Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Unconditional Friendliness

Last week I was away on a one-week Thanksgiving vacation with immediate and extended family members. We stayed at an all-inclusive resort. Our every need was attended to by a large staff of cheerful servants: waiters, babysitters, bartenders, cooks, housekeeping staff and even entertainment specialists. I was struck by the consistently warm, joyful and friendly attitude of these workers. The resort welcomes guests from all over the world, from different cultures and with differing preferences and needs. I was impressed by how unfailingly accommodating the staff was to the various types of people they served.

Lounging by the pool, I read part of a book by Pema Chodron. When I read her explanation of the Sanskrit word, maitri, I looked up from my book at the waiters strolling around the pool area. I then re-read this bit, “The word for loving-kindness in Sanskrit is maitri. Maitri is also translated as unconditional friendliness.” I thought to myself, “the staff at this resort excels in displaying unconditional friendliness to every guest who is here.” It was a perfect example of how I could immediately apply the concept of Maitri in my own life; what if I could do the same for myself and the people I am supposed to serve? I decided to work towards unconditional friendliness to my extended family members during the trip and this holiday season, as well as unconditional friendliness to myself during the stressful moments of travel and holiday preparation. I don’t expect to change all of my reactions and develop a new personality overnight just because I set a new Holiday Maitri goal, but keeping it in my mind as a theme this season feels right.

The concept of Maitri is present in Yoga philosophy as well as in Buddhist and Hindu teachings. I thought about unconditional friendliness in my yoga practice and my relationship with myself. My practice is where I work on developing Maitri, in asana and especially in meditation. I did water aerobics and Zumba on vacation. I also practiced yoga in my room. What made the yoga different from the other two activities was the practice of connecting with myself, and working on that relationship. This is what sets yoga apart from other physical pursuits. On this vacation, I had to apply the concept of Maitri when I realized my muscles were loose after a massage and a mid-day cocktail; the practice felt very different. I would normally never have a drink before yoga, and I rarely treat myself to a massage. Both of those things change the state of the mind/body, so I couldn’t do certain postures the way I normally like them. I did not freak out and get off the mat. I just found other postures to practice and took more time in savasana.

Every time we practice is like that—we are experiencing different states in our minds and bodies, accommodating different types of guests: high or low energy, up and down emotions, aches and pains, good or bad digestion. It all affects our practice, both physical and mental. When we can accept all of it with unconditional friendliness, going with the flow instead of resisting our experience, we are practicing Maitri with ourselves.  Gradually this makes it easier to practice Maitri with other people. We don’t have to judge our experiences in our practice as good or bad—we can simply accept it all and keep on breathing, moving or sitting. No need to freak out or stop. We can learn to live that way, too. I tried it on the airplane on the way home. We had 30 minutes of uninterrupted turbulence. It was scary. I felt nauseous. I didn’t resist those feelings. I closed my eyes and breathed into those sensations, fear and nausea, and said to myself, “of course you are frightened. Of course you feel sick,” and comforted myself that way.

Whether or not you choose “Maitri to All and to All a Good Night” as a theme for your Holiday Season, at least try it out on your yoga mat. When you feel tight, when you feel unbalanced, or scattered, or hungover from holiday parties, or perhaps you'll even feel happy and giddy some days: instead of resisting the experience, accept it with unconditional friendliness. “Of course I feel tight, but I will breathe into it.” Welcome each passing sensation with Maitri, and as the poet Rumi wrote, remember that “this being human is a guest house.” That attitude removes a lot of stress from the holidays and from all of our everyday experiences. 


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi,
    translation by Coleman Barks

No comments:

Post a Comment