four keys for maintaining calm

Four Keys for Maintaining Calm

Some Yoga advice for high emotion environments

With the holiday season upon us, and with it the high emotions of reconnecting with family and friends while navigating obligations, expectations, and the weird way we seem to revert into family roles we thought we’d long since outgrown, I thought I’d bring up some practical Yoga Sutra advice.  

Even though you’re unlikely to break out a warrior two pose and some ujjayi breath in the living room when your aunt asks you when you’re going to get a real job, the practice of Yoga offers more subtle, social tools to find serenity of mind.  

I present to you: the four locks and keys. It’s a simple equation. Here goes. 

The Four Locks and Keys

People can act four ways, the four locks. They can be happy, unhappy, saintly, or shitty. There are gradations of each, of course, but we can use these four classifications to figure out which lock we’re working with and which key to use.  

With the yogic goal of a sattvic mind (that is a pure, transparent, luminous, and insightful mind) we skillfully choose to use one of four keys.  

If the person is acting happy, be friendly. 

If the person is acting unhappy, be compassionate. 

If the person is acting saintly, be appreciative. 

If the person is acting shitty, be indifferent.  

Do this whether the person is a friend or foe, a close confidant or a complete stranger.  

Why do they work?

Friendliness toward and happy and appreciation toward the pious counter our human tendency to be, instead, envious. Envy makes for a muddled mind, and remember, we use this lock and key system to keep our own self serene and calm.  

Compassion toward the unhappy helps clear out any desire we might harbor for others to hurt. Spite, you might say, or schadenfreude or simple hatred. None of these help us to retain our own clarity, insight, and inner peace.  

And indifference toward the shitty helps keep us from putting energy into something that’s just going to escalate anyway. I’m talking equanimity, evenness of temper.  

How to use them (it’s simple)

So our job here is to determine how the person is acting and then use the appropriate key. I like simple equations, especially in times of high stress, because sometimes I don’t have the energy to contemplate the nuance and figure it all out for myself. 

Are they being happy? I’ll be friendly. Are they being unhappy? I’ll be compassionate. Are they being virtuous? I’ll be appreciative, even joyful about their good nature. Are they being awful? I’ll be indifferent toward them (and compassionate toward the unhappy recipient of their fury.)  

Sutra 1.33

The sutra, translated from Sanskrit, puts it this way: 

By cultivating an attitude of friendship toward those who are happy, compassion toward those in distress, joy toward those who are virtuous, and equanimity toward those who are nonvirtuous, lucidity arises in the mind.  

One of the many practical ways to practice your Yoga off the mat. 


Image by cottonbro studio from Pexels