Q: The national news is full of stories about hatred and divisiveness. The loud chorus of angry, judgmental voices proclaiming their aversion toward others is beginning to destroy my mental balance and seep into my mind during meditation. What can I do to protect myself and my ability to concentrate?
A: The mind is serene and crystal clear by nature. It is the means through which we come to know ourselves and the whole world, both within and without. But when impurities seep into the mind, it becomes oblivious of its own brilliance and serenity. Propelled by these impurities, it runs ceaselessly and purposelessly from one object to another, exhausting itself in the process.
Unless we remove the impurities, none of the techniques designed to make the mind calm and one-pointed will have much effect. According to the great sage Patanjali, the feeling of animosity is one of the most potent of all mental impurities. The Yoga Sutra tells us that the feeling of animosity is vyadhi, a mental disease powerful enough to disturb the natural balance of the mind. If this disease is not cured in a timely manner, the mind becomes dull and negative. It loses the capacity to think clearly and falls prey to doubt and confusion.
Cultivating maitri is a contemplative process.
The causes of animosity are all around us—they have been passed on from generation to generation and, as you point out, are manifesting vividly in our society today. Your mind will be affected by this at the slightest opportunity until you begin to develop immunity to the disease of animosity.
The cure for animosity, as Yoga Sutra 1:33 tells us, is to cultivate an inner attitude of friendliness (maitri). In this context, “friendliness” is not confined to simply extending the hand of friendship to others. Rather it involves eliminating the underlying element of animosity that forces us to manufacture enemies in the external world. It involves transforming ourselves by eliminating violence and ill will (mi), and yoking our mind with the true power of protection—the positive thinking (tra) that lies at the core of friendliness (maitri). The cultivation of an attitude of friendliness and goodwill allows the mind to regain its serene, pristine state and command itself to become one-pointed and inward at will.
Cultivating an internal atmosphere of friendship is a multilayered practice. The first step is to nurture a friendly attitude toward those who are successful and happy. Why? Because a mind contaminated by animosity perceives successful people as enemies. We all want to be happy, but while trying to attain happiness we find ourselves surrounded by others striving for the same goal. At a subtle level, our insecurity leads us to believe that the fewer candidates for happiness there are, the greater our own chances of achieving it. When others succeed, even those we love, our own feelings of inadequacy give rise to jealousy, and that in turn engenders animosity.
Friendliness and animosity cannot co-exist.
This is why nurturing a friendly attitude toward those who are successful and happy is the first step in cleansing the mind of the fundamental toxin of animosity. This is a contemplative process. Examine your own circumstances and see how you are creating an internal atmosphere of animosity by envying the happiness of others. For example, if you find yourself entertaining negative thoughts about a neighbor who has started a successful business, try to find the source of those thoughts. Is the part of you that craves success trying to topple a competitor in the person of your successful neighbor by entertaining negative thoughts about him? Remind yourself that you are the first and foremost recipient of your own negativity and, further, that negativity undermines the brilliance and serenity of your mind. Cultivate a friendly attitude in your own mind toward that successful neighbor as well as in your behavior toward that person.
Friendliness and animosity cannot co-exist. When the mind attends a positive, peaceful thought, it becomes positive and peaceful. Actively practice friendliness toward others—beginning with people who are more successful than you are—and you will find that the atmosphere of animosity now pervading our national life will lose its power to affect the peaceful, inward flow of your mind during your meditation practice.