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exploring maitri...

So my name is MJ and I write a blog on my website In a previous post I mentioned the word Maitri. Chatting to Hamid today he asked me to share this blog with you all. I hope you enjoy my thoughts...

The closest we come translating Maitri into English is kindness.

Never having had an ear for languages (think musically tone deaf but with an accent) I never thought about translations. I think I thought that every language had a true and complete corresponding word in another language (does that make sense). My logical brain thinks in English and I basically thought learning a language was simply a matter of replacing the "English" word with it's corresponding word in the new language.

I was dissuaded from this idea about 6 years ago when I spent 9 months in Central and South America. Trying to learn Spanish was HARD! Not only did I have a problem getting my tongue around the words but I now understood that different languages can be structured quite differently to English. Needless to say after 9 months I came home with a vocabulary of 8 words - and most of those related to health issues (colds and the like). Rub rubbed salt into the wound? My best friend came over for 3 weeks and by the time we got from the airport to the hostel she had picked up at least 20 words! Arghh!

Anyway, that was my first foray being exposed to a different language.

So when I came up with the idea for my business I became really interested in Sanskrit - after all - many terms used in yogi philosophy are in Sanskrit. For those that don't know, Sanskrit is a really, really OLD language! I am not even going to attempt to explain the history because I'll mess it up. But it is well over 2000 years old, believed to have been derived in India and Nepal and is the language of Hinuism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Janism. That's about all I will share - and I've probably got that a bit wrong but anyway...

So I became interested in key Sanskrit words that kept popping up when I read about yoga philosophy. And I began to realise that one word in one language can, in some instances, remain elusive in it's explanation when translated! How amazing is that! Some languages have a word that defies description in another language! That got me thinking about how we define English words. And that got me thinking about how we like to put things into such neat little boxes. And that got me thinking about how much when we miss when we wrap neat and simplistic logic around our lives. No wonder so many of us are walking around depressed and anxious! We keep trying to wrap complex, multi-dimensional, social beings into boxes!

When I started thinking and researching the word Maitri my tiny little brain went:

Maitri = Kindness

Kindness - Being good


But then I started to think about what kindness really meant. Is it being polite when I am out? Giving my seat to a pregnant lady or older citizen? Is it saying please and thank you?

Yes, but it is so much, much, MUCH more!

I have defined Maitri as "fostering benevolence, starting with self and radiating to all beings, developing the ability to love without judgement or suffering".

Think about this... Firstly benevolence to all beings. That includes animals and plants, even the air we breathe. Now we can't walk around being kind to everything and everyone all the time. That would be impossible. For a start if we did that we couldn't eat - because lets face it, eating meat means an animal must be killed for our nutrition. And do plants actually have feelings? How do we keep warm without polluting our air? Even a fire with dead kindling creates smoke, polluting the air!

Secondly, benevolence without judgement! Now I don't know about you, but I think it is IMPOSSIBLE to remain non-judgemental. Don't tell me you don't think all sorts of stuff when your friends cry on your shoulder about their significant other!

And how do we think of ourselves? Do you beat yourself up if you don't go to the gym, eat that extra piece of chocolate, sit and binge watch your favourite TV show for the 40th time (or is that just me)?

So what is kindness? After some consideration, right now, I think kindness starts at home.

We need to learn to be kinder to ourselves. I have developed a habit I use when I am feeling bad. I ask myself the following:

  • Am I doing the best I can right now?

  • Am I intentionally trying to hurt someone or something else?

  • Am I generally living within my morals and values?

  • Am I going to hurt myself, physically or emotionally, if I do something someone else wants or expects me to do?

When the answer is yes (and let me tell you that first question is a doozy because Western culture seems to teach us that we can always do better) I immediately feel better about how I am living.

Learning to be kind to yourself is HARD! How do you know when you are letting yourself off the hook versus being kind to yourself? Are you being lazy or giving yourself a break? Should you hurt yourself a little bit to make someone else enormously happy? Should you feel guilty when you eat that yummy steak that was placed in front of you? And what about that cute guy you met last night? Is a one night stand really bad?

Kindness is subjective. What is comfortable for me may not fit you. What is comfortable to you may not fit me.

But I think asking ourselves "what is kindness" and then reflecting on the answer, truly and deeply reflecting on what it means, is a powerful exercise. When we personalise it, expand on it and chew on it, we tend to live it more fully. That old mantra of being present - well you can't help but be more present about how kind you are when you are taking time to think about what kindness means.

Anyway, I am going to leave you with this..... Kindness is infinite so feel free to use yours.

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