I pick Lucien up after school and we tend to linger for a few minutes in the warm, cramped building—a trip to the bathroom, a snack on the bench in the hallway, then coats and gloves and hats on and off we go into the city streets. We say hello to the crossing guard and then pass the playground where children from the elementary school tend to congregate after school on all but the coldest days.
“Lucien!” I hear the sweet shouts from the playground. “Look! It’s Lucien. Lucien’s here!”
Day after day, I’m amazed and grateful for the welcoming spirits of the five year olds in my child’s classroom. These beautiful, self-possessed children who are eager to befriend the “new kid”; their parents who invite Lucien and me over for play dates, and include me in post drop-off coffees.
Friendliness. It’s a simple virtue, but powerful and profound. And deeply yogic.
Back in college, I noticed a peculiar phenomenon on my campus. Two young people would approach from opposite ends of a path. We would look one another up and down, exchange a furtive glance, and then when we actually came within speaking distance, bow our heads or look off to one side (why there’s an interesting leaf!) rather than say hello to a stranger.
Even before that, in high school, I accepted the unspoken rule that friendly = uncool. The rules were set. Jocks here, drama club kids there, brainiacs on this side, cheerleaders on that. (Never mind how complicated it soon became when kids decided not to pick a group. My best friend was a brainy, athletic, drama club attending, captain of the cheerleaders.)
Anyway, I learned to be cool, to wear all black, to act nonchalant, to not necessarily say hello to those I passed in the halls unless we were good friends.
Year later, when I was 26, I walked into a yoga center in New York—the capital of cool—and one of the first lessons my new teacher (a very cool lady) taught me was about friendliness.
Be friendly, she said. Say hello to one another. Be kind to strangers. Smile. Show compassion. Live joyfully.
Later, I’d read a discussion of the Yoga Sutra 1.33: ”Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy… the consciousness becomes favorably disposed, serene and benevolent.”
I had to learn to become friendly. To smile at the stranger across from me on the subway, to share congenial before class talk with the person on the mat next to me, to take a chance and initiate a friendship.
Now Lucien teaches me advanced lessons in friendless. He loves all the children in his class equally and unreservedly. A play date is a gift, a joy, a treat. A sleepover? A magical thing to dream about. A smile? Something free.
We can’t all find two hours a day to practice yoga. Or even an hour. Some days we can’t even find 20 minutes to put our legs up the wall. But cultivating friendliness all day long? I can definitely make time for that act of yoga. (Even in my favorite black jeans and sweater.)
Jessica Berger Gross is the author of enLIGHTened: How I Lost 40 Pounds with a Yoga Mat, Fresh Pineapples, and a Beagle Pointer (Skyhorse), out in paperback now. She’s spending the year in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and five-year-old son. “Like” her author page on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter. Visit her at www.jessicabergergross.com.