Goodwill For Yourself And Others
One of my primary roles as a trainer of Yoga teachers is to counsel people who are coming up against negative emotions or opinions towards others.
When someone has a strong negative reaction to another person, I often lead the person toward examining the situation from an internal perspective, and ask them to see what in them is causing their reaction. This is a common process, and one that many people are not used to, so I often find myself saying, “What you think about others is what you think about yourself.” This approach is a paradigm shift for many people, and because of this, I am often asked to explain the concept in greater detail.
Let’s use a situation that happens fairly often in the average corporate workplace to exemplify the point. A newly promoted middle manager struts into his office and tells his assistant, “Fetch me some fresh squeezed juice from the cafeteria.” Not only does he bark the command, he ends the dialogue by saying, “and make it snappy.”
When faced with overhearing this situation, many of us would think that the boss is a rude, arrogant person who has no consideration for his assistant’s feelings. The tendency would be to gossip about how we thought the boss was a nice guy, but now that he has experienced some power, we see that he has an egotistical mean streak. We view the situation without compassion, or a thought for our own reaction in the process. Group mentality encourages this behavior and feeds the external judging process. In this space, we forget that there is another way to view the situation, one where an internal process and paradigm shift can begin to happen.
In this particular situational example, when we judge the new boss, we become exactly like him. Judging itself is a rude and arrogant process that is fed by a form of egoism. If an emotional xray could be shot and viewed of the judgers, everyone would show a similar imbalance. The boss’ x-ray would indicate arrogance and self-righteousness, and the judgers x-ray would show an ego-centric form of judgmental behavior (also a form of self-righteousness).
In this case, all parties involved are cursed by self-righteousness. Fortunately, there are better ways to respond to the negative behaviors that we witness in the world. Let’s consider the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter Twelve, on Love, Verses 18-19: “That devotee who looks upon friend and foe with equal regard, who is not buoyed up by praise nor cast down by blame, alike in heat and cold, pleasure and pain, free from selfish attachments, the same in honor and dishonor, quiet, ever full, in harmony everywhere, firm in faith—such a one is dear to me.” (Translation by Easwaran.)
The same situation we talked about above, when viewed from with this perspective can be a very different experience. Perhaps one could even find compassion for the new boss’ pain, and see it as the reason for his rudeness. In this way, a balanced and loving person feels only compassion in the face of rudeness. This person would be practicing an internal locust of control. Simply put, a centered person remains in control of his or her reactions to situations by using only virtues to define life. No matter what happens, the centered person remains completely within him/herself.
As soon as a reaction is allowed to be negative, the negative feeling ensues and all centeredness is lost. By maintaining a spiritual approach to all situations, life will appear as one big school of situations, all of which have the potential to deepen spiritual awareness.
Many people’s immediate reaction to hearing that “How we feel about others is a reflection of how we feel about ourselves,” is to resist the notion, and start pointing fingers back out at the world. This idea of the external world being responsible for our problems is deeply ingrained in our culture. With some time and honest self-examination, you will see how incorrect the notion of external problems really is. Don’t take my word for it, just play witness to yourself in your daily interactions and notice what happens in situations where you have a choice to react negatively, positively, or neutrally, and see what happens to your psyche based on those choices.
Yoga as a practice is designed to steep practitioners in spiritual awareness, and lead them to states of mind that are immune to stress. It can be easy to find this awareness while we are in classes or in our spiritual sangha, but the real challenge is to take that compassionate awareness out into the world at large. View the world from an interior position of virtue, and by default your actions will be full of goodwill for your self and others.