In sutra 33 of the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, the great sage Patanjali lists four practices that, if sincerely and consistently practiced, will help calm and stabilize the emotions and enable one to live a more meditative life. One of these four practices is to maintain an attitude of upeksha—which is often translated into English as “neutrality”—when encountering someone acting ignobly or wickedly. But “neutrality” does not completely convey the meaning of upeksha. A more complete translation would be to remain emotionally undisturbed.
This sutra does not suggest approving of the other’s bad actions or supporting them. Rather, the emphasis is on maintaining equanimity. In such a calm state, one not only feels better but is also in a much better position to assess the situation and take any necessary and appropriate actions to protect oneself or others than if one were to become upset.
This practice of upeksha can be especially valuable at this time of year, when family members are gathering for holidays. There is such extreme political polarization these days that those on the other side of the divide seem crazy or stupid, and it is very likely that many of us will come into contact with family members on the other side of the political divide.
But how can one maintain equanimity in the presence of a family member believing and espousing such outright hatefulness? Finding a way to do this is the essence of the practice. One method is to “overlook” this unfortunate aspect of our family member. It is a fact of life that everyone we know, even ourselves, have some negative qualities. In order to have relationships with anyone, we have to overlook certain qualities in that person that we’d prefer weren’t there. We can apply this same strategy at the Holiday dinner table, overlooking the other’s insane views so as to maintain our composure and peace at the table.
Another strategy would be to understand that our views no doubt seem as wrong to them as theirs do to us, and that it’s extremely unlikely that they will be convinced to see the error of their ways and come over to our side (which, in our mind, is no doubt the side of truth and light). The facts may be on our side, but these others hold their views and the best we can do is to recognize their beliefs and accept them as theirs.
There are many other strategies too. What’s most important is to find a way to remain calm, pleasant minded, and undisturbed while spending time with these relatives. This does not mean suppressing emotions. Rather we seek to find a way to not get emotional in the first place. Wrestling with this practice will benefit us both over the holidays and beyond. Over years, you may find yourself increasingly happy and less disturbed in life.