Monday, February 15, 2010

Pema Chodron on applying compassion practice to difficult people (or, why am I so damn tired?)

I found this on the Shambala site and wanted to share it with you:

You think of the difficult person or people and you wish for them to be free of suffering and the root of suffering. Now, a very interesting thing often happens here. You can really get into wishing them to be free of suffering, because you think if they could be free . . . basically you want them to be the way you want them to be, you know. Could they be free of their lousy personality so that I could feel better? This you might call not quite compassion. It's more like justifying your dislike of them by using a compassion practice.

And the other thing is, of course, being glad that they're suffering. Hard to face, but true. When we really dislike people, maybe we're well aware or maybe we'll get more in touch with it by doing this practice but there's a lot of rejoicing, almost, about their misfortune. Because basically they hurt you and you want them to suffer too. So you're glad when you hear that things aren't going well for them. And you feel pretty unhappy when you hear that everything is fine for them. Those kinds of feelings come up about people that we find difficult. So, rather than feeling bad about that just notice that that's what happening. Have a sense of humor. Whatever it is, let the words go and notice the effect.

Sometimes with difficult people, I find it is also quite helpful to actually imagine different scenarios for them. I have actually cooked up some real genuine compassion for some of the very difficult people in my life by beginning to think of, for instance, something happening to one of their children or something that I know that, if that degree of misfortune happened to them, I wouldn't be glad, that I would really feel compassion for them. So you can use your imagination here if it helps you to feel some kind of compassion for someone who your heart is shut to, a difficult person.

In other words, you find the person or people and you encourage this feeling by saying the words, "May they be free of suffering and the root of suffering." And then you notice the effect. Then you expand the whole thing by moving onto the next stage. So we keep expanding it in this way, and just notice what happens.

I rather wish I had read this a week ago so I could have had it in mind when FIL was visiting. But in a sense, I was kind of trying to do this by trying to acknowledge my feelings about him and the shenpa he triggers in me, and by trying to be mindful of the suffering he has known (self-inflicted or otherwise). By doing these things, I can try to transform the shenpa by acknowledging it and thus practice shenluk, which Pema Chodron explains in one of her teachings. She points out that, "The interesting thing is that there is no way to really renounce shenpa...[except by] seeing clearly and fully experiencing the shenpa."

I have to confess, though, that it's not easy. In fact, managing shenpa by way of shenluk is exhausting. Perhaps with practice, it becomes less so.

In the meantime, I'd totally exhausted by the whole ordeal.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Struggling with Equanimity

This weekend and the weekend before last (plus a few days in between), my husband and I have hosted his father at our house. It's proven to be a challenging time for me, not the least because it presents an interesting challenge in my Buddhist practice.

My father in law (henceforth, "FIL") is 82 years old and, since his divorce in the mid-1970s, has lived alone. He had an unhappy childhood—his own parents divorcing when he was young, his father severing all contact with the family, and his self-absorbed mother sent him off to a military boarding school when he was just 6 or 7. He harbors an unrelenting hatred of his mother (who died years ago) and his younger brother, whom he blames for getting him into trouble innumerable times when they were boys. To this day he does not speak to him—the only person from his youth still alive.

I could go on and on, but won't. The bottom line is that he is often mean-spirited, downright cruel at times, and he suspects others of being dishonest while himself having a history of lying, snooping, stealing and manipulating others for his own (often merely psychic) benefit. He is inconsiderate often in the most bizarre ways—e.g. leaving the bathroom door cracked open when taking a piss. (No, I'm serious.) I hate to say it, but I'm glad he's going home.

So on the one hand, FIL is the poster-boy for Wrong Speech, Wrong Understanding, etc.—everything the Buddha and Buddhist teachers have warned about. FIL personifies the Buddhist maxim that says he who tries to hold on to fire gets burned: embittered by the wrongs done to him (and which he perceives have been done to him), he is a bitter, lonely old man, smoldering with anger and resentment. He seldom thinks of the needs of others, the suffering of others or the impact of his actions or words on others.

When he's around, I can feel my muscles tense, my jaw clench, my brow furrow, and my whole mood sour. But it's not FIL who does this to me—I do it to myself. I let my own feelings of anger, distrust and resentment build up inside of me by failing to express openhearted compassion towards him. I try, but it's very hard. He's said and done horrible things to people I love, but I have to acknowledge that, look past that and try to treat him with mettā. So it has been a struggle.

So, as he drives away tomorrow, I will try to send thoughts of mettā his way as I hope for an end to suffering—his, mine, and that of all beings.


With metta,


As my Twitter persona nears 1,000 followers, the time has come for me to put my Twitter nom de plume on top of my blog. Hopefully this will help me stop being such a schmo and actually post to my blog more often.