Given this time of holiday cheer, we usually find ourselves visiting our families or hanging out with friends more than normal. If you are anything like me, being with family can bring up old issues and minor irritations. I’m pretty good at letting things go and using my yogic practices to ward off judgment. But there are times when, for instance, your Uncle Lester just won’t stop talking. Or in my family, I often get triggered by well-meaning, bothersome patterns.
My mom is very loving and I adore her. But I still get activated sometimes when she tries to suggest things or take care of me without my asking for help. I go back into my pattern of isolation because I feel smothered. Clearly that’s my issue and no matter how much I work on myself, I tend to fall into that old habit. Or it could be something my dad says. He tends to be prickly on the outside but a sweet, mush ball on the inside. He is a very loving and generous man. But I still get activated sometimes when he uses judgmental language and a harsh tone. Even though I practice yoga, I still get activated. It happens. What’s different now after many years of practice, is that I can more fully witness my patterns without getting caught in them for too long.
In terms of the Holidays and the practice of gratitude, it can be really difficult to feel authentic gratitude when you’re with the people you love most. How do you manage your relationships and your reactions to family and/or friends? This is a great contemplation worthy of your attention.
Ancient Meditation Practice (with a few personal twists)
I want to share an ancient meditation practice with you first created by the Buddhists, and then later described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: The Brahma Viharas (Four Celestial Abodes). However, I’ve added a few additional twists that I feel make it even more relatable to modern times!
- Come to a comfortable sitting or reclining position. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Be sure you empty all of your breath on the exhalation which will prepare you to take a full inhalation.
- Repeat the mantra, “Maitri” silently a few times in a very relaxed way. Reflect on the meaning of the term. Maitri is Sanskrit for the virtue of friendliness. The classical practice is to offer friendliness to all those who are happy.
- Now repeat the mantra, “Karuna” silently a few times in a very relaxed way. Reflect on the meaning of the term. Karuna is Sanskrit for compassion. The classical practice is to offer compassion to all those who are unhappy.
- Now repeat the mantra, “Mudita” silently a few times in a very relaxed way. Reflect on the meaning of the term. Mudita is Sanskrit for joy. The classical practice is to offer joy to all those who are virtuous.
- Now repeat the mantra, “Upekshanam” silently a few times in a very relaxed way. Reflect on the meaning of the term. Upekshanam is Sanskrit for equanimity. The classical practice is to offer equanimity and space to all those who are difficult for you to be with.
- Now repeat the meditation, but this time offer the Four Celestial Abodes to your own self.
- Repeat the mantra, “Maitri” silently a few times in a very relaxed way. Offer yourself friendliness. See if you can befriend yourself. For all of those times you put yourself out of your heart or if you’ve been overly critical or hard on yourself, try to become a friend to yourself with a warm and open heart.
- Now repeat the mantra, “Karuna” silently a few times in a very relaxed way. Offer yourself compassion. Recognize your own degree of suffering and let your compassion surround you like the soft soothing water of healing that it is. Let your heart rest in the warmth of your own compassion for yourself. Can you give that to yourself?
- Now repeat the mantra, “Mudita” silently a few times in a very relaxed way. Offer joy to your virtuous self, your deeper intention to do good things in the world, to uplift others, to bring your best self forward. Offer yourself joy for all of the ways you’ve been virtuous.
- Now repeat the mantra, “Upekshanam” silently a few times in a very relaxed way. Offer yourself space for the difficult parts of yourself, the areas of your being that are less-evolved or under-developed. Surround yourself in a nonjudgmental light for your limitations, failures, and unintentional meanness sometimes. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt and see if you can forgive yourself. Let it be okay that you did what you did, that you said what you said. Try to love yourself without shaming yourself. Practice, as much as you can, giving yourself space for operating below your standards.
- Now simply allow yourself to sit quietly and float. Listen intently to your heart. Allow you to be befriended, receive compassion, joy, and spaciousness from you.
- After a minute or two of silence, open your eyes.
I’ve found this practice to be amazingly powerful in re-establishing a loving connection within myself. Whenever I feel vulnerable, hurt by someone else, or critical, I like to bring it all back to my relationship with myself. You will only be able to relate to others at the depth of connection you have with yourself. Cultivating friendliness and compassion for yourself, is the prerequisite for offering that to others.