Deb used to work in Hawaii for an educational institute and one of the teachers really had it in for her. No matter what Deb did, she disagreed and made her wrong. “I had to be present at her classes and, quite subtly, she turned all the participants against me. She was triggering childhood memories of being ignored or disregarded so I would shrink into an ineffective place when I was around her.
“I was going to have to go with her and the class to a remote cabin on another island. Not my idea of fun! So I focused on her during my meditation practice by holding her in a loving place within my heart, which I did every day for the few weeks before we left.
“By the time we got to the cabin, her attitude had begun to change and she was no longer making me the cause of anything that went wrong. Over the next few days, every so often, she would acknowledge me and by the end of the week she was including me, once even asking my opinion. The interesting thing was that she didn’t seem to notice that anything was different!
“The only thing I had done differently was loving kindness meditation, through which the ‘hook’ inside me (of inadequacy, having little self-respect or feeling unimportant) that she had been ‘hanging’ all her judgment on had dissolved. She had nowhere to put her negativity; instead, it sort of fell on the floor between us. Eventually, it just slunk away, unable to find a home.”
Really? Negativity just go away?
Imagine your mind is like a beautiful garden. If you let a pig in your garden you will have a hard time getting it out, as pigs really like tasty gardens! In the same way, negativity is like a pig that gets in the garden of your mind and causes havoc.
When someone is being dismissive, fault-finding or disapproving and this is making you feel unworthy, insecure, or lacking in self-esteem, then it may be because there’s a hook in you for that negativity to latch on too, a place where it can land that triggers all these hidden self-doubts.
How do we get unhooked? Rather than adding fire to fire by reacting with equal negativity, there is another way. When we extend kindness toward ourselves as well as toward the person we are having a challenging time with, then an extraordinary thing begins to happen: the hook within us begins to dissolve, just as Deb experienced. This means there is nowhere for the negativity to take hold or to land.
When we embrace ourselves with kindness we are strengthening and reinforcing feelings of self-empowerment, worthiness, and personal value. Sending kindness to an adversary transforms their negativity so they are able to release the conflict. It also acts like a shield so that any remaining negativity cannot land.
This is like turning compost into roses.
Have you noticed how, when you are in a good mood, it is hard for you to harm or hurt anything? You even take the time to get a spider out of the bathtub. But if you are in a bad mood or are feeling very stressed, then how easy it is to wash the spider down the drain. Your own pain spills over and harms anyone or anything in its way. For that reason, someone who incites feelings of discord or enmity actually needs to be loved even more, because their pain will be far greater than the pain they are causing. When we become aware of this we can wish all people to be happy and free from suffering. A truly compassionate and humane act!
Loving Kindness Meditation: for times of difficulty
Spend a few minutes on each stage of this practice. Settle your body in an upright and seated posture. Take a few minutes to focus on the natural flow of your breath, while bringing your attention to the heart space in the center of your chest.
- Now either repeat your name or visualize yourself in your heart so that you can feel your presence. Hold yourself there, gently and tenderly. Release any tension on the out-breath and breathe in softness and openness with the in-breath. Silently repeat: “May I be well, may I be happy, may I be filled with loving kindness.” Feel a growing sense of loving kindness and compassion for yourself.
- Now direct your loving kindness toward the person you are having a hard time with, whoever it may be. Keep breathing out any resistance and breathing in openness, as you hold this person in your heart and repeat: “May you be well, may you be happy, may you be filled with loving kindness.” No need to get caught up in recalling the details of the story, of who said or did what. Hold them gently and tenderly, wishing them wellness and happiness.
- Now expand your loving kindness outward toward all people, in all directions, whoever they may be, silently repeating: “May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be filled with loving kindness.” Feel loving kindness radiating out from you in all directions. Breathe in kindness, breathe out kindness.
When you are ready, take a deep breath and gently open your eyes, letting the kindness in your heart put a smile on your lips.