20 May
Posted in: Practice
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For the Difficult Person

For reasons which will remain unmentioned, I have been thinking a lot lately about the practice of offering metta (goodwill, friendliness) to someone who we in meditation circles euphemistically refer to as “the difficult person.” Traditionally, this person is referred to as the “enemy,” but that seems a bit harsh.

Offering metta is a form of meditation practice that develops healthy, positive, wholesome states of mind — such as kindness and patience — which are clearly beneficial for oneself (these states feel good, for one thing) as well as for others (in that they lead to actions which do not cause harm). We do this practice by thinking of someone who naturally engenders these feelings (a child, a grandparent, someone we admire, or even a pet), then by paying careful attention to what it feels like to be open and friendly toward them and to wish them well. Which nourishes these feelings and helps them develop and grow. And then we practice widening the circle of those we include in our good wishes, adding people we don’t particularly know, people we may have mixed feelings about…and eventually to include everyone, even people we find “difficult.”

This can be a challenge.

Which is why it takes practice.

But it’s important to try to see through the things that we find difficult. Not to overlook them. But to see them in a larger context. To see the positive as well as the negative. And not to fixate on one or the other, but to understand that both these characteristics are a result of situations that are mostly out of our control, and that no matter how annoying, irritating, unpleasant, even destructive these people are, it’s most surely not the only thing that’s true about them.

It’s important to remember this because fixating on the difficulties is not helpful….not for one’s own mental (and physical) well-being…and not for being able to discern the full range of options for dealing with them.

Easier said than done, right?

True. But here’s something that has brought a fresh perspective on this for me. It’s something Rebecca Bradshaw pointed out during metta practice at the retreat here in St. Louis. She said:

Just remember, we are all someone’s difficult person.

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