How would you like to be unconditionally loved, just as you are, without having to be or do anything special? What would it be like to feel truly, completely, radically accepted, with out feeling as though you had to hide or deny or apologize for any aspect of yourself?
All of us crave this kind of love and acceptance, but few can honestly say we offer ourselves such unconditional regard. The trouble is, if we cannot love and accept ourselves just as we are, we will find it difficult to truly love anyone else in such a limitless, unconditional way. And, perhaps even more unsettling to contemplate, if we are fortunate enough to find someone who accepts and loves us unconditionally, how can we be open to receiving that love from someone else if we haven’t fully accepted ourselves?
Unconditional love becomes possible when you practice cultivating the four states of mind known as the brahmaviharas. Collectively, these four qualities of friendliness or lovingkindness (metta), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha) are the qualities of true, authentic, and unconditional love. Both Patanjali, the Indian sage who compiled the Yoga Sutras in the second century BCE, and the Buddha taught the importance of cultivating these four states of mind.
“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.” ~ Swami Satchidanada (1914-2002) (translation of Yoga Sutra 1.33)
“Consciousness settles as one radiates friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity toward all things, whether pleasant, unpleasant, good or bad.” ~ Chip Hartranft (translation of Yoga Sutra 1.33)
Stachidananda says that these qualities are the four keys to establishing the mind in serenity.
Cultivating these states of mind is a way of restraining or reversing what Patanjali calls vikshepa, the tendency of the mind to be distracted and outwardly directed. Patanjali tells us that when we react haphazardly or callously to what people do around us, inner disturbance is the result. These four attitudes combat that disturbance and bring us closer to a state of balanced equilibrium.
For example, in everyday life when we see happy people, cultivating a friendly attitude toward them will help forestall feelings of jealousy and envy. When we encounter those who are suffering, we should compassionately do what we can to help – for our own sake as much as for the person who is suffering. And finally, when we are faced with those we deem non-virtuous, the classical yoga tradition teaches that we should strive to have an indifferent attitude towards them. Often, we indulge in judging and criticizing those who we feel are misguided. This hardly helps keep a serene state of mind! Commentators in the classical yoga tradition point out that the yogi should not divert attention from his or her own practice in order to try to reform those who are unlikely to heed advice. As Satchidananda points out, “If you try to advise them, you will loose your peace.”
Reference: Yoga Journal 2010