Focus of the Month December 2023
written by Michelle Longrée
“To preserve the innate serenity of the kind, a yogin should be happy for those who are happy, be compassionate toward those who are unhappy, be delighted for those who are virtuous, and be indifferent toward the wicked.”
- Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.33
The Sanskrit word Maitri translates into "loving-kindness" or "unconditional friendliness" and is the expression of a compassion towards oneself, towards others, and in a broader sense towards all sentient beings.
According to Hindu philosophy, it is emphasizing that we are all connected; connected through the Atman (the soul) and connected through divine love & consciousness. Practicing and living aligned with the concept of Maitri can lead us to a more compassionate and harmonious way of living. But what does this mean?
Maitri & Self-Compassion:
Maitri begins with yourself. We all might know from personal experience that there are situations in our life where we can be rather hard on ourselves: Doubting ourselves, being more critical & less patient with ourselves, expecting more and we might even compare ourselves to others. All of this can eventually lead to a spiral of negative thoughts and feelings, a certain restlessness. But as it is commonly said you cannot pour out of an empty cup; we need to fuel our thoughts with loving-kindness towards ourselves too.
By practicing Maitri we practice to extend the same warmth, understanding, and forgiveness to ourselves as we would offer to a beloved friend. It is the acknowledgment that, like anyone else, you yourself deserve to be kind and gentle with yourself and that you are deserving of your own understanding. Allowing yourself to break free from constant doubting, self- criticism, and judgment, leaving you feeling more balanced & aligned with your true self.
"You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." - Buddha
However, Maitri goes beyond self-compassion, it is extending loving-kindness to all sentient beings, regardless of their circumstances or actions. Rather than responding to others based on personal likes or dislikes, cultivating Maitri involves responding with a heart full of love, gentleness, and understanding. By doing so, we may contribute to transform potential conflicts and challenges into opportunities for understanding and growth. Whether in moments of happiness or sadness, Maitri encourages us to recognize the shared emotional experience, focusing on empathy and understanding. By putting ourselves in the shoes of others and trying to understand their perspectives, we nurture the seeds of compassion.
Also, in an even broader sense, when expanding Maitri globally, it can become a powerful force for social change. It inspires collective actions to create a world where compassion, understanding, and love guide our interactions, and encourages a harmonious as well as connected global community.
“Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu – May all beings everywhere be happy and free. And may the thoughts words, and actions of my own life, contribute in some way to, to that freedom and to that happiness of all.”
How can we integrate Maitri into our lives?
A loving kindness meditation also knowns as Metta meditation is the most common way to practice Maitri. In this meditation we offer positive energy and kindness towards others with every breath we take. Similar to a mantra meditation with every inhalation you can silently say to yourself “love & kindness to” and with every exhalation the name of a person. Staring with people that are close to you, and then expanding to people you don’t see that often, expanding even further to people you might be having a complicated relationship with.
The repetition of positive affirmations can support Maitri in your life. For example, you can set some affirmations after waking up in the morning like “May I be happy”, “May I feel loved” to guide you through the day.
The practice of Maitri is not only restricted to meditation; it can extend into our everyday life. Small acts of kindness, like smiling to a stranger or opening the door for someone you don’t know. Thoughtful gestures, and a genuine concern for the well- being of others become expressions of Maitri.
Also, mindfulness is a main pilar of Maitri. By being present in the moment, this awareness encourages a more conscious & compassionate response to life's challenges.