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Dealing with Negative/Toxic People According to Yoga

Yoga teaches us not to react to the actions of others, but to remain in balance and calmness of mind with all people. However, in the yoga sutras, we are encouraged to adopt certain attitudes towards certain people. As imperfect, not yet enlightened human beings, we don't always naturally keep a calm and yogi non-reactive attitude. So here in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, we are given a bit of guidance.

Yoga Sutras 1.33:

"maitri karuna mudita upeksanam sukha duhkha punya apunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam"

This roughly translates to: "By cultivating attitudes of friendship towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and equanimity towards the non-virtuous, the consciousness retains its undisturbed calmness."

This sutra states that we should cultivate an attitude of friendliness towards those who are happy, and delight towards those who are virtuous. But that's not so difficult, is it? That part seems pretty natural.

As over givers, however, we tend to draw into our lives some unhappy and non-virtuous people, who would like to benefit from our over giving tendencies. The same sutra also states that we should cultivate an attitude of compassion for the unhappy, and equanimity for the non-virtuous. And that's where the challenge lies.

Now, what exactly does that mean?

I suppose we first need to decide whether the person in our lives is in the 'duhkha' category (unhappy, suffering, dissatisfied, anxiety), and in need of compassion, or in the 'apunya' category (wicked, non-virtuous, lacking merit), and requiring an attitude of equanimity. Equanimity is a non-reaction, or sameness in attitude, regardless of another person's actions, or almost an emotional pulling away.

If you're not sure which category a relationship falls under, I would say to start with an attitude of compassion, and eventually move towards equanimity if necessary.

Attitude of Compassion

If someone has a very low level of consciousness, this is evident in their negative mindset. In this case, we can practice taking on an attitude of compassion. How to do that?

  1. Listen to their negativity, but do not suffer along with them. Instead, observe, accept, and analyze why they are behaving in that way. Try to understand why they are behaving in that way, perhaps something happened to them in their past.

  2. Give them the freedom to BE. Don't try to change them into what you think they should be, but just accept them as they are. This is easier said than done, and takes a lot of practice and determination not to want to control, and just to accept the situation.

  3. Be a light and encouragement to those who are suffering. See them as already whole, healthy, and complete. Treat them as they are, and allow them to rise to that level.

Yoga and Meditation are practices that can help to calm the mind, and to practice these things on a physical level. By observing the body in yoga, accepting your own current state, breathing, and in meditation observing the sensations of the body, this is practice for doing the same in a live situation. Yoga and meditation calm the mind, and when the mind is calm, it is easier to analyze, and to accept. An agitated mind cannot forgive. Compassion goes beyond the negativity of others.

But what if this isn't working? What if you practice observing, accepting, allowing them to be, and seeing them as a happy and healthy being, yet they continue with their negative or toxic ways?

Just do what you can do for now. Practice letting go, forgiving, staying strong, breathing, and being. And always remember, this is about you and your own practice of your own attitude. It's not about anyone else. Because you can only control your own mind and your own reactions, not anyone else's.

Attitude of Equanimity

If the negativity from another person is taken to the next level, and your attitude of compassion continues to have no impact, and maybe even is putting you in harm's way, then it is time to adopt an attitude of equanimity. This is the last category of person that this yoga sutra speaks about, the wicked, non-virtuous, or those lacking merit. It is an even lower level of consciousness than the unhappy and suffering individual.

In this case, it is best to slowly back away. Just as before, observe, accept, and analyze, but we should also remain equanimous in ourselves, not offer any reactions to that person, and not engage emotionally. We must release the burden of expectations. Expecting someone to change, appreciate our help, or any other expectation is a cause of suffering. We must release that.

If someone causes us harm, yoga teaches that we must protect ourselves. We must then move away from, and create a physical distance from the people who harm us again and again. If that is not possible, emotional distancing is even more important. We must not allow ourselves to be the victim. We must learn to equip ourselves to be strong and centred, and eventually move physically away from that person. It is when you become angry and desperate as a victim, that you suffer more.

Practice this attitude of equanimity through yoga and meditation.

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