4 Yogi Principles to help us through Aggravating Family Gatherings.

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I don’t know about you, but when I return home to spend time with family, my brain returns to pre-teen status.

Parts of my conscious practice never seem to make it into my luggage, and I struggle to find the tools to relate to family in a healthy way. Thankfully, long ago, Sage Patanjali brought us the Yoga Sutras (in approximately 400 C.E.), which describe practices to calm the waves of the mind. He outlined four ways of relating to others that I find especially helpful for keeping my mind calm, sane, and healthy during the holidays.

Maitri: Friendship

Let’s start with the easy one: those cousins you can’t wait to see, the childhood friends that still make you laugh, those relationships that are filled with mutual joy and respect. Easy-peasy. Enjoy.

Karuna: Compassion

That person who is annoying the crap out of you? They’re probably suffering. Yeah, see how I turned that around? When we stop avoiding and extend an ear of compassion, when we listen deeply, we develop the capacity to heal ourselves and others. When you want to turn away, try looking deeper instead. On a personal note, I struggle here with certain people who tend to repeat their sorrows. So I can also attest that when they are fully listened to (sans eye-rolling), the story starts to evolve and I stop feeling like the Grinch trying to steal their word pudding.

Mudhita: Appreciation

There may be someone at your holiday table who has achieved all your childhood dreams, while you’re struggling to pay rent and are obsessing over online dating profiles. Oooh, the envy can be almost as green as the Jell-O mold. Here’s another option: appreciate them. The phrase “there’s only so much room at the top” is completely bogus. They haven’t stolen anything from you and, deep in your heart, wouldn’t you wish them success? Put on your grown-up pant(ie)s and congratulate them; exhale and join them in their happiness.

Upeksha: Loving Indifference

And here’s the juicy (i.e. “really freaking difficult”) one. The practice of upeksha likely applies when we encounter those uncles and aunts with narrow perspectives, harmful actions, and abusive histories. Upeksha means silently chanting, “I love you and I am choosing not to engage with you.” We’ve all learned special ways of escaping these people—or their bodies, anyway—but can we do it without hatred? In other words, can we disengage without causing our own suffering?

Learning upeksha is a powerful practice. It requires us to stay open-hearted in the midst of repugnancy, and calm-bodied in response to painful perspectives. It doesn’t mean that you put your own body in harm’s way, or that you stay in a situation that is dangerous. It does mean that when you walk away, you do it with a loving heart toward yourself and, if possible, toward them.

Bring a cheat sheet, laminate it, and stick it in your pocket. Keep your heart open and choose wisely. Let me know how it goes; we can compare notes on January 2nd.

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Bonus:

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Author: Shankari Kate Sadowsky
Image: Sheri Jo/Flickr; YouTube
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Caitlin Oriel

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Shankari Kate Sadowsky

Shankari Kate Sadowsky, MA, CMP is an Ayurvedic Practitioner in Berkeley, CA at BijaAyurveda.com. She has a Masters Degree in Holistic Health Education and Ayurveda Clinical Medicine. She is a lover of chai, squirrels, early mornings, and tickle fights. She dreams of having an early morning tickle fight with a squirrel while drinking chai.

Ashlee Ray Dec 30, 2017 3:45pm

I loved every word! I have just recently experienced some interesting emotions visiting with the in-laws over Christmas. I needed this article. Thank you for such a beautiful reminder. Tears roll down my cheeks as I can find closure. From my heart to yours, love. Thank you sister.

Kate Shankari Sadowsky Dec 23, 2017 3:52pm

Linda, thank you so much for sharing this! There is a beautiful interplay between Sanskrit and Pali, and the teachings coming from the different traditions. The unfolding teachings of maitri in buddhadharma are close to my heart as well. This article is undoubedtly a very small snapshot of the depths of each of these teachings and I am grateful to you for the heartfelt wisdom and deeper dive down into their fullness and limitlessness. And yes, laughter and/or distraction can both be medicinal components as well!

Linda Lewis Dec 22, 2017 3:08pm

Love the title's initial photo! had no idea it would turn into an article on what is called the Four Limitless Ones (or the Four Immeasurables) in the buddhadharma. It was a fun surprise. The main difference between the yoga sutras and the budhadharma is that the four in the buddhadharma are permeated with the understanding of selflessness. This makes it so much more easy to practice all three. Instead of loving kindness (maitri) directed just to those confirming one's ego via "selfies", the loving kindness can be directed to "someone elsies"--who may have entirely different views. Compassion (karuna) can be extended to everyone. There is so much suffering in the world. The more that we are aware, the more suffering we are aware of. It is challenging to stay open, but knowing that you and everyone is mortal, impermanent, and vulnerable softens the heart and prevents holding back when one has the oportunity to give. What you called "appreciation", a lovely term, in the buddhadharma is called "rejoicing in the virtues of others". So that type A achiever may or may not merit more ego confirmation or appreciation, unless they have been involved in virtuous activity. Self agrandizement does not count. The fourth, (upaseka) in the buddhadharma is translated as equanimity. If you can manifest equanimity toward everyone you encounter and are not rattled by anyone, you are able to put all Four Limitless Ones into daily practice. But it is a practice; and we learn each time we fail. On the lighter side of things, and in the spirit of your title's photo and suggestion of a holiday conversational crib sheet, when an uncle brings up an uncomfortable political comment at the dinner table, quickly show a photo of your dog or cat or child doing something adorable/silly/astonishing; when a drunk work colleague gets belligerent at the office party and threatens to "tell the boss off right to his face" say, "Hey, you'll wanna see this!" and show him the photo of dog/cat/child doing something adorable/silly/astonishing!