We’re emerging from pandemic isolation and re-integrating into social life. That means dealing with the strange and bewildering world of other people again. If you’ve ever met other people, you know they can bring out the best or the worst in you. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the original guide to practicing yoga written 2500+ years ago, has some sage advice about the timeless problem of dealing with other people.
According to the Yoga Sutras, there are 4 basic kinds of people you'll need to deal with in life:
In Swami Satchidananda’s commentary on this Yogic teaching (Sutra I.33), he says “By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.”
Keep in mind that the whole aim of yoga is to quiet your own mind. The only thing you can control about other people is the way you react to them. So, for the sake of your own sanity and serenity, yoga suggests that you adjust your attitude towards people in one of 4 ways, depending on who you're dealing with:
Happy People: be friendly towards them
Unhappy People: be compassionate
Virtuous People : delight in them
Wicked People: treat them equanimity/indifference
Satchidananda says that “If you use the right key with the right person, you will retain your peace.”
1.Dealing with happy people.
Key Attitude – Friendliness (Maitri)
Even 2500 years ago, there were people that weren’t happy about seeing other people happy. Some things never change. It's also a pretty common problem. You might be able to recall moments in your life where something great happened to someone else (they won a lottery, got a promotion, took a dream vacation) and instead of being happy for them, you felt the sting of frenvy: the feeling of being jealous or envious of a friend's good fortune. Maitri (friendliness) is the cure for that awful feeling.
The weird thing about jealousy and envy is that they don't trouble the other person, they only trouble you - and disturb your own peace of mind. When you catch yourself feeling this way, try replacing jealous thoughts with friendly ones, like “I’m happy that you’re happy.” Repeat. It might feel really unnatural at first, but with practice genuine feelings of happiness begin to grow. You can expand that into a full-on meditation and send practice being happy for your own happiness, then radiate that feeling outward toward every happy person you can think of. Repeat the following phrases, throwing as much sincerity behind them as you can muster up:
I’m happy that you’re happy.
May your happiness continue.
May your happiness grow.
May your happiness keep growing and expanding.
The best part? When you swap jealousy for happiness, you become happier! Win-win.
2.How to deal with unhappy people
Key Attitude – Compassion (Karuna)
Unhappy people. Ugh. They sure have a way of spreading around their dis-ease. Patanjali’s key to dealing with unhappy people is to show them compassion.
I was enjoying coffee on a patio a few weeks ago when a woman sat down at the table next to me and launched into a stream of consciousness rant about everything that’s wrong with the world according to the morning news. If you've read the news lately, you know there's a lot that's wrong. I really just wanted to enjoy my beautiful cup of coffee … on the patio … in the sunshine … and enjoy the moment after 16 months of pandemic-ing. I wished she would just. stop. talking. Her unhappiness was disturbing my mind. Then I remembered this teaching on compassion for unhappy people – the “Just Like Me” compassion practice – and decided to give it a try. As she was talking, I reminded myself of all the things we had in common:
This person wants to connect with others, just like me.
This person cares about other people, just like me.
This person worries about the state of the world, just like me.
This person wants to be content with life, just like me.
This person is learning about life, just like me.
And so on...
Then her husband came with coffee and sat down, and our conversation came to an end. The amazing thing is that this practice really did soothe my mind. By the time she was finished talking at me, I felt a lot less irritated. I used the compassion key – and it actually unlocked a sense of serenity with the situation.
Thank you for another winning life hack, yoga!
Here’s Pema Chodron explaining this wonderful teaching.
3 .How to deal with virtuous people
Key Attitude – Be Delighted By Them (Mudita)
Appreciate the way they use their gifts and talents for the benefit of the world, and try to imitate their great qualities. Don’t hate on the David Suzukis and Oprah Winfreys of the world for being ‘do gooders’; don’t try to drag them down or poke holes in them. Everyone has flaws. Don't let that stop you from recognizing the good in people. Appreciate virtuous qualities when you see them in others and aspire emulate them in your own life.
You don't have to do any of it perfectly. Just do something good and right because it's good and right. When you do, you've contribute to the overall amount of goodness in the world. Be delighted with yourself and everyone else that is striving in any way to make the world a kinder place. Yay, you!
4. How to deal with wicked (non-virtuous) people
Key Attitude – Treat Them With Indifference, Equanimity (Upeksha)
This is a tough one. How do you get to a place where morally bankrupt people do NOT disturb your mind? They sure disturb mine, but I'm working on it and inching my way slowly in that direction.
First, let's understand that if someone really doesn’t care about the way their actions affect other people, there is very little you can do about them. So, focus on yourself.
As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”
When you cultivate an attitude of equanimity, you can still be moved by injustice in the world and motivated to make things better. BUT, you prioritize hanging on to your serenity in the process. Mindfulness meditation practice is a wonderful way to build your skill at noticing thoughts and emotions without getting swept up in them. So, when you encounter people that trigger strong thoughts and reactions, instead of responding reactively, you can just NOT TAKE THE BAIT. Mindfulness teaches you how to sit back, take a pause, and choose peace of mind instead.
Try this meditation for Cultivating Equanimity with Diana Winston:
These four key attitudes (friendliness, compassion, delight and indifference) are known as the Brahmaviharas. Keep these keys in your pocket always. When you use the right key with the right person, you unlock the possibility of serenity in your relationships with others.