Showing compassion towards those we know and love is usually pretty easy. We relate to those we have accepted into our lives as our friends, partners, and lovers and when they are in need, in pain, or feeling sad it is second nature to reach out and lend a hand or a listening ear.
Showing that same level of compassion to those we don't know, or even harder yet, to those who we don't particularly like...now that's the true test!
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the ancient text which outlines the eight limbs of yoga and shows how the practices of yoga can be made relevant to daily life, the author Patanjali describes the four attitudes (brahmavihara) to life's challenges. He says that if we develop these attitudes, we can find peace of mind and overcome the distractions of the mind that lead to psychological distress. They are:
1. Friendliness toward the joyful
2. Compassion for those who are suffering
3. Celebrating the good in others
4. Remaining impartial to the faults and imperfections of others
In her book, Bringing Yoga to Life, Donna Farhi describes #4 as "the black belt of all the brahmavihara." She goes on to say, "the fourth brahmavihara looks at how we inflict suffering on ourselves and how we manufacture our own torment by failing to detach ourselves from things that ultimately we cannot change in another." We all have light and dark, love and hate, joy and pain. To recognize that in another is to see them as an aspect of ourselves. When we do this, we find understanding and through understanding, we find compassion.
A lovely yoga student of mine shared a personal story of Compassion with me recently, that led me to writing this post. Here's what she had to say:
Hi Mary. I had an experience with compassion this morning I wanted to share with you. As I was reading through my email first thing, I saw an email response from a co-worker that I thought was really obnoxious and self serving. She tends to really get on my nerves and I could feel my blood pressure rising. A few minutes later I opened my jewelry box and saw my Compassion It bracelet. I suddenly thought show a little compassion for Nicole. She is 37 and wants to be in a relationship and have a baby more than anything in the world. So far it has never worked out for her. Today is Valentine's Day. Cut her some slack. I immediately felt so much better. I realized that whenever you feel annoyed or jealous of someone else, think about life from their perspective. No one's life is perfect. Everyone has to deal with their own demons. So tonight after a wonderful Valentine's Day dinner with my husband I went to the computer and pulled up the Compassion It website. Number 5 applies so much to me. Having Self compassion and not beating yourself up for imperfection. That is one I really have to work on. Thank you for introducing me to this concept. I will share with you again when I have a compassion it experience. See you at yoga Sunday!
Thank you for sharing your story with me, Jackie!! I know it is one that everyone can relate to!!
For more information on The Yoga Sutras and the four brahmavihara, check out the following books:
Bringing Yoga to Life - Donna Farhi
The Secret Power of Yoga - Nischala Joy Devi
In peace & compassion,
Mary Baker - ERYT-500 yoga teacher, adventure lover, fitness junkie, doughnut snob, whiskey & wine sipper