Friday, June 22, 2012

What makes someone difficult?

Reaching for the wind bell
It's been some years since I bought a book by Sharon Salzberg that taught me how to do lovingkindness meditation, and took that on as a daily practice.  I have often done it since, sometimes realizing almost astonishing results, in terms of a feeling of love for someone I had included in that meditation.  It is something you can do when you're stuck somewhere bored.  I know, that doesn't sound very spiritual, but it's a step up from texting.

There is a slot in that meditation for a "difficult" person, which Pema Chodron calls the enemy with a twinkle in her eye.  I've never had a shortage of difficult people to choose from.  If you do run out, there are always people in the public eye you can wish well for.  It's not so easy to pray for someone you see doing great harm.  It's not a refuge, it's a practice - I suppose you practice being like you want to be.  Love feels better than hate, and it does far less harm in the world.

But just this morning it occurred to me, as if it were simple, "Difficult" means "difficult inside me."  In other words, it's not that the individual is difficult or bad per se; it's that I respond to them with feelings I don't like.  So I guess that over the years my mind has, with glacial slowness, moved from blaming other people to locating the problem within myself.  I can think immediately of one relationship in my life that has been salvaged by gritting my teeth and doing this practice for her.  It is no longer difficult to be around her at all.

Not saying I have it conquered.  Just wanted to share the thought.  I know some of you must do this practice to, and would be interested in your experiences.


  1. Yes; that re-cognition that the feeling of difficulty is inside oneself (projected onto others) is a BIG one, isn't it, and it is ongoing, too. At present, though, I am focusing on my greatest challenge to lovingkindness---myself---and am noticing that this is resulting in more lovingkindness to others, too.

    1. Hi Chris. Yes, it's a re-cognition of something you thought you knew. From the beginning I had trouble sending metta to myself, and routinely begin with remembering holding Tashi against my heart to generate the feeling of love. Then comes me.....I have been interested lately by Pema Chodron's frequent references to mental habits as our way of maintaining a predictable identity; even the self-descriptions we don't like.

  2. I was just talking about this opportunity to practice (or A.F.P.O-another f--cking practice opportunity to residents) last night.

    I've found a person doesn't have to do much to get on my nerves; insist there is a true translation of the Dai Hi Shin Darani; sit while weeding; eat lunch by themselves.

    Of course, none of that is true and I suspect that what I have found might be the opposite of what we call there a word for that?

    I do practice loving kindness, but lately I've been trying to move toward shikantaza (what ever that means). So, in order to dissolve these "enemies" I move closer. Dangerous, as it could cause conflagration. But not if I don't say anything.

    I do this in our dining hall, where there are 3-4 new people I don't like every week, and 3-4 growing resentments. I just go sit by them while we eat; many have no idea they are driving me nuts. And in sitting by them, I began to soften to their cute, fuzzy, human-ness.

    As a result, one of my best friends here (someone who went to St. Johns and gives you etymological read out of every thing said in ear shot) is quite possibly the most irritating person, ever! Another one (an anger type who breaks things on accident all the time) I can manage a good morning to, as I fear offering anything else.

    These relationships seem profound vehicles for practice. Not exactly dharma gates of repose and bliss, but wonderful turnings of my hard-pan heart-mind. I'm inspired to meet the one who thus comes.

    1. This comment diverted me into the visual thesaurus this morning, trying to figure out an opposite to affinity - haven't found it. Aversion isn't quite right. "Natural aversion," maybe, in the genes, the way that cats usually dislike human children.

      Then I also began wandering mentally around What is shikantaza, anyway? and looking it up again. Okay. Though I don't see how that leads to getting up close to people you don't like.

      What is good for me right now is Pema Chodron's explanation that an emotion lasts 90 seconds, no more, if you don't build the story. Shake hands with the feeling, take a breath, let it pass on by like a puffy little cloud. This is useful for me because, oh, well, some of us artistic types are emotional.

      Also, I wrote a poem titled "Seeking Enlightenment at Green Gulch." If you send me your e-mail address, I'll send it to you.

  3. Shikantaza leads to people I don't like by helping me open to the self I don't like, I do like, that might not be there at all. If I can sit openly with a trick to pacify, placate, or detach in my very own presence, this makes it easier to move toward others. I hardly ever meet anyone as annoying as me.

    I'll get you that e-mail.