As a Burmese teacher once told author Andrew Harvey, "Out of compassion for myself, let me let go of all these feelings of anger and resentment toward others."
As we focus on the adversary, all manner of divergent feelings may arise about what happened, about who said what to whom, and what someone did or did not do. To get to loving kindness, we have to accept those feelings while also letting go of the story, releasing the details. Who did or who said what is not relevant; what matters is the shared human experience. Hurt and disagreement and anger arise when we forget our essential unity and hang out in separate, isolated places, while knocking heads with each other. By letting go of the story, we are going beyond the ego's affront to the shared space.
We can extend kindness toward people who are upset, angry, or irritable, whether their feelings have anything to do with us or not. In this way, we can stop negativity from affecting us. Whether it is our boss or a bus driver or our partner or teenage children, wishing them well helps us keep our cool.
Kindness does not stop with us; we can extend it outward from ourselves, like the ripples on a pond, toward our family, friends, and loved ones. This is relatively natural and effortless. But for loving kindness to be genuine, it cannot just end with the people we know and like; it has to go further, toward those we do not know and even do not like. This includes people we may be having a hard time with, someone with whom communication is difficult, where negative issues have arisen that are pulling the relationship apart, where there is anger, resentment, or dislike.
When we are affected by someone being hostile, dismissive, critical, or hurtful, then it is often because there is a hook in us for that negativity to grab hold of, a place where it can land that triggers all our hidden feelings of unworthiness, insecurity, doubt, even self-hate. However, when we extend kindness toward such a person, as we can in meditation, an extraordinary thing happens: The landing place, or the hook within, begins to dissolve. There is no place for the negativity to take hold.
The negative reactions that arise within us during moments of discord or disagreement cause continued suffering and conflict. Extending kindness toward the adversary is, therefore, really extending it toward ourselves, as it releases the inner pain and puts us into a more balanced place.
From extending kindness toward an adversary, the natural next step is to extend it toward all beings, whoever and wherever they are. Theoretically, this sounds very straightforward, but it can highlight hidden issues of prejudice and resistance. Can we really extend kindness toward terrorists, murderers, or dictators as easily as we can toward caregivers, charity workers, or our loved ones? Can we step beyond personality to the essence of shared beingness? Can we find a place where all beings are equal in our heart?
Prejudice can go very deep. It is only healed when we end the war within and accept those parts of ourselves we find so unacceptable. Then we will have the courage to accept those who are different from us, who have different beliefs, who are a different color, or who live differently. When we can tolerate ourselves, then we can be tolerable toward others and extend kindness to all equally.
As Mohandas Gandhi said, "We must widen the circle of our love until it embraces the whole village; the village, in turn, must take into its fold the district, the district the province, and so on, until the scope of our love encompasses the whole world."
Ed and Deb Shapiro