Compassion for the Unhappy. | rejoyce letters, vol. 48

Hi Friend, 

One of my favorite yoga sutras is what I think of as the four locks, four keys 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.

In Sri Swami Satchidananda's translation and commentary in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjalihe goes on to say that even if you plan to ignore Yoga entirely, remember at least this sutra. :)

He calls these the four locks of the world: happy people, unhappy people, virtuous people, and wicked people.

And the four keys to keep your peace of mind when you encounter them: friendliness, compassion, delight, and disregard. 

[Note: some translations say "equanimity" instead of disregard, and "non-virtuous" instead of wicked.]

Learning this framework has certainly made me realize how strangely difficult it is for us to simply be friendly toward happy people—it's often easier to judge or resent happy people, it seems—but today I want to explore what I think of as a slightly more difficult lock: unhappy people.

Personally, I find I can have compassion toward an unhappy person up to a point but then I hit my limit, so to speak, where I feel that the person needs to do something other than complain about their current situation. It becomes challenging for me to show compassion when I feel like the unhappy person is (at least partially) culpable for their own unhappiness, and that if only they'd take responsibility and make some life changes, the very things they're unhappy about could change and their lives would improve.

When we were discussing this sutra during teacher training, I told that to my yoga teacher and I was blown away by her answer. She started by saying:

Well, that's not compassion. That's judgement. 

Which felt like a punch in the gut, and also a helpful label. A lot of us are trained to be "problem solvers" for others—but calling the habit judgement struck me. It's true. If you walk around saying: "Why doesn't he just do X, then he'll get Y." You are judging him for not doing X. You are in a state of judgement. You are dressing it up, of course. Pretending you are a smart, solution-oriented, helpful problem solver, but really you're just judging. And, as the adage goes, when you judge people, you have no time to love them.

My teacher then went on to say:

You would have to know an immense amount about this unhappy person to truly know what's best for them. Do you know everything about their inner life? Their childhood wounds? What they might be secretly working through right now unbeknownst to you? Do you even know every detail of their current predicament of which their complaining? Probably not. So to even claim you know exactly what they should do is a bold claim, bordering on arrogant. 

To boldly say, "I know what's best for him." or "I know what's best for her." usually takes a certain level of self-delusion. How often do you feel like you don't even know what's best for yourself? Yet, you're positing to be an expert on someone else's life.

But let's just say—MAYBE, and it's a long shot—you do know exactly what this unhappy person should do to stop their current suffering. That is, you are offering sound advice. Well, how can you be 100% sure that taking that action right now is actually what they most need? Humble yourself. Maybe more suffering is exactly what this person needs right now in order to awaken to the answer within them.

This can be so hard to accept, because I'd guess most of us have unhappy people in our life whom we deeply love, so to accept that maybe this person I love needs to suffer more in order to wake up is no small feat of acceptance. And yet, consider the story of the lotus. In order for the lotus flower to bloom, it needs to grow in mud. The deeper and thicker the mud, the more beautiful the bloom. Sometimes, I remind myself when I'm suffering: No mud, no lotus. But how hard it can be to watch loved ones stuck in "the mud"—we want to yank them out. But yanking them out does not help them bloom. It could, in fact, do the opposite; it could delay their growth.

My teacher finished by saying:

The only true way to help someone else is to empower them to help themselves. You don't empower people by throwing answers at them or by solving problems for them. You empower people by loving them. Holding space for them, allowing them to be seen and heard. When people are seen and heard, they can get in touch with the answers and clarity that already live within them.

I wanted to share her answer with you today, because it's stuck with me for so long. As you face each of these locks in your life—happy people, unhappy people, virtuous people, and wicked people—know that the keys are already within you. And maybecompassion is what unhappy people need, not elaborate solutions. And remember what Jack Kornfield reminds us about compassion:

"If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete."

with Love and with Light,


p.s. Rumi says, "Close the language-door and open the love-window." There are many interpretations as to what this means, but I consider it a gentle reminder that compassion for others doesn't always involve tons of talking. "Close the language-door" might be the most poetic way ever of saying, "Shut your mouth." (: