Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cultivating right attitudes

First published in "on the Mat", the newsletter of Yoga Spirit Studios

Switching on the news can be quite depressing can't it? We should ensure we are informed about what is happening in our world, hiding our heads in the sand will not help. But there is so much violence, and so many people swept up in terror, death and destruction. I find myself very moved by it and frustrated too that as individuals we can do nothing to change it.
What we can do is cultivate the right attitudes in our own heart, ensure that we are wiring our own brains towards non-violence.

Non-violence, or ahimsa is the first practice that Patanjali offers in the Yoga Sutras, the very first of the yamas, which is the first of the eight limbs of yoga he lays out in Book 2, the Book on Practice.

However today I am drawn by a sutra in Book 1, sutra 33.

The mind becomes quiet when it cultivates
friendliness in the presence of happiness, 
active compassion in the presence of unhappiness, 
joy in the presence of virtue 
and indifference toward error

Sounds easy enough. But is it? In this sutra we are being given the clue to much needed equanimity in the face of all we meet, equanimity that will guide us into right action to fulfill our responsibilities.

Friendliness in the face of happiness: Sometimes another's success serves to remind us of our own failings and this may set our minds in an unfriendly direction. cultivate friendliness. Note the feelings of unfriendliness if they arise, invite it in, and then also invite friendliness. Move back and forwards between them. You will find that the unfriendliness loosens its grip upon you and you have cultivated friendliness.

Active compassion in the presence of unhappiness: It is relatively easy to be compassionate in the face of a friend's bereavement but what about the unhappiness of a homeless person, or a drunk or drug addict. Faced with the homeless person, drunk or drug addict, right there in front of us, do we feel compassion or aversion? First we can note that tendency, but then can we open ourselves to be with the other's suffering, acknowledging our oneness?

Joy in the presence of virtue: Is there a contraction present when we see the good works of others, perhaps because we feel ourselves to be unworthy or incapable of such giving? Note that. Then can we cultivate, feel its opposite as joy?

Indifference towards error: Why indifference? Does that mean we should not act when error is present, as in the bombing of children or passenger planes? The lesson here is to note the passion, the sadness, the anger, and the sense of impotence that arises in the face of error, note it and welcome it, and then chose equanimity, (indifference) as its opposite and cultivate that. Then we can act from the correct place, we can respond rather than react.

So much of the ever spiralling vortices of violence we see are fuelled by unskillful reaction based on hatred and fear. Patanjali offers another way and what better place to start than with ourselves, where we can act to make a change.

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