Each morning when I rise, I try to spend about 30 minutes praying, meditating and doing some Pranayama. When I do, my soul feels infinitely more peaceful throughout whatever the day tosses my way.
For me, this is the point of yoga.
From what I’ve learned, this was also the point of yoga for the ancients who invented this deeply balancing art – ancients like Patanjali and others, who thankfully passed yoga along for thousands of years so it could reach us. Yogas Citta Vritti Nrodhah is the 2nd aphorism in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. “Yoga restrains disturbances of the mind.” The only Sutra that comes before this is the statement, “Now we will explore yoga.”
So clearly, cultivating a calm mind is the most important goal of yoga practice.
In our February classes, we have been exploring a very basic introduction to the Yoga Sutras. I am sharing five aphorisms from Patanjali’s wisdom that, for me, are practical tools and inspiring promises. (Please see “February Focus: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” for an introduction to the five.) On and off the mat, they inform my discernment process when making large and small decisions; they remind me how to live in peace with all others; they guide me toward self-acceptance, -love and -compassion; and they give me hope.
Last week we covered Sutra 1.33, which is a tough order. In my opinion.
In Sutra 1.33, Patanjali introduces “The Four Locks & Four Keys.” He suggests that (in order to fulfill yoga’s purpose of a calm mind) we cultivate the following attitudes toward the following types of people: friendliness toward the happy; compassion for the unhappy; delight in the virtuous; and disregard (or indifference, or equanimity or detachment) toward the non-virtuous.
As I prepared to teach my seven weekly classes on this theme, I decided to share the story of my 11-year-old yoga student who was murdered in March 2009 – and how I used the four locks/keys to navigate that deeply disturbing situation. I meditated on this decision, realizing that such a dark story could potentially shake up the room. I prayed, “May I be relieved of self-centeredness, that I may better play a small, useful role in your big picture. I pray to be relieved of anything that stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength to do your bidding.”
I checked my motives, reminding myself that I do not teach for my own needs, but for the well-being of my students. In the end, I decided to share my personal experience in order to demonstrate yoga’s solutions for every possible situation.
Even a situation as severe as murder.
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In my early experience, the toughest part of Sutra 1.33’s “advice” was offering anything but anger, disgust and all kinds of judgment toward the non-virtuous. Even today, as harmful things occur around me and happen to me, I can naturally (and humanly) sink into all kinds of harsh emotion.
Thankfully, in his commentary on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Swami Satchidananda nudges me, “We come across wicked people sometimes. We can’t deny that. So what should be our attitude? Indifference. ‘Well, some people are like that. Probably I was like that yesterday. Am I not a better person now? She will probably be alright tomorrow.'” Simply put. And with an underlying vibe of self-forgiveness. Beautiful.
What of the people who are habitually “wicked” – who commit harm as a reaction to being harmed themselves; or due to fear; or to fulfill a sense of survival? How do I keep a peaceful mind in the midst of serious threat? I first recognize that in order to commit harm, a person is most likely deeply unhappy. Therefore, as the 2nd lock/key suggests, I offer compassion to that person. And I disregard the non-virtuous deed as the result of that very human state of unhappiness.
I was inspired toward this approach by the beautiful book, “Why We Fight: Practices for Lasting Peace” by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait. “…if someone is ‘non-virtuous’ according to our definition, the judgmental part of our personality comes forward and we label those people as ‘bad.’ We try to maintain a distance, either my withdrawing ourselves or by pushing them away from us. Any of these actions sets the stage for violence.”
And then he makes the strongest point.
“Cultivating indifference for people we believe to be non-virtuous damages our sensitivity to others and destroys our capacity for forgiveness, kindness, and selfless love.” He reinforces, “But by cultivating indifference toward the deeds themselves, we remain free of animosity for those whose actions are non-virtuous.”
Hmmmm – a mind free of animosity sounds like an undisturbed mind. Therefore, if I want to practice yoga as the Sutras suggest, I must disregard the deed, have compassion toward the doer…and perhaps even forgive her. I had to practice this recently. And believe me, it works. And it’s worth it. For peace of mind.
In his May 2010 Yoga Journal article, “Love in Full Bloom,” Frank Jude Boccio takes this Sutra one step further. He invites us to offer ourselves these same attitudes – friendliness or lovingkindness, compassion, delight or joy, and equanimity. He asks, “How would you like to be unconditionally loved, just as you are, without having to be or do anything special? What would it be like to feel truly, completely, radically accepted, without feeling as though you had to hide or deny or apologize for any aspect of yourself?”
And I add – can you imagine how peaceful the world and our own mind states would be if we offered this unconditional acceptance to all beings?
So let’s start with ourselves. Can we remember to offer ourselves lovingkindness, compassion, joy and equanimity? Can we forgive ourselves for mistakes, accept our humanness, see ourselves as worthy? Boccio points out, “…if we cannot love and accept ourselves just as we are, we will find if difficult to truly love anyone else in such a limitless, unconditional way.”
Remember, yoga’s ultimate goal is an undisturbed mind. So how do we cultivate love when it feels impossible? If I am firmly stuck in harsh judgment toward myself or another, the most effective elbow-to-ribs is the tool we learned in Sutra 2.33 – Pratipaksha Bhavana. The replacement of negative thoughts with positive.
In his ever hopeful way, Swami Satchidananda says, “If the thought of hatred is in the mind, we can try to bring in the thought of love. If we can’t do that, we can at least go to the people we love and, in their presence, forget the hatred. So, although the hatred comes to the surface, we can keep if from coming out or staying long by changing the environment.”
May all of your yoga classes be an Environment Of Love. May you feel surrounded by love. May you feel secure, safe and supported during your practice. May you find peace of mind.
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Over the past week, I have witnessed students’ profound dedication to cultivating the virtues suggested in Sutra 1.33. I have seen them apply The Four Locks & Keys during their Asana practice. I have watched them wrestle with discomfort, re-commit to cultivating a peaceful mind, and choose positive over negative. I have felt the love in the room; and I am certain it has found its way off the mat and into the world.
Since hearing the “murder story,” many students have confided in me about difficulties or hardship they are going or have been through. I pray that, during our classes, they feel support for their healing. I pray they get an ounce of relief, a break from troubles and tools to cultivate the peacefulness to face whatever life tosses their way.
Wishing you peace, joy, love and light. OM Shanti.