Yoga Sutra 1.33
Maitri Karuna Mudita Upekshanam Sukha Duhka Punya Apunya Vishayanam Bhavanatah Chitta Prasadanam
In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating attitudes of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are unhappy, delight towards those who are virtuous, and indifference towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.
I am not a naturally happy person. It took me the first 30 years of my life to realize happiness doesn’t magically happen, it is not a destination, and it is as impermanent as every other emotion and state of being. We all know those people who seem to naturally be happy all the time. I spent years, too many years, avoiding those people and keeping them at arm’s distance when they tried to befriend me. Those people kind of irk me, but that is a reflection of my own stuff, it has nothing to do with them. I have found that the more I open myself up to those people who are naturally happy the happier I have become. When a friend is happy over something positive it is easy for me to be happy for her if I also have whatever it is that is making her happy or it is something that I have no interest in having in my life. However, when a friend is happy over something that I also want, but do not have, it is really hard for me to feel genuinely happy. Beach vacation in the midst of winter while I am unable to take any time off work…not so easy to be happy for you. Pregnancy announcement while my biological clock is beginning to tick loudly and I am single…tiny pangs of jealousy as opposed to pure happiness. New career opportunity while I am struggling to find new opportunities…it’s just not fair (I know, life’s not fair) and I’m just not that happy for you. It’s not always easy to be happy for those who are happy.
We all have an Eyeore in our lives. We love them dearly, but man, if they could snap out of it – if only for a few moments. Or that person who is deeply unhappy about something that we perceive as no big deal, I generally feel annoyed before I feel compassionate. Do you impose your own timelines on how long people can be unhappy about something? I do. Everyone deals, or doesn’t deal, with things in his or her own way. To expect another person to adhere to our expectations and guidelines is judgmental and, well, mean. True compassion is meeting another where he or she is with an open heart and mind, free of expectation or judgement. Really, really hard if you ask me.
Often when we see someone doing something virtuous we think there must be ulterior motives. Surely that person can’t be that naturally good? And if he or she is, what’s wrong with me for not being that virtuous? I often find I start to cut myself or the other person down. That’s not delight. That’s flat out mean spiritedness. And guess what? It doesn’t make me feel good about myself or the other person. I want others to succeed. I want others to be virtuous. And yet, we live in a culture that leans toward picking others apart and analyzing others’ faults as opposed to celebrating positive qualities. It is hard for me to combat that, but when I am able to it is so rewarding.
We all have people in our lives who push our buttons, do mean things, treat others poorly, or simply get under our skin. I have spent a lot of my life fighting with and against these people in my life. You know what I have to show for it? Nothing. I have wasted a lot of energy, shed a lot of tears, and yelled a lot of empty, angry words in vain. Slowly, very slowly, I am learning to smile and nod, walk away, and hold my tongue. And, as hard as it can be in the moment, as much as it pains me to not give those jerks a piece of my mind, there has been a lot less stress and fewer hours of sleep have been lost. In the long run, my mind truly does find greater calm and purity when I treat those I perceive as wicked with indifference as opposed to righteousness or anger. I’m learning that giving those people a piece of my mind by pretending they are in front of me while I am alone and yelling away, or writing them letters that I shred and throw away rather than send can be quite cathartic and causes a lot less grief.
We cannot change others. We also have no right to judge the paths others are on. Being jealous, unhappy, angry, etc. toward someone who is happy does not detract from that person’s happiness, it detracts from our own ability to be happy. Feeling frustrated or angry toward someone who is unhappy only contributes to that person’s unhappiness, and our own. Cutting down someone who is virtuous or feeling envious of them brings us to a place of negativity and prevents us from connecting with others from a positive place. Fighting against someone who we perceive as wicked just brings us down to that person’s level, it seldom actually changes anything – and it definitely does not contribute to our serenity of mind. The more we strive to connect with others from a genuine place free of judgment, comparison, or expectation the greater chance we have of tapping into the innate serenity of our minds and truly appreciating all of our relationships as opportunities to connect deeply and grow into our best, most authentic selves.