The heart is considered to be the seat of the mind. Yoga Sutra 3.35
The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali are considered the companion text to the practice of yoga asana (poses). There are 196 sutras, which translates from Sanskrit to mean threads or discourses. They have been passed down through the generations, at first orally and then at some point committed to written word. There are many interpretations available today and I have four in my own personal library.
As Valentine’s day approaches, I have been pondering what it is like to live a heart-centered life. My definition of what this looks like may be completely different from yours. But I think we can all agree that a life that has love at its core is one worth striving for. I decided to take a deep dive into Patanjali’s wisdom for some advice.
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. Yoga Sutra 1.33
Here is Patanjali’s wisdom on how to live a life that is heart-centered. He believed that living this way creates a mind that is more calm. As I mentioned above, these translations from ancient texts can be interpreted many ways. In general, this sutra describes four keys or attitudes to help us deal with others in a compassionate way.
The first is “attitudes of friendliness to the happy.” Is it a challenge for you to be happy when you see others leading a happy life? In this day of social media, it seems that everyone is happy. It’s human nature to want to show the world that life is good. We love to post pictures of brunch with girlfriends and pretty new shoes. We are less likely to post about the coffee that got spilled at that brunch or how you left your shoes out and the dog chewed them up. It’s easy to become jealous of all that is going right for those that are happy. Patanjali asks us to take a step back and notice how hard someone worked to have their success. Or how much sorrow that person went through earlier in life that they have now worked through. Happy people in general make other people happy. Make these happy people your friends.
The second key is “compassion for the unhappy.” Most of us encounter unhappy people, hopefully only occasionally. Rather than react to them with anger or ambivalence, is it possible to react with kindness? You never know what a kind word or two can do for someone else.
The third key is “delighting in the virtuous.” These are people that we should try to emulate rather than take down. What are they doing in their daily lives that you could emulate? Try to learn from their wisdom. Then do your best to celebrate the people that live an admirable life.
The fourth key is “disregard for the wicked.” There are going to be those that are beyond our help or compassion. The trick is to not allow their negative energy to bring you down to their level. And don’t bother trying to advise these people, they are not open to hearing you at this point in their lives. By not allowing them to disturb you, you are able to maintain your own peace.
So there it is, a heart-centered life broken down into four steps. Friendliness, compassion, delight and disregard. It seems simple enough. And amazing that it still holds true all these thousands of years later. Putting this into practice is not easy, and could actually be the challenge of a lifetime. The next time you find yourself reacting in your old pattern of criticism or negativity, I hope you catch yourself and remember these heart-centered keys.