For better or worse, people affect us from the moment we wake up in the morning until we fall asleep again each night. Their words and actions can disturb our peace of mind and trigger a variety of emotions that disrupt our days. In order to effectively manage our reactions to the people we encounter and sustain inner tranquility, let's look to four keys of people management outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The Yoga Sutras are an ancient text of yoga philosophy that offer practical and succinct wisdom for daily life. In her translation of Yoga Sutra 1.33 in The Secret Power of Yoga, Nischala Joy Devi explains how everyone we encounter can fit into one of four categories. By learning the keys to dealing with people in each category, we have the necessary approach for any interpersonal challenge.
"To preserve openness of heart and calmness of mind, nurture these attitudes: kindness to those who are happy, compassion for those who are less fortunate, honor for those who embody noble qualities, and equanimity to those whose actions oppose your values"
1. Kindness to those who are happy
An honest self-analysis should reveal that although we know we should be happy for and with those people in our lives who are happy, this is often not how we truly feel. Maybe we are not doing as well as they are and we feel jealous. Maybe we are feeling low and really want someone to commiserate with us rather than try to lift us up. Maybe we have never been as happy as they are and just don't understand how to get there. Practicing kindness is the first step to overcoming these negative mind states that keep us in our state of unhappiness. Just start by taking a deep breath and being present in the moment with them and their joy. Step out of your thoughts about them and their achievements and allow their happiness to infuse you with joy at a subtle energetic level.
2. Compassion for those who are less fortunate
On the flip side of those who are happier than we are, are the people who are struggling, suffering or failing in some way. The small-minded part of us that likes to feel "better than" might try to take advantage of their situation to boost ourselves up. But if we stop to consider how it feels to be the one on the lower rung of the happy ladder, we can take a breath of empathy and then offer them a compassionate thought or gesture to show our goodwill. This brings us to a state of open-heartedness which feels good.
3. Honor for those who embody noble qualities
Similar to number one, when we encounter people who are living extraordinary lives and embodying all goodness and virtue, it is easy to revert to negative comparisons, feeling that we can never live up to their level of nobility or achievement. These thoughts will of course only cause us inner suffering and outer alienation. If instead, we can look to those people that we admire as models to emulate and aspire towards, honoring them as our teachers and examples, then we claim a more harmonious mindset. Think of someone from history that you truly admire. If you can perceive his good qualities then the potential for them lives within you as well. Practice gratitude for the light that person has shined in your life and determine how you too can live into that light.
4. Equanimity to those whose actions oppose your values
Equanimity or even-mindedness is the most important value we can possibly cultivate if we hope to achieve a serene mind and the capacity to effectively interact with all types of people. In opposition to the rampant judgment that usually flies through our minds before we even know what is happening, the equanimous reaction is steady, calm and non-critical. We do not need to rush in to change or fix people, even those living in a state of wickedness. What we need to do is watch how our internal thought processes about their bad behavior keeps us stuck in a state of disharmony. Then we can choose a neutral position of witnessing without condemning that allows us to remain at peace.
The essential goal of any and all yoga practice is to create and retain a tranquil mind, so we are no longer tossed around by restless thoughts and uncontrolled feelings. By practicing these four approaches to our personal relationships and interactions with those we encounter in daily living, our peace of mind will dramatically increase.
 Nischala Joy Devi, The Secret Power of Yoga, (New York, Three Rivers Press, 2007) 77.
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