Starting when we’re toddlers, we hear a million times that we should be kind. Have you ever asked yourself why?
In my yoga classes this week I’ve been talking about what’s known as theBramaviharas, the Four Immeasurables. According to this teaching, we learn to develop four attitudes in our interaction with others: loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity.
Loving kindness (maitri) is wanting others to experience joy. Easy-peasy when you think of people in your life that you like, right? You naturally want them to be happy.
Compassion (karuna) is wanting others to be free from suffering. When we see someone we care for hurting, karuna is the sensation of wanting to take that pain away from them. Not so hard to relate to that.
Appreciative joy (mudita) is taking enjoyment in the successes of others. This is being genuinely excited at your best friend’s work promotion. Maybe slightly trickier. This means being as happy as she is, without a shred of envy.
The last of the Four Immeasurables is Equanimity (upeksha). Here’s where it gets hairy. This is the practice of seeing all beings as equal and not holding some dear and others distant. Every being. Equal.
That means your mom, spouse, lover, child, beloved pet, the crossing guard you pass every morning, the mailman, the crazy next-door neighbor, the reckless driver that cut you off last week, the pain-in-the-ass boss, and that thief who stole your wallet on the train are all exactly the same.
Now, take the first three of the Immeasurables and show loving kindness, compassion, and appreciative joy toward all beings.
Wait, did I say show loving kindness to the thief that stole your wallet? Yes. Sounds crazy? That’s yoga.
The feelings that are easy to find when we think of those we love become more challenging when we think of people we are neutral about or totally dislike. And that makes it a practice. One that you can perform in word, thought or deed. Not just to your inner circle, but to everyone. Meaning, remember that lady you got into the argument with in the parking lot of Starbucks a month ago? Buy her a latte the next time you see her, as a practice.
So why would you want to be kind? Especially toward people you don’t think deserve it? When we make kindness a regular and deliberate act, the way that we view the world changes. Our own sense of happiness and well-being increases. Anger and resentment evaporates. Jealousy disappears. When we look at all beings as equal, we develop a feeling of interconnectedness with the world and a sense of belonging and peace within our hearts.