Think Inside the Box

Yeah, I know. The saying is “Think Outside the Box.” But sometimes, you need to turn things inside out and take a look inside because what you think is going on around you isn’t what it appears to be. Huh?

Let’s back up a bit. I am now home. This marked my biggest stretch of time away from home since going out on tour with Noah. I was gone for two solid months, a bit more. The last time I was home was for only a few days in mid-March when we came back for Noah’s state exams. He was in testing and I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get a months’ worth of appointments crammed into four days’ time.

So now we are home for a couple of weeks. Although I still have tons of appointments and organizing to do (including opening mail, sorting files, paying bills, etc.) this time at home also includes time for introspection. It’s necessary. It’s about time. You see, living on the road leaves little time for contemplation of any kind. My meditation practice has been kicked to the curb, I hardly have time for an asana practice anymore and I feel lost in the shuffle of an odd sort of reality show.

It’s like living in a traveling college dorm. You live, eat, travel, work, exercise, and socialize with the same people for months on end. You grow to understand each other and know each other – sometimes a bit too well and sometimes not really at all. The “not really at all” part is when things tend to go awry in a social experiment like a touring musical. You see, rumors can run rampant and people often get sucked into believing things about their travel mates that can be, well, let’s say not nice and untrue. Usually I just try to be the best mother I can be to my son and stay away from the fray. It can be isolating at times but mostly, it feels safe. Most of the people I live with do not know me very well. With this said, I can say I have some tried and true tour friends – some people I hope will be my friends for life. They are good, kind and honest people – people I know I could go to for any kind of help. But in order to really know me, or anyone you live with, you have to look inside the box and not just at what’s going on outside. This means forming your own opinions of people and not listening to what others may say. It seems easy but it isn’t. It’s hard enough in the “real world” when you go to work every day and come home to the sanctity of your own home and family. It’s even harder on tour.

Yesterday I enjoyed something I haven’t had time for in a while: reflection. I delved into my Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, an ancient and brilliant sage. For those of you unfamiliar with the Sutras, they are a collection (sutra can be translated to mean “thread”) of kick-ass advice on how to live a more compassionate and fulfilling life. I immediately gravitated to Sutra 1:33:

“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” – Sutra translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda.

The first three parts of this all-important sutra come easy to me but the last part is where I struggle. I’m going to paraphrase a couple of pages from Satchidananda’s book so you all can understand what I’m talking about here. After that, we’ll discuss and hopefully you will all weigh in as well.

           “Whether you are interested in reaching Samadhi (enlightenment) or plan to ignore yoga entirely, I would advise you to remember at least this one Sutra. In my own experience, this Sutra became my guiding light to keep my mind serene always. 

            Who would not like serenity of mind always? Who would not like to be happy always? Everyone wants that. So Patanjali gives four keys: friendliness, compassion, delight and disregard. There are only four kinds of locks in the world. Keep these four keys with you and when you come across any one of these four locks you will have the proper key to open it. What are these four locks? Sukha, duhka, punya and apunya – the happy people, unhappy people, the virtuous and the wicked. At any given moment, you can fit any person into one of these four categories.

            When you see a happy person, use the friendliness key. Why would Patanjali say this? Because even four thousand years ago there must have been people who were not happy at seeing others happy. It is still the same way. Suppose somebody drives up in a big car, parks in front of her huge palatial home and gets out. Some other people are standing on the pavement in the hot sun getting tired. How many of those people will be happy. Not many. They will be saying, “See that big car? She is sucking the blood of the laborers.” We come across people like that: they are always jealous. When a person gets name, fame or a higher position, they try to criticize that person. They will never admit that she might have gone up by her own merit. By that jealousy, you will not disturb her but you disturb your own serenity. She simply got out of her car and walked into the house, but you are burning up inside. Instead, think, “Oh, such a fortunate person. If everybody were like that how happy the world would be. May God bless everybody to have such comfort. I will also get that one day.” Make that person your friend. That response is missed in many cases, not only between individuals but even among nations.

            And what of the next lock, the unhappy people? We should have compassion. If you can lend a helping hand, do it. If you can share half of your loaf, share it. Be merciful always. Remember, our goal is to keep the serenity of our minds. Whether our mercy is going to help that person or not, by our feeling of mercy, at least we are helped.

            Then comes the third kind, the virtuous people. When you see a virtuous man, feel delighted. “Oh, how great he is.” Don’t envy him; don’t try to pull him down. Appreciate the virtuous qualities in him and try to cultivate them in your own life.

            And, lastly, the wicked. We come across wicked people sometimes. We can’t deny that. So what should be our attitude? Indifference. Don’t try to advise wicked people because wicked people seldom take advice. If you try to advise them you will lose your peace. I remember a small story from the Pancha Tantra which I was told as a small child.

            One rainy day, a monkey was sitting on a tree branch getting completely drenched. Right opposite on another branch of the same tree there was a small sparrow sitting in its hanging nest. Normally a sparrow builds its nest on the edge of a branch so it can hang down and swing around gently in the breeze…it was warm and cozy inside its nest and the sparrow just peeped out and, seeing the poor monkey, said ‘Oh, my dear friend, I am so small; I don’t even have hands like you, only a small beak. But with only that I built a nice house, expecting this rainy day. Even if the rain continues for days and days, I will be warm inside. I heard Darwin saying that you are the forefather of the human beings, so why don’t you use your brain? Build a nice, small hut somewhere to protect yourself during the rain.’ You should have seen the face of that monkey. It was terrible! ‘Oh, you little devil! How dare you try to advise me? Because you are warm and cozy in your nest you are teasing me. Wait, you will see where you are!’ The monkey proceeded to tear the nest to pieces, and the poor bird had to fly out and get drenched like the monkey.

            This is a story I was told when I was quite young and I still remember it. Sometimes we come across such monkeys, and if you advise them they take it as an insult. They think you are proud of your position. If you sense even a little of that tendency in somebody, stay away.

            So have these four attitudes: friendliness, compassion, gladness and indifference. These four keys should always be with you in your pocket. If you use the right key with the right person you will retain your peace. Nothing in the world can upset you then.

Okay, discuss or think…but take it all in.

I am sure that some of you who know me personally might be thinking, she wrote this about me. If so, check the egos with your baggage and get real. I am writing about me and you and everyone who is human. And remember, the sage Patanjali said the words above, oh, about 4,000 years ago. This means that WE, as human beings, have not changed much in thousands of years. We have the same issues, the same problems, the same struggles that our ancestors had. The reason I brought up my current situation (being on tour) is because living in a bubble gives me a unique perspective. Once I stepped out of the bubble, it became much clearer to see where my own struggles lie. It’s also evident that Sutra 1:33 can be applied to everybody and every life circumstance in some way, shape or form. It’s like taking a good, hard look in the mirror and then placing the same mirror in front of everyone you live and associate with. Most of us can relate to one or more of the four character types outlined in Sutra 1:33. Maybe you’ve even associated with all of them at some point or another in your life, as life is constantly changing.

We have ALL also encountered happy, unhappy, virtuous and wicked people and have probably handled these folks quite differently depending on our world views and life experiences. Again, for me, the toughest type to deal with is the fourth. Wicked is a pretty strong word, I know. But it was not my word choice, it was Satchidananda’s. And, wicked, as I interpreted it through my readings of various Sutra translations over the years, doesn’t have to mean wicked as in “Wicked Witch of the East.” Sometimes it’s difficult to see “wicked” on the surface and again, this is why we need to look “inside” the box.

Patanjali says there are four keys. My struggle, again, lies in finding and accessing the key to number four. You see, it’s hard for me to be “indifferent.” Usually I internalize things for a while and take everything personally. Slowly, I am learning to let go and go about my own business. I know I need to try harder still just to disregard and ignore these types of people. If I can do this successfully, anyone with a wicked nature can’t affect or hurt me. Again, this fuels my resolve to work towards letting go through yoga, meditation, breath work and whatever other means are useful to me.

What keys are challenging for you? Have you taken a good hard look in the mirror lately? What type of person do you see: happy, unhappy, virtuous or wicked or a combination of more than one? How do you best deal with each of these types of people? Do you hold the keys?

Life is not easy. The best we can do is be friendly to the happy, compassionate to the unhappy, delighted for the virtuous and indifferent to the wicked. Amen Patanjali.

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Categories: Etcetera, get real, On the Road, Philosophy, That's Life!, Travel, Truth, Writing, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Think Inside the Box

  1. Diane Lagadec

    Robyn, …..and I still remember the first Sutra class that you came to!! This is wonderful writing. You should submit to Yoga International for publication! Enjoy your time at home. It must feel like gold! Namaste and Love! Diane

    • Thanks Diane. This means a lot coming from you — who I will always consider my mentor and yoga teacher! I hope to see you soon!

  2. Peggy

    I find that I miss learning with you more and more. It is easy to lose sight of these teachings in the daily routine of life. It is time for me to return to Patanjali and all the other great teachers you introduced me to. I hope you are well.

    • Thanks Peggy! When I am back maybe I will start a yoga class/study group. It would be fun. I miss learning from you too. Hope to see you soon 🙂

  3. Auntie Laney

    Hi Robyn, a lot to think about there. Many philosophers have said very similar words through the centuries. I agree with the concept. Miss you. Love ya, Auntie Laney

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