Friday, August 29, 2008
Sending Loving Kindness to Difficult People
Most people struggle at first with sending metta (loving kindness) to difficult people.
Who is a difficult person? It could be someone very close to you who causes you personal torment, so that even though you care for them, your feelings are very conflicted.
Or it could be someone you don’t know personally who you consider an enemy of some kind or who represents ‘evil’ to you: a wrong-headed leader, a serial killer or child molester. This is someone whose behavior to you is impossible to understand and maybe impossible to forgive. You can see how sending loving kindness to these people might be very challenging.
First, you may feel they don’t deserve loving kindness. But metta is not a reward that is doled out to the deserving. It is a radiance like sunlight that does not withhold itself from shining everywhere. As conductors of metta, we tap into this sense of expansive radiance and draw upon own inherent generosity of spirit in order to send metta to all beings.
Targeting a difficult person helps us to access that deeper place from which true metta comes. You may be familiar with the expression namaste, a Sanskrit word often used in yoga classes that loosely translates, ‘The god in me honors the god in you.’ When two people greet each other at this deep connected level, behavioral and personality differences fall away. They know themselves to be one and the same, aspects of a greater whole.
If we can’t bring ourselves to send metta to someone we don’t like, we have not accessed that deep connected space from which true metta flows. We are trapped in a sense of metta as a finite resource to be meted out sparingly only to those who ‘deserve’ to be happy. With consistent practice, at some point we may begin to see beyond this limited thinking.
This level of deep awareness is not something we can force upon ourselves. But, as we try sending metta to a difficult person, we have an excellent opportunity to observe our thoughts, beliefs and feelings as they arise, and to create spaciousness around them. We send metta to ourselves around this difficult process. We don’t scold ourselves for being unable to do what is challenging. We just keep coming back to the practice with renewed energy and attention.
Perhaps eventually there will be an aha moment, a little break through, where we may, for example, recognize that the difficult person of our focus is some mother’s child. Or we might see that it is painful for us to attempt to withhold metta from some people while sending it to others, that the metta feels less authentic in some way. Whatever insights arise, we note them, grateful for the rich fruits of the practice.