Cultivating Friendliness, Compassion, Joy and Indifference for a Favorable Disposition
Pleasure and pain. Vice and virtue. Joy and sorrow. Ups and downs. Wins and losses. Peak experiences, depressions, and all that mundane in between...Whether you call them cycles, swings of the pendulum, or the turnings of the wheel of Fortune, life a continuum of these movements. These fluctuations can be hard to handle. Fortune-ately (haha) Yoga offers us a methodology for remaining calm and collected throughout. The key is the "Maitri Sutra" or the Fourfold Remedy:
Friendliness towards one and all, compassion towards those who are suffering, joy for those who are doing well...these first three seem like an intuitive recipe for human happiness. They are also easier to grasp on an intellectual level than indifference, at least for the Western mind. Indifference sounds a bit cold, emotionally remote, or maybe even detached and cut off from the friendliness, compassion and joy. But is it?
Indifference is non-attachment, which is not to be confused with un-caring. It's the practice of not letting anyone else's words or actions disturb your internal state – no matter whether those actions would excite your disapproval or your praise. We typically react to the actions and words of others with some degree of agreement, disagreement, envy, disgust, and so on. In other words, we’re not neutral. We may refrain from expressing the full extent of our reactions, but inside our minds we are not neutral. Indifference is the art of maintaining neutrality.
This neutrality can (and should) be applied when you look at yourself, too. It means looking at your current life events and circumstances with the same lens. It’s asking yourself: Can I allow my life to be exactly as it is right now, without getting emotionally caught up in the drama of the ways I'd like it to be different?
Indifference applies to the inner world just as much as the outer. It’s being attentive to your own words and actions while remaining indifferent/unattached to what you find. This requires judging yourself neither too leniently nor too harshly under the light of your own truth. In other words, be aware, be forgiving, be willing to try again and do better next time, and don't give up. Never give up. (Strangely enough, indifference or non-attachment gives enough space to enact change rather than clinging to old ideas and habits.)
In those moments when these answers are YES – with respect to others, oneself, and one's own life – peacefulness ensues.
When I think about this sutra, I ask myself: Have I been friendly with those whom I've come into contact with today? Have I expressed compassion, preferably in the form of some kind of action to help? Am I genuinely happy for the people who are doing well? And finally, can I accept them without wanting them to change? Finally, can I allow the same of myself? Can I just let myself be who I am, however I am, right in this moment? If something about me is troublesome, what should I do about it, what am I going to do about it, and can I be content with who I am right now in spite of the faults I find?
I don't know about you, but habit and personality lead me to be rather hard on myself. I tend to focus on the flaws nestled among the virtues. When face to face with my shortcomings and the pain of acknowledging them, indifference can be hard to come by. Some of the things I find helpful are deep surrender, humility, forgiveness, and gratitude for each insight (even the challenging ones).
When I rest in the field of accepting what IS – beyond the movements of virtue and vice, pleasure and pain, etc. – I find myself a little further along on the road to a state of mind that feels "favorably disposed, serene and benevolent." The optimist in me can't help but think that if everyone took conscious steps to cultivate such a disposition, the world would would far less rife with conflict. In that sense, the yogi's inner work is not for his or her betterment alone.
May we all, through the cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy and indifference, uplift one another continuously. Together we rise.