I’m sure I’m not the first yogi who has suffered from anxiety.
It’s a thing that brings many of us together; we cannot achieve quiet in our minds, so instead we seek peace on the mat. After getting to know my fellow yogis, it’s clear that in many cases a regular practice has provided a great deal of assistance in dealing with mental disorders. That being said, the work is never over. There are still those mornings when we roll out of the sheets, look at our to-do lists, and fall back into the pit of fear.
First of all, we are not alone. Social media, traffic jams, and solo nights of slumber can all contribute to a sense of isolation, but I find that the feelings we experience (fear, dissatisfaction, stress) are common. Ironically, a great deal of that anxiety is provoked by our experiences in relation to others. Whether we are experiencing jealousy, anger, or frustration, our inner peace is greatly affected by how we communicate with others.
Luckily, there’s a sutra to help us through it:
maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha dukha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam
"By cultivating attitudes of friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness."
Regardless of where we are in our lives, this sutra, from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, can be very helpful in achieving a peaceful mind. It’s broken down into four simple parts and speaks specifically to instances in which we are interacting with others. The four parts, or locks, consist of the sukha, dukha, punya, and apunya: happy people, unhappy people, virtuous people, and the wicked. In the yoga sutras, Sri Swami Satchidananda suggests that we can always fit any person into one of these categories, making their daily application practical and true.
1. The Sukha (Happy People)
As silly as it may sound, witnessing the happiness of others is a huge culprit in creating anxiety. Have you ever had a friend experience something wonderful, such as an engagement or a job promotion? Maybe they have more money than you and are able to afford South African safaris while you’re struggling for a night off to go to happy hour. Witnessing happiness in others can create envy, which can lead to the anxious question, “Why don’t I have that?” Don’t get mad at yourself if you feel this way. It’s really, really common.
To combat the feeling, Satchidananda suggests to practice friendliness and optimism. Think, “I am glad for this person’s happiness. I am comfortable and happy for my own reasons, and I know that I am on a unique path.” When we share in the joy of others, we tend to feel less anxiety and more compassion. It creates a “we’re all in this together” sort of feeling, which can spread like wildfire.
2. The Dukha (Unhappy People)
Everyone has his or her dark days. When you witness others going through a troublesome time, use this as an opportunity to practice empathy and compassion.
It can be tempting to take pleasure in the suffering of others, especially when this person is someone you may feel rivalry towards. Rather than experience quiet joy in their pain, try to help them in whatever way will best serve their growth and journey towards happiness. If what they need is time alone, give them that. Maybe they simply need an ear or a sounding board, or a small reminder that things will get better. This not only helps the other person restore faith, but it also helps to retain the inner peace in your own mind.
3. The Punya (Virtuous People)
A virtuous person can be your friend who recently started a successful nonprofit, a compassionate mother, or any other individual reflecting qualities that you admire. Anxiety may arise in moments like this when that pesky inner critic shows up, saying something like, “You’ll never be as good as them.” How annoying and untrue. It’s possible for all of us to be virtuous once we reclaim some inner peace.
When dealing with virtuous people, Satchidananda suggests practicing delight, or celebrating the noble tasks they’ve accomplished. Rather than fall into the pit of envy, use their behavior as motivation to increase the generosity in your own actions.
4. The Apunya (Wicked People)
It would be wonderful if we all lived together in one blissful bubble, but that’s not the case. Drivers cut one another off and people sometimes say things to intentionally hurt others. It happens.
In these moments, in order to maintain a peaceful mind, it is important that we approach the situation carefully. Rather than express anger to another’s actions, try to encourage a sense of empathy. Maybe this wicked person is experiencing severe pain, causing them to act out and project their negative feelings. We may never know the full story because we only live in our own minds. Satchidananda suggests approaching these situations with indifference, as this does not further disturb the wicked and allows you to maintain your inner peace.
We all want that inner peace. While the journey to enlightenment may seem like a personal endeavor, everyday human interactions can directly impact your quality of mind. Always take a deep breath.
Restoring (and maintaining) a sense of peace within our minds is the key to acting justly and kindly. With a calm sense of spirit, we are able to provide for others with the upmost level of clarity and care. Try this sutra and see what happens.
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