; find your own truth.
Lastly, the non-virtuous people. These aren’t necessarily bad or evil people. They are the people whose actions go against our values. Patanjali suggests treating them with indifference or neutrality. This means seek to understand and accept instead of judging them.
Friendliness, compassion, delight, and indifference are four attitudes to cultivate to obtain peace of mind. Being mindful of this sutra and making an effort to practice it will allow us to establish healthy relationships with others, which will bring peace of mind to your daily life.
I find the practice of indifference towards the non-virtuous the most difficult. I have a hard time understanding how they are unable to see their wrong doing and the pain they cause others, especially when it’s directed to those who have no way of defending themselves. But then again, I may have a flawed perception of what is right or wrong, as we all see things from our own perspective. As hard as it seems, I must learn to practice indifference towards them and seek to understand where their hostility is coming from without judging them. A very hard practice indeed.
Which attitudes do you find challenging to cultivate?