A clear mind comes through being kind to those who are happy, compassionate to those who are unhappy, taking joy in the accomplishments of the virtuous, and disregarding those who are negative.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:26-27.
Adapted from translation by Shelli Carpenter
The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali are the oldest known collection of writings specifically about yoga. They are the foundation of our modern yoga practice. The Yoga Sutra were written in 200-400 CE. They are attributed to a teacher called Patanjali. The Yoga Sutra are special because they were not written for people living in monasteries. Rather, they were compiled for common householders like us living in the Indus Valley region at the time….
Yoga does not make our lives easier. It gives us a path to live our lives well. Life can be difficult. It has a tendency to throw us curveballs, catch us off-guard, and push us beyond far beyond that which we believe we are capable of surviving, much less thriving!
Unaware of life’s tendency to put us face-to-face with challenges that test our fortitude, build our faith, and force us to grow out of our comfort zone, we lose ourselves in chaos and despair. Yoga allows us to find beauty in the messiness, meaning in the madness, and the willingness to carry on when giving up seems more logical. Life is not the enemy. It is our greatest teacher.
Life’s lessons do not come to us in a book, class, or Google search. Our most impactful teachers are not wise sages, brilliant professors, or enlightened masters. Instead, our most effective teachers are the people right in front of us. The best teacher for us in this moment is the person right in front of us.
The Four Keys of Yoga.
According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there are four basic types of people we will encounter. In fact, one person embodies all four of these different ways of being at one point or another. These four people are happy people, unhappy people, virtuous people, and negative people.
Just like there are four different ways people will show up in our lives, there are four different ways we should behave when we encounter them in order to maintain our own peace and perspective. The four keys of yoga are recommendations for how to behave to be in right relationship with others. They are kindness, compassion, joy, and disregard.
Key One: Regard happy people with kindness.
Patanjali instructs us to regard happy people with kindness. Most of the time, that is pretty easy to do. We usually like being with happy people. It is a pleasure to be kind to people who are kind to us. However, there are times when this requires effort. For example, perhaps we encounter a happy person when we are feeling sad. Notice that Patanjali never suggests we put on a false face and regard happy people with that same degree of cheerfulness. Instead, he encourages us to meet them with kindness. We may not be able to make ourselves feel happy, but we can choose to be kind. Kindness is an action that is always available to us.
Key Two: Show compassion to those who are unhappy.
Of course, not everyone we encounter will be happy. In fact, many people who cross our path will be quite unhappy. Sometimes we will even meet someone whose unhappiness seems unbearable. Patanjali says compassion is the key to relating to unhappy individuals. Compassion goes beyond pity and concern. Compassion moves us towards action. It sparks within us the desire to alleviate suffering. By encountering an unhappy person with compassion, we hold space for their sadness. Healing can arise from even the seemingly small act of being willing to witness another person’s agony.
Key Three: Take joy in the accomplishments of the virtuous.
According to Patanjali, we are to take joy in the accomplishments of the virtuous. Sometimes when a friend or loves one has achieved much, we are so pleased and proud, it could have been our own accomplishment! Other times, we may not feel so overjoyed. In fact, there may be times we feel envious of our friend’s accomplishment. We may be afraid of other people’s success. After all, if too many other people are successful, will there be enough for us?
Virtuous people are those who live in alignment with universal law. When a virtuous person succeeds, we all succeed! We can celebrate the achievements of virtuous people as if they were our own. In fact, from a yogic perspective, they are!
Key Four: Disregard negative people.
Finally, we will encounter negative people. People with whom we have some difficulty can be the greatest teachers of all. Patanjali encourages us to disregard negative people when we encounter them.
Toxic positivity is a popular buzzword these days. It refers to the idea that no matter how difficult a situation may be, we should strive to look on the bright side and put a positive spin on the situation. That’s not yoga! Yoga means union. It is not a practice of turning away from the darkness in favor of the light. Rather, we see, feel, and experience the darkness and the light. Yoga gives us a way to navigate them both without judgement or attachment.
When faced with difficult people, our work is not to judge them. Our work is always on us. We disregard negativity in order to maintain our own peaceful mind. We can only make wise decisions and take appropriate action when our minds are clear and uncluttered. Yoga happens when our minds are calm and quiet. This isn’t a miracle. Yoga is the essence of who and what we most intrinsically are.
Accepting life on life’s terms.
The four keys of yoga teach us how to be in right relationship with others. We take responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions while allowing others to take responsibility for theirs. As we surrender the need to dictate to life how we think it should be through our attempts to fix, control, or diminish others, we stop our fruitless argument with reality. When we stop arguing with reality, we step into life as an adventure. We maintain our inner peace and open ourselves to greater abundance, opportunity, and freedom!