Resolving differences is a key practice in building community. Unfortunately, directing lovingkindness toward a difficult person can be very challenging practice. The difficult person is someone for whom we harbor strong negative emotions. Most of us have come into contact with someone who hurt or angered us in some significant way that makes it difficult to think positively about the person. The mind can be drawn back to our feelings of hurt or anger, or we might even find vengeance creeping into our thoughts.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras offer this wisdom regarding how to “let go” of those things that cause these unsteady fluctuations of thought or feeling in the mind:
“Abhyasa-vairagyabhyam tan-nirodhah” (The cessation of fluctuation in the mind is achieved through practice and dispassion.) ~ Patanjali in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (1:12)
Until we can let go of the negative emotions we hold for a difficult person, that person essentially has control over our emotional response. I have found that metta practice can be very helpful for releasing such negativity and moving into a more positive emotional response. Even in situations where it would be unwise to have direct relationship with the difficult person, the act of letting go may allow you to improve your mental relationship with that difficult being. There are several approaches to beginning lovingkindness practice toward difficult people in our lives:
- You can begin by choosing a mildly difficult person, and gradually progress toward more difficult people.
- Start slowly … maybe just one round of Metta prayer, gradually adding repetitions over days or weeks, as you begin to feel more compassion.
- If you feel very negatively about someone, it sometimes helps to modify the prayer — keeping it positive but simplifying it or toning it down enough that you can sincerely send this wish.
- You can even begin by selecting a neutral person, someone you may not know at all and for whom you have no strong feelings either way.