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Patanjali’s Locks and Keys

19873036648_c0b3d66137_zIn my house “Yoga” is an everyday word. One or all of us can be seen practicing or just playing as we work on a various posture. Even my 11-month old, Jewel, can be seen going from Downward Dog to Upward Dog multiple times a day. You get it, we are a Yoga family. It is a lifestyle;  a physical practice as well as deeper practices laid out within the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

My son will soon be seven years old and has recently taken an interest in doing more things around the house. As a single parent I welcome this delightful change! One thing he’s interested in doing is unlocking the front door while I unload the van. It is a big help, but sometimes he has a difficult time finding the right key or getting the right key to go in the lock properly. As an exercise in practicing with locks, I rounded up several household items with locks. I had the correct key for most of them. I let him practice inserting the key, turning it, and opening the door, drawer, or lid. How did I forget to teach my child this important skill? Eek! (Note to self: this is a great activity in kids Yoga classes too!) Then we labeled our front door key and the keys to other important items within our home. He said the hardest part was remembering which key to use. He gets frustrated easily and rather than persevering, he often wants to quit. I have been encouraging him to keep trying, and we have seen some improvement. During our lock and key practice, I heard him say, “It’s not working! Mommy, what if I have the right key but20066639471_3c41972d4b_z it’s not working?” I encouraged him to just keep trying. Maybe take it out and start over; try putting it in the other way; turn the key and the knob at the same time.

This got me thinking about Sutra 1.33 in The Yoga Sutras. You see, Patanjali gives us guidance on how to deal with relationships, people we encounter, in ways conducive to maintaining our personal peace. This Sutra says the following:
maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha duhkha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam
“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.”

This new interest in locks comes at an interesting time for us. We have both been experiencing issues with some relationships in our lives. My son has always had a hard time understanding why people are hateful or cruel, even in the face of the kindness he offers. He has witnessed this in my life and behavior as well. Recently he has begun acting cruel towards me, not like himself at all, for days on end. One day I asked him why he was being so mean to me, and his response was this: “Mommy, I get so tired. It is tiring always being nice to people and showing love, especially when they don’t show it back. I know I’m supposed to love whether people love me back, but I just get tired. I decided it’s easier to be mean and I like being lazy.” That’s when I realized I needed to revisit practicing the locks and keys in my own life, setting an example for my children. So during our lock and key practice, I talked to Alden about being happy and friendly towards those who are happy, versus say, being jealous. They don’t care if you are jealous, it only disturbs the one who is holding the jealousy. Then we talked about some people we know who are very unhappy (all the time), and how we should be 14983040973_d19eff8e59_zcompassionate towards them, offer help even. If they don’t want our help (or we can’t physically help them), then we practice feeling merciful towards them. When we see or know someone who is living a good life, being pure in thought, words, and deed, and striving to do what is right (I used the “Fruit of the Spirit” from Galations 5:22-23), we should be glad for them. Those are the people we want to uphold as an example and try to cultivate similar virtues in our own lives. When Alden was being “wicked” towards me for a few days, I had chosen to ignore him and give him his space rather than fight. He noticed I wasn’t giving him the attention he desired, which lent the perfect opportunity to tell him I was choosing not to offer correction or acknowledge his behavior because keeping myself calm and my behavior in check was more important than feeding his wickedness. This is what Patanjali says to do, be indifferent towards those who are wicked.

Swami Satchidananda summarizes this concept best so I will quote his commentary on 13093401363_9913518043_zSutra 1.33:
“Patanjali groups all individuals in these four ways: the happy, the unhappy, the virtuous, and the wicked. 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. Remember, our goal is to keep a serene mind (p. 57).”

My son likes to carry around a set of old keys. After our talk and practice with locks and keys that day, we decided to label his keys with friendliness, compassion, gladness, and indifference. I hope it helps him, and I may just do the same for myself (and the children in my Yoga classes!). We all need reminding. Sometimes we do all we can in a relationship and don’t understand why things aren’t working, why the person doesn’t see our kindness or receive our advice; maybe it is then we are employing the wrong key in the wrong lock.


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