Cultivating calm in the storm: Patanjali's 4 Keys to Happiness / by Brian

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai c. 1830

The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States one week ago today has affected the people I've been interacting with in and outside of my yoga classes profoundly. Bring up Trump or Hillary Clinton and you'll likely be met with reactions of disgust, disappointment, disillusionment and depression — all the "d" emotions that are symptoms of, or lead to, dis-ease. People are making themselves sick and their anger is leading to more division and even violence.

So, what are we to do in times like these? What's the appropriate response to the hate and intolerance that Trump and his supporters are spewing?

Patanjali offers us some advice that I think is helpful not only in this particular situation, but in many of our daily interactions. In Yoga Sutra 1.33, sometimes known as the "4 Keys to Happiness," he says,

मैत्रीकरुणामुदितोपेक्षणां सुखदुःखपुण्यापुण्यविषयाणां भावनातश्चित्तप्रसादनम्

maitri karuna mudita upekshanam sukha duhka punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam

A peaceful mind results from a mental attitude of friendship (maitri) towards those who are happy, compassion (karuna) towards those who are suffering, joy (mudita) towards virtuous people and equanimity (upeksa) toward those who act poorly.

If we're being honest, I'm sure many of us will admit that we often have the opposite reaction to what Patanjali is suggesting.

Sometimes we find ourselves feeling resentment or envy when others are happy, because we're not happy ourselves. But that resentment just makes us more miserable and can distance us from people who are happy, which only leads to further suffering.

When we hear of other people's suffering sometimes the response is one of indifference or disgust rather than empathy and compassion. This might be because we can't relate to the people who are suffering, or in the case of family members or friends who seem to be constantly depressed or upset, it can be frustrating to deal with them if we're unable to empathize with their suffering.

Sometimes when we see people doing good work in the world, we might cynically refer to them as "white knights", "social justice warriors" or "do-gooders" — perhaps reflecting our own shame around feelings that we're not doing enough good in the world or feeling that we lack the same kind of purpose and drive.

And often when we see someone acting dishonestly or indecently — like Donald Trump — our reaction tends to be one of anger and hatred. It seems to be a natural response, but is it helpful? Not if we want to cultivate more peace and tolerance in the world. Adding hatred to hatred is a recipe for more hatred, which inevitably boils over into violence. Instead, can we remain calm and centered, even when faced with a difficult and challenging character like Trump?

It becomes a deep practice to work on cultivating feelings of friendship, compassion, joy and equanimity — noticing our initial "natural" (conditioned) response and reflecting on how it may, or may not be leading us toward the kind of life that we want to live and the kind of relationships we want to have.

Can we gain enough distance from our "natural reaction" to see that people like Donald Trump or his supporters are acting poorly because of their own suffering? Or that supporting those that are doing good in the world helps create the kind of world we want and makes us happier in return?

In the coming weeks I'll be offering some suggestions from Patanjali's Yoga Sutra on how to cultivate more mental clarity and steadiness through regular practice so that we can experience more space between cause and effect and remain anchored in our heart. The only hope for this world is for us to remain calm in the storm so that we can respond with the compassion, kindness and positive action that is so needed in the world right now. Because if we don't, then I'm afraid we're all sunk, and personally, I'm not ready to go down with the ship quite yet.

<3 Brian

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