This article is the fourth of a four-part series on Chapter 1, Verse 33 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Everyone has bad days. In fact, we’ve probably been through some periods of time in our lives where we weren’t at our best. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve hurt others’ feelings. We’ve said and done inappropriate things.
It’s hard when we know we’ve made a mistake; we might label ourselves as “bad”. We feel guilty, remorseful, or maybe we just try to put it out of our mind, pretending it never happened. It feels threatening to our sense of self to consider we may have done something that harmed another being.
However, when someone else is the culprit – especially if we see it as a serious offense – it’s rare that we even consider how they feel. We jump right to judgment, outrage, righteousness. We’re ready to condemn them, on the spot, as bad, evil, the enemy.
No matter how you slice it, our reactions to those who have done “wrong”, who are “bad” or harmful, disturb us. It agitates the mind and sets us off balance. Hence, why Patanjali, the father of yoga philosophy, instructed us on how to deal with this in his Yoga Sutras.
Maitri Karuna Muditopekshanam Sukhaduhka Punyaapunya vishayanam
Bhavanatah Citta Prasadanam
“The mind becomes serene by the cultivation of feelings of love for the happy, compassion for the suffering, delight for the virtuous, and equanimity for the non-virtuous.”
When we believe that someone else has been “non-virtuous”, rather than being so quick to judge, which will lead to great inner disturbance, Patanjali suggests a different tact. Stop and be present. See what is, without labeling or judging. Sit in Upeksha – the place of even-mindedness.
Even-mindedness is defined as “not easily ruffled, disturbed, prejudiced; calm; equable.” Equanimity is a state of even-mindedness during times of duress: “calm emotions when dealing with problems or pressure.”
If we jump to conclusions and judgments, we are bound to become agitated, angry, and react. We may lash out with hurtful words and accusations, and even become aggressive in our actions. This only further escalates the situation. And it can lead to prejudice against particular people, organizations, or cultures that we perceive in this manner.
It doesn’t matter if we are “right” about our perceptions. When we hold on to being right, we close down our ability to perceive and think clearly. We get tunnel vision, seeing a more and more limited view of what is unfolding. This can cause us to respond in the very way we are judging – in a harmful, “unvirtuous” way. Not at all what we intend to do!
By remaining in Upeksha, even-mindedness, we stay in inner balance. We do not swing into right and wrong, but look at what the situation needs. Who needs healing and support? What action can I take to prevent or heal the harm? Is there another way to see what has unfolded? We stand in the center point, not swinging into reaction, not allowing our emotions to carry us off, but in a place of clarity and calm, able to better respond – or recognizing that our perception may have been off, and better not to act at all.
You can respond strongly from Upeksha. It does not mean that you continue to allow harm to be done, or won’t stand up for a cause. What it does mean is that you will be less likely to trigger resistance or a reaction in return. Your intervention in the situation, should you see that as necessary, will be much better received from even-mindedness than from an angry, finger-pointing attitude.
The equanimity of Upeksha allows us to see both the situation and ourselves in a balanced way. We often react with judgment because of our own similar past mistakes, or an event that happened to us in the past. When we stay in balance, we are able to sift through what is our “stuff” that is being triggered, and what is truly a problematic situation that requires a healthy response.
Occasionally, when we feel guilt about our own “unvirtuous” actions, we judge ourselves harshly. We may project this guilt outward onto others who have done similar things, as a way of trying to absolve ourselves of the guilt. Instead, we can practice compassion and forgiveness towards ourselves for the past, and try to see the one we judge with a bit of understanding and compassion for the error of their ways.
The next time you feel the tendency to judge “them” as bad or wrong – that righteous streak in you – step back into Upeksha. Find a place of even-mindedness, where you are undisturbed within and can perceive clearly the appropriate response. Seek your inner balance of equanimity, viewing life from a higher point of view – that we are all on a path of learning, have all made mistakes, and we all need guidance and understanding.