Friendliness, Yoga, and the Practice of Loving-Kindness

There was a student who lived in Europe but spent a summer in Regina. He quickly became a regular at the studio and I always enjoyed having him in classes. His eyes were bright and attentive and he was quick to smile and laugh at my terrible jokes.

On his last day of classes before moving back to Europe he stopped at the top of the stairs and told me “I travel a lot. I have practiced yoga all over the world. And this place is the friendliest, most open and welcoming place I have ever practiced.”

It was one of the most heart-warming and meaningful compliments I have ever heard about the Bodhi.

I take great pride in the friendliness of our yoga community. You will be welcomed here. People will be interested in you…and not because they are paid to do so.

Yes, our teachers and desk staff are brimming with kindness because that is the kind of person with whom we choose to surround ourselves. But I am not even talking about our staff. I am talking about the students at Bodhi Tree. I suppose I am talking about you.

Friendliness (maitri) is a yogic practice. In the yoga sutras it is offered as a practice that brings a serenity and grace. In Buddhist Pali texts maitri is referred as metta – lovingkindness. It is the practice being fearlessly open-hearted.

“One never reaches home, but wherever friendly paths intersect the whole world looks like home for a time.”

~ Herman Hesse

A Practice Suggestion

 

The practice of friendliness should, like the practice of mindfulness, start small and move outward in ever increasing circles until it encompasses the entire cosmos.

You can do this practice right now as you read. Use your imagination.

Start with your body. It always tries its best. It gets tired, hungry, beaten-up and still here we are. Our body is like a loyal pet. Even though it poops on the lawn and gets fur on the couch, we should love it because all it ever does is love us.

Next practice friendliness with your breath. Do not try to make it do something different. Simply notice how it is moving and allow it to move that way. Enjoy the way it feels. Like the body, the breath just keeps trying to serve us in the only way it knows how. It speeds up and slows down, it shudders and sighs, fluid and wild in response to the movement of our lives.

Now the mind. Oh my goodness. A frienemy? If I can be very honest sometimes my mind spins stories that do not seem so friendly. There are voices in my mind that tell me I am not good enough. There are voices that say “Nobody reads this stuff… you should just give up.” Do you have similar voices? Practice friendliness with those voices.

A part of us is scared and does not want to get hurt. Those voices are trying to protect us from harm. We can smile, put our arm around those scared parts of ourselves, and tell them it is going to be OK. It is true, going out on a limb sometimes proceeds a loud crack and unceremonious tangle of limbs tumbling back to earth. But it is worth the risk.

Now practice friendliness with your close friends and family. Imagine your spouse, parent, or child sitting with you right now. Notice your breath and imagine seeing them with soft, compassionate eyes. If you feel tears welling up don’t hold them back. Offer your tears as a testament to the depth of your affection.

Open your circle of friendliness to include somebody you know, but not that well. Maybe somebody you met recently. Imagine sitting quietly with them, holding them in your soft eyes with the same attention you offered to your loved ones. It feels vulnerable. You can practice sitting with that person without your social mask. Open and unguarded, welcome them into your heart.

Do the same thing with somebody you have never even met. Celebrities are good for this because we know what they look like, but actually we have no idea who they really are.

Do the same thing with somebody you think of as an opponent. Your nemesis. The person who will play the role of the antagonist in your biopic. Visualize this person sitting with you and just allow your breath to move naturally. Maintain your softness and vulnerability. They can’t hurt you now.

This is the fun part. You know that photo of earth taken from the moon where we look like a marble floating in space? Visualize that.

Imagine yourself as a tiny speck of awareness on that marble, sending out friendliness in ever-expanding concentric circles of loving-kindess radiating outward until you are holding the entire world in the friendliness of your attention.

Stay there for as long as you like. If it doesn’t feel amazing, massive, spacious, and illuminating then fake it. Make the face that somebody experiencing those things would make. Breathe like you imagine somebody having that experience would breathe. If it does feel amazing, massive, spacious and illuminating…enjoy!

When you are ready to stop, take a few moments to sit quietly and gather yourself. The world may or may not be ready to experience the fullness of your love and attention like that. Ponder one or two ways that you might integrate some of this experience in the rest of your day.

A song for my friends:

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