By Stephanie Adams, all rights reserved “The return to love is not the end of life’s adventure, but the beginning. It’s the return to who you really are.” ~ Marianne Williamson
Bhakti from the root word bhaj means to share or to participate in, devotion or love. To love and build relationships by seeing universal energy, or God, as everything, and in everyone of us, is why we are here. It has become “normal” to focus most of our time and energy on achievements or success, but it is more “natural” to who we are to devote our energy to love, community, family, or relationship. “Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love.” p. 144, T. Lewis, M.D., et al, A General Theory of Love
Realizing that while it may be fashionable to live fiercely independent lives, we are actually hard-wired to live in families, communities, tribes. Our communities may look different today: internet networking, workplace relationships, therapists, spiritual teachers or communities, and the other community environments we create and participate in, are indicative of our natural instinctual drive toward relationship and community, or the tribal nature of humans.
“A state of true self awareness removes the egotistical need for us to judge, attack, criticize or control others. Any fear that others might be capable of arousing in us dissolves in the knowledge that we are one with them, even if they themselves are not aware of this. The health of all our relationships with others, from the most to the least intimate, depends upon our relationship with our own self – our awareness. When we cultivate that awareness the garden we inhabit with others will bloom of its own accord.” pp. 32-33 Discover Inner Peace, by Mike George
The Yoga of Relationship
What does Yogic wisdom teach us about how we should treat others and how we can relate to others?
YS 1:33 maitri-karuna-mudito-peksanam sukha-duhkha-punya- punya-visayanam bhavanatas-citta-prasadanam · Cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked.
Patanjali suggests we develop these four attitudes or brahmavihara: As householder yogis, these four attitudes can be most useful. If you go off and live in a cave, there is much less opportunity for testing your spiritual fitness. Most of us live real lives with all sorts of people and relationships that test us. Taking our Yoga off the mat and into the real world, can be a very powerful tool for personal growth and transformation. When we practice these four brahmavihara we can cease what I like to call the “spiraling” of emotions and mental unrest that comes from unresolved or unsettled relationships.
1) Friendliness toward the joyful – it is easier to start with this one to gain the confidence we need to live more compassionately toward all. 2) Compassion for those who are suffering – in words, this seems easy, but compassion and empathy are different than pity. Many of us are quite distanced from real suffering, so we may pity those who are suffering, but we don’t have compassion or understanding of their suffering. We further distance ourselves and see these people as invisible. We protect ourselves by “turning off” our feelings when we are faced with the magnitude of suffering in the world. How can we develop empathy without being overwhelmed by it? We can start with what feels most real to us. Your greatest suffering can be turned into your greatest gift for developing empathy toward others. Where have you suffered in your life? The greatest gift Yoga has given to me is to learn that everyone has a story, and that most of us have been doing our best to survive our “story” in the best way we know how. Now, when I feel the impulse to judge someone or become disgusted by their behavior or way of life, I ask myself, “I wonder what his/her life has been like to lead them to choose this?” Where this really starts to become beneficial is when we start to not see our individual suffering as separate. When we realize that everyone has a story, and that we all have suffering and joy in our lives, but they just exist at different levels and times. There is universal suffering and universal joy, and if we can see ourselves as part of something bigger, and begin to see everyone as some small part of ourselves, we can begin to develop more empathy and understanding and less judgment. 3) Celebrating the good in others – this again, seems easy, but in reality we find ourselves, often times, being jealous of the “good” in someone else’s life. If we can begin to truly feel delight in someone else’s virtues, we can begin to be inspired and not jealous. This can be difficult in a society that is so competitive and judgmental. It is popular to make fun of someone who is “perfect” or virtuous. We gain pleasure from seeing others fail and are obsessed with the tumultuous lives of celebrities. We like to point out all the ways, these people are NOT perfect, so we can seem more OK with ourselves. Practicing the yama, asteya, or not coveting, or wanting what others have, can help us to truly celebrate the good in others. Spending time in the presence of someone who inspires and accepts you will help you to practice this third brahmavihara. We can actually spend time with a spiritual teacher, loving friend or relative, or we can hold an image of them when we meditate or pray. For example, if you are a Christian, you can hold an image of Christ with delight and celebration. 4) Practicing detachment or indifference toward those who have harmed us or others in word or deed is the most difficult of all the brahmavihara. The time and energy that goes into creating an enemy is completely not worthwhile. The negative energy and negative attraction we put into the feeling of hate will never serve us. If something does not “feel good”, that is our signal to turn our attention away from it. The ego tries to get us into creating enemy relationships so we can analyze and judge someone else so that we can feel “right” and better about who we are. At a much deeper level, we know this never works. It never feels quite right. We even try to get others involved in our “fight” and feel more justified in our behavior by the involvement of others. Or, instead, some of us become attached the idea of becoming a victim to someone else’s bad behavior. Of course, this is completely disempowering, and not useful. Practicing detachment toward those who have behaved badly does not mean we should allow someone to misuse or mistreat us. We can remove our selves from a relationship with this person completely and/or set discriminate and healthy boundaries while letting go of all the emotions and energy of attachment to that person.