By Ed and Deb Shapiro: Sometimes there are people in life with whom you just don’t see eye-to-eye. Maybe they rub you the wrong way or, even worse, just don’t seem to like you and you can’t figure out why. Ed and Deb Shapiro explain why another person’s negativity may have nothing to do with you and what you can do to improve the relationship.
No one likes to be in a negative situation, but you don’t always get along with everyone all the time. Once, when we were with the Dalai Lama, he said to us, “If we were together all the time, then we would quarrel!”
However, if someone is being dismissive, fault-finding or disapproving and this is making you feel unworthy, insecure or lacking in self-esteem, then it may be because there’s a hook somewhere in you for that negativity to latch on too, a place where it can land that triggers all these hidden self-doubts.
For instance, imagine your mind is like a beautiful garden. If you let a pig in your garden, you will have a hard time getting it out, as pigs really like tasty gardens! In the same way, negativity is like a pig that gets in your garden and causes havoc.
How can you get unhooked? Rather than adding fire to fire by being equally as negative, there is another way. In our article “Turn Your Workplace into a Caring Place,” we shared the story of how Helen, who had a critical and negative boss, was able to turn the situation around by focusing on kind and caring thoughts toward both herself and her superior.
When you extend kindness toward yourself as well as toward the person you are having a challenging time with, then an extraordinary thing begins to happen: The hook within you begins to dissolve. This means there is nowhere for the negativity to take hold or to land. By embracing yourself with kindness, you are strengthening and reinforcing feelings of self-empowerment, worthiness and personal value. Sending kindness to your adversary transforms her so she’s able to release the conflict. It also acts like a shield so any remaining negativity does not penetrate; it cannot land. You can learn how to do this with the loving kindness meditation.
Showing yourself and others kindness is like turning compost into roses. Deb experienced this in a very personal way: “Many years ago, I was the administrator for an educational institute in Hawaii, and for some reason one of the teachers really had it in for me. No matter what I did, she disagreed and made me wrong. For administrative purposes, I had to be present at her classes, and, quite subtly, she soon turned all the participants against me. I realized she was triggering childhood memories of being ignored or disregarded, as I would shrink into a small, ineffective place when I was around her. It then emerged that I was going to have to go with her and the class to a remote cabin on another island for a one-week wilderness program. Not my idea of fun! The only option I had was to focus on her during my kindness meditation practice, which I did by holding her in a loving place within me every day for the few weeks before we left.
“By the time we got to the cabin, her attitude had begun to subtly change and she was no longer making me the cause of everything that went wrong. Over the first few days, she changed even more, every so often acknowledging me, but by the end of the week, she was actually including me along with everyone else, once even asking me for my opinion. The interesting thing was that she didn’t seem to notice that anything was different. The whole of the class changed with her. I was astonished to watch it happen. The only thing I had done differently was kindness meditation, through which the hook inside me that she had been hanging all her judgment on had dissolved. She had nowhere to put her negativity; instead, it sort of fell on the floor between us. Eventually, it just slunk away, unable to find a home.”
All the negative reactions that arise during moments of discord or disagreement can cause great suffering and anguish, but your own anger can do us even more emotional harm than someone else’s words or actions. Extending kindness to others is, therefore, really extending it toward yourself as it leaves you in a gentler, more joyful place.
It also helps to remember that if someone is hurting you, it’s usually because she’s in pain. Ever noticed how, when you are in a good mood, it is hard for you to harm or hurt anything? You even take the time to get a spider out of the bathtub. But if you are in a bad mood or are feeling very stressed, then it’s easy to wash the spider down the drain. Your own pain spills over and harms anyone or anything in its way. For that reason, someone who incites feelings of discord or enmity actually needs to be loved even more because their pain will be far greater than the pain they are causing. When you become aware of this, you can wish all people to be happy and free from suffering. A truly compassionate and humane act!
Loving Kindness Meditation for Times of Difficulty
Spend a few minutes on each stage of this practice. Settle your body in an upright and seated posture. Take a few minutes to focus on the natural flow of your breath, while bringing your attention to the heart space in the center of your chest.
- Now, either repeat your name or visualize yourself in your heart so you can feel your presence. Hold yourself there, gently and tenderly. Release any tension on the out-breath and breathe in softness and openness with the in-breath. Silently repeat: “May I be well, may I be happy, may I be filled with loving kindness.” Feel a growing sense of loving kindness and compassion for yourself.
- Now direct your loving kindness toward the person you are having a hard time with, whoever it may be. Keep breathing out any resistance and breathing in openness, as you hold this person in your heart and repeat: “May you be well, may you be happy, may you be filled with loving kindness.” No need to get caught up in recalling the details of the story. Hold her gently and tenderly, wishing her wellness and happiness.
- Now expand your loving kindness outward toward all people, in all directions, whoever they may be, silently repeating: “May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be filled with loving kindness.” Feel loving kindness radiating out from you in all directions. Breathe in kindness, breathe out kindness.
When you are ready, take a deep breath and gently open your eyes, letting the kindness in your heart put a smile on your lips.
Ed and Deb Shapiro are the authors of Be The Change, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World. They are featured weekly contributors to Oprah.com, HuffingtonPost.com and Care2.com. Ed and Deb write Sprint’s The Daily CHILLOUT inspirational text messages. They have three meditation CDs: Metta: Loving Kindness and Forgiveness, Samadhi: Breath Awareness and Insight and Yoga Nidra: Inner Conscious Relaxation. Deb is also the author of the best-selling book Your Body Speaks Your Mind, winner of the 2007 Visionary Book Award.