The holiday season tends to bring its 10,000 joys and its 10,000 sorrows.
There is a story of a spiritual community who lived together in France. One person in the community irritated everyone and one day when the teacher was away, this person decided that enough was enough. I really don’t get along with anyone, they said. I get all these bad vibes – I am out of here and then left. When the teacher came back, he asked where the difficult person was. The jubilant response came that he had finally left the community! The teacher was not happy to hear this and he went out and found the difficult person and brought him back. The guy didn’t want to come back, so the teacher paid him to return. The community protested, “Why are you doing this”? The teacher replied, you need this person here, to learn what’s going on inside of you in relationship to him. Therefore he is your teacher.
I have not been short of teachers since I started my practice of sending loving kindness to a difficult person, earlier this year.
The Tibetan tradition teaches, the people you have difficulty with are your best teachers. When I find it difficult to practice loving kindness toward someone, I need to investigate what is going on inside of me. Is it that the person does not deserve my kindness? If I offer them my kindness am I rewarding them? Or is it that I desire to be liked by everyone? Fortunately, when I practice this, the difficult person does not need to know that I am offering it to them.
It is a difficult teaching. Loving kindness is practiced for the liberation of our own heart and mind. They are only my teacher if I ask myself a sincere question: what do I have to learn from this? This doesn’t justify their behaviour at all. But given that they behaved this way, what can I learn about myself from this? A range of things might come up – perhaps there is something about me, the “innocent me”, maybe the way I carried myself might have encouraged them to have certain thoughts. Or it might be that I need to learn patience. Or I might need to learn how to be strong and ferocious in response, to say no to someone and protect myself. So there is a range of things I might learn. Suddenly this is an opportunity to learn that this shouldn’t be happening, as opposed to seeing it as a drag. Instead I can ask myself, what do I have to learn from this?
There is a Hasidic tale that I really love a lot. A disciple asks the rabbi: ‘Why does Torah tell us to “place these words upon your hearts”? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?’ The rabbi answers: ‘It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.’ I love this story in the context of loving kindness/compassion practice, because it really illustrates how it is a practice and we are not trying to feel any particular thing. We’re just putting the words on our hearts.
All living things want to be well and avoid suffering. Even the tiniest insect recoils from harm. It is easier to feel loving kindness toward some and more difficult toward others. It is hard to know the effect of sending someone loving kindness. But you can notice the effect on your peace of mind. It’s our intention and the sincerity of the wish for the other’s happiness.
We extend the loving kindness intention to everyone in our inner circle and further, out to all beings:
May all beings
all breathing things
all beings with mind and body:
Be happy. Be healthy. Be safe. Be peaceful.