In Patanjali’s yoga sutra 2.33, it is advised that when bound by conjecture (vitarka-bādhane), one ought to cultivate the opposite (pratiprakṣa-bhāvanam).
It is laughably obvious advice–practice the opposite of what is inhibiting me? duh–and advice I need to be reminded of again and again.
The sutra is put in the context of the the moralish guidelines for living (yamas and niyamas) that constitute the first two of the “eight limbs” of popular yoga, but needn’t remain there (it is laughably obvious after all), and as a practice is easily brought into anyone’s daily life by examining our emotional life, seeing patterns, and developing “opposites” to counteract negativity.
To be clear: no emotion is invalid; its existence alone is all it needs to be valid. However, the degree to which it effects us, and its impact on our lives (and those around us), are to what we look to determine their negativity.
Not long ago, Erica Mathers’ An Argument Against Love, introduced me to Christopher Cobb’s Feelings Wheel. Beautiful, succinct, and while neither fully comprehensive or complete, is a perfect starting place.
For instance, if optimism is getting in the way of your happiness, leaving you perpetually fingers-crossed and waiting, just look to the opposite side of the wheel and see that remorse, reflection and introspection on suffering and how one’s own actions bring it about, is the starting point for curbing the excess optimism, and so too for whatever it is that isn’t working to encourage one’s own growth.
Yes, I did just suggest something that worked for me, though at the time I had no wheel handy. Sometimes we may need to investigate the negative. Whatever your issue, it will not happen in an instant, which is why it is cultivating the opposite, not presto-change-o it’s all suddenly fine.
The idea of cultivating the opposite is not exclusive to Patanjali or modern psychology. Jesus gave it a central role in his teachings, namely, to love one’s enemies.
“Enemy” and “love” are so opposite, their presence even in the same sentence seemingly creates a dissonance.
The category of ‘enemy’ is pervasive and almost impossible to break; once I’ve labeled someone as ‘enemy’, who they actually are, what they actually do/did/think is now somehow working against me, if mysteriously.
Mathers’ article is a great introduction to the complexities around love, but for dealing with “the enemy,” for loving, I offer a heavily abridged version of chapter five from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Strength to Love:
First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. … Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. … Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again. Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.
Second, we must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. …there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us, When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. … Then we love our enemies by realizing that they are not totally bad and that they are not beyond the reach of God’s redemptive love.
Third, we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding.
The meaning of love is not to be confused with some sentimental outpouring. Love is something much deeper than emotional bosh. [He discusses eros, philia and agape.] … Now we can see what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies.” We should be happy that he did not say, “Like your enemies.” It is almost impossible to like some people.
Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiples hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Returning hate for hate multiples hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says, “Love you enemies,” he is setting forth a profound an ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies–or else? The chain reaction of evil–hate getting hate, wars producing wars–must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
Another reason why we must love our enemies is that hate scars the soul and distorts the personality. … Hate is just as injurious to the person who hates. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity.
Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true. … Modern psychology recognizes what Jesus taught centuries ago: hate divides the personality and love in an amazing and inexorable way unites it.
A third reason why we should love our enemies is that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.
An even more basic reason why we are commanded to love …[it is] Through love that potentiality becomes actuality. We must love our enemies, because only by loving them can we know God and experience the beauty of his holiness.
Jesus is eternally right. History is replete with the bleached bones of nations that refused to listen to him [Jesus]. May we in the twentieth century hear and follow his words—before it is too late. May we solemnly realize that we shall never be true sons of our heavenly Father until we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Paul Morris has been practicing and studying meditation and yoga for a while, with varying intensity and even more various results. He can be contacted at [email protected]