Yoga to foster friendliness
WellBeing|WellBeing #196
Unconditional friendliness is the key to transforming your life, and it starts with the self. Harness the yogic concept of maitri to work towards conscious, radical acceptance of the self and invite more happiness into your life.
RACHAEL COOPES

As long as our orientation is toward perfection or success, we will never learn about unconditional friendship with ourselves, nor will we find compassion. ~ Pema Chödrön.

Unconditional friendship. Is there anything better? Those people who are there for you no matter what version of yourself you are. The ones who are your cheerleaders, supporting you in the good times and the bad, whether you are at your best or your worst. Those friends teach us so much about the power of limitless love; of what it’s like to be accepted, understood, acknowledged and supported as you are, warts and all. They bring a sense of steadiness, strength and peace that might otherwise be elusive in our lives. Without those friends around us, we may forget what unconditional love is, and inevitably end up feeling unworthy, unloved or like we have to be perfect in order to receive love.

If the friendship of others has the power to do that, imagine what showing unconditional friendship towards ourselves could do? Making friends with yourself is the key to transforming both your life and the lives of those around you. And it starts with the yogic concept of maitri.

At its heart, maitri is friendliness. From the perspective of Buddhism, maitri (or metta) is recognised as friendliness, benevolence, loving-kindness, amity, goodwill and an active interest in others. A key principle of Buddhism, maitri is the first of the Four Immeasurables, or limitless qualities, which have no measure or bounds. These boundless qualities dissolve the boundaries that limit or constrain us and our experience of the world.

In other words, showing these qualities towards ourselves and others, by taking interest in people and offering gestures of goodwill without expecting anything back, will melt the separation we create in our lives.

Maitri has a relationship with the other three limitless qualities — compassion, joy and equanimity. Pema Chödrön describes maitri as the basis for compassion and as the seed for happiness. If you want more happiness in your life, you have to have a relationship with friendliness. Ultimately it starts with you. At the centre of maitri is unconditional, non-judgemental, acceptance and love of the self. It begins by making friends with yourself, instead of waiting for validation from the outside. Once you become friends with and accept yourself, you are naturally kinder to others.

In the same way, maitri is a primary concept of yoga. In the Yoga Sutra it is one of the four keys, or qualities, Patanjali offers to unlock the obstacles of the mind. BKS Iyengar explains that the four qualities keep the mind in a state of wellbeing, while Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati says the mind becomes calm and tranquil by cultivating them.

When our attention is caught up in the citta vrittis, or movements of the mind and the senses, the mind will be disturbed and we will experience unhappiness. When we cultivate the four keys, which all centre around friendliness, the thinking part of the mind becomes undisturbed and we preserve its serenity. Ultimately we become more peaceful. Interestingly, friendliness is also considered the first prerequisite to obtaining a stable state in meditation. In other words, you can meditate all you like, but if you’re not cultivating friendliness you’ve skipped the foundation of a meditative mind.

What are the Four Keys?

Similar to Buddhism, maitri has a relationship with compassion, joy and neutrality (or indifference), according to Patanjali.

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