With Thanksgiving around the corner, the holiday season will be in full swing in no time. While this can be a really fun and celebratory time, it is also a time of stress, often times associated with people who know just how to push our buttons.
Thankfully, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras offer a framework to help us control how we act and react with sometimes challenging relationships and personalities. Because really that’s all we can do. We only have control over ourselves. In Sutra 1.33 the 4 Keys to a Tranquil Mind are revealed. In Heart of Yoga, TKV Desikachar offers the following interpretation:
In daily life we see people around who are happier than we are, people who are less happy. Some may be doing praiseworthy things and others causing problems. Whatever may be our usual attitude toward such people and their actions, if we can be pleased with others who are happier than ourselves, compassionate toward those who are unhappy, joyful with those doing praiseworthy things, and remain undisturbed by the errors of others, our mind will be very tranquil.
Basically, the sutra describes four situations or types of people who may challenge our state of tranquility or journey in that direction. The sutra provides a framework for how we can be thoughtful of our interaction and reaction to these people.
Be pleased for those who are happier. You may first need to set aside ego or selfishness. Just let those go and focus on the joy of the person in your presence. No comparison, no coveting are needed. Just contribute to the celebration of their joy.
Be compassionate for those who are unhappier. Take a moment and step in their shoes. You’ve probably been in their place or in something similar at least once before. Remember what it felt like to be unhappy, wronged, out-of-place, or whatever triggered the unhappy feelings. You don’t have to fix or change anything, just be there to understand how they feel.
Be joyful for those who act justly. Be their cheerleader because we need more people like them. Again, let go of ego or self-comparison, just be thankful that they are contributing good to this world that we share. We need more people like them, so pile on the joy and encouragement.
Be undisturbed by those who act with wickedness. Do what you need to do to be restrained. This may include putting on your poker face, changing the topic or creating physical and energetic space between you and this person. You control how you spend your energy. Starve the source of their evil by denying to feed it your precious energy.
Take a moment and think of the people you’ll come into contact with over the holidays. A wonderful practice leading up to Thanksgiving or other holiday gathering would be to use this framework as your intention for your next practice. Imagine someone who fits into one of those categories and then welcome intention. Just chose one at a time for focus, you chose another for your next practice.
- For someone who is happy, “I find pleasure in their happiness”.
- For someone who is unhappy, “I offer compassion in their unhappiness”.
- For someone who is praiseworthy, “I share in their joy”.
- For someone who is unrighteous, “I will be restrained from their wickedness”.
The sutra that follows, 1.34, acknowledges that even with the best laid plans and strategies, our tranquility might be disturbed. It offers a “in case of emergency” option. TKV Desikachar offers the following interpretation:
The practice of breathing exercises involving extended exhalation might be helpful.
So, if used the four keys and they didn’t unlock tranquility, be sure to breathe. Breath practices with an extended exhalation are cooling and grounding. It’s probably just what you need to get back on track and try those keys again.
The path to peace or tranquility can be a challenge, but with practice and persistence we can get there. I hope the framework of the sutras (and the reminder to breathe) will help you find and maintain a tranquil holiday season.