A beautiful guest post from Audrey Le; a friend, fellow yogi, physician, and soon to be studio owner herself. Enjoy!
Loving Kindness For Haters
A funny thing happened in yoga class last week. We were instructed to do a loving kindness meditation, a practice meant to open the dark portals of the heart. We were asked to first bring to mind someone we consider easy to love (a friend), then someone virtuous (a benefactor), someone we didn’t know very well and had no strong feelings about (a stranger), and finally someone we hate (an enemy). We sent each of these people loving thoughts. I know it might sound hokey to some of you, but just go with it for now.
The following day, my cousin asked me who I’d thought of as the person I hate. I confessed truthfully that I’d had trouble bringing anyone to mind. The best I could come up with was a former coworker who I occasionally found annoying. I said that I don’t really remember hating anyone at all to which she quickly reminded me of the period a few years ago when there was someone I had strong negative feelings about – which is what hate is right? Having a flair for the dramatic, I remembered then that I might have even sang “I hate you” songs about them. Yeah. I definitely did. Somehow I’d forgotten about all that.
How was that even possible? After some reflection, I think I finally know. I have friends who are right now struggling with feelings of hate and feelings of just being unable to let go. Some of these friends listened to me several years ago as I overanalyzed, raged, and whined about this cruel cruel world and about my poor poor heart. I thought I would write this down for them.
Boy was I mad back then now that I have cause to think about it. I felt like a wounded animal, wronged and treated like a crumpled-up discarded candy wrapper. The timing could not have been worse, because I was also dealing with the grief from a friend’s passing. I was broken-hearted. There was a short time when I did withdraw into myself laying in bed tired of trying to feel better, but as it turned out life wouldn’t let me stay there. The following is a true story.
On my worst day as I felt unable to get out of bed weighed down by the sheer fatigue of feeling, someone rang my doorbell. I’d rarely ever had anyone come to my door unexpectedly so that in and of itself was jarring. I absolutely did not want to get out of bed, but the person just would not go away. I was forced to get up and walk to the front door. When I peeked out the side glass panels then, I saw an old lady with white hair dressed neatly in a white dress suit. I only saw her back because she had started walking away slightly bent over towards a white town car parked right in front. I watched as she climbed into the front passenger side and the car drove slowly out of sight. Later, I looked out at my doorstep to see if some weird religious pamphlet had been left – you know the ones – but there was nothing. That was the last I saw of her.
Why do I tell this story? I’ve told it to my cousin, and she jokingly called it divine intervention. I don’t know about that, but it was at least a stroke of luck because it shook me from my immobility. It made me get up. What I did after that was surround myself with people. If someone wanted to come around, I let them come. They say that time heals all wounds. I don’t think that’s really true. People hold onto things for years, even decades. I think time and distance just give us new perspective, and provide the space and opportunity to work with our feelings and heal ourselves.
There is something about a broken heart when you let yourself abide in it. I recently spent some time with a friend who made a comment about her friend, who had been acting rather grandiose, that she never was more pleasant to be around than after the dissolution of her marriage a few years back. She had never been so gentle, open, and honest. I think grief gives us a unique chance for self-reflection which is how I came to this moment.
Why do we hate people? Why do some people make us suffer? My short answer is that maybe they don’t. It’s perhaps only our reaction to other people that make us suffer. Why should I care if someone yelled at me, told me I was lacking, rejected my work or my care? What does that do really? Does it change anything about my life, my reality, or about me or who I am? Having answered no to this, if I hate someone for how they make me feel, I must already have the idea that I am perhaps what they think I am (stupid, ugly, unlovable, etc.). I must be lacking in self-love in some area.
This is how I am. Even the thought of the possibility that I didn’t like myself in some way made me angry at myself. What the hell? I’ve worked really hard to be an evolved compassionate human being. My discomfort with my imperfections – and let’s face it, none of us are perfect – showed that I was lacking somewhat in the area of self-compassion. This consequently made me even more irritated with myself. Of course, just as with others, you can’t bully yourself to self-love.
I didn’t know exactly in what area I was feeling lacking, but I went with it anyway. This is what I did. I read Sharon Salzberg’s book on the loving kindness practice and I started doing some of the meditations. For weeks and weeks I practiced sending loving kindness to myself as the loved one, the virtuous one, the stranger, and as the hated one. Deep down, I knew I still believed that the other person was responsible for my discomfort, but I also knew that I was responsible for my own feelings, so I kept at it. Then, taking a cue from Susan Piver, I started sending loving kindness to the person I felt all the negative feelings towards giving them all 4 roles. I’m not sure how long I did this or when I stopped.
It happened a year or two after that a friendly acquaintance I occasionally spent time with started saying really unkind things about the person I had once sang “I hate you” anthems about. In the first place, I was startled that the subject had been brought up at all. Secondly, I was more startled later that I started to defend this person but I was truly offended for them. I kind of felt the way I normally feel when someone badmouths any friend of mine.
What the heck was that, I wondered. Was I displaying the symptoms of some kind of weird Stockholm syndrome (where the kidnapped gets attached to the kidnapper, or the traumatized gets attached to the traumatizer)? I found, however, that unlike in the past, I no longer wished that I had behaved differently or they had behaved differently, or that things had turned out differently. Then I forgot about it I guess until my cousin brought it up that day.
I’ve truly come to accept the fact that nothing is black and white and people are indeed varied shades of grey. Caring people can do uncaring things. Good people do bad things and bad people do good things. Perhaps they are one and the same person. We all do things to keep ourselves comfortable that might hurt other people. I certainly have. My cousin reminded me of this after yoga class that day, and many have said it before – everyone is doing their best from their level of consciousness. If we knew better, we would do better. Anyway, if any one action or choice can define us as a person, we’re all in trouble.
If you love yourself enough to know that like everyone else, you deserve happiness, you’ll let it go. If you love yourself enough to know that like everyone else you deserve to be treated with gentleness and consideration, you’ll let it go. If you love yourself enough, you’ll understand that other people’s actions and choices are not a reflection of your worth, you’ll perhaps find compassion for both yourself and them, and you’ll let it go. You’ll know you’ve done this when you forget to remember about that time someone wronged you or made you feel small, when a chance reminder startles but no longer stings. You’ll know this when you can finally let go of people who have let you go, and when you stop trying to do things to make yourself feel better because you are better.
You know what though? If you’re hating today, let yourself hate. If you’re clinging to the past, just let it be what it is right now. I just want you to know that no matter who you are or where you are, you deserve happiness and love. Maybe today, though, I can be that little old lady in white for you, reminding you that you have the strength to keep moving through it.