Feeling Negativity, Leaning Into Compassion

Note: I feel that things have progressed since starting this post in ways that highlight some personal misunderstandings on one side and the very need for compassion and an open heart and how healing that is on the other – the message I started writing here last week. As such, I decided to finish the post with that message. So, even though the opening lines don’t feel current now, I still feel like this post should be completed and shared.


When we are rejected and shamed by those we care about, they are some of the hardest moments to be upright in a mindful practice. I’ve spun in this a lot recently. I will readily admit I’ve failed for the most part, rolling hard in my own patterns and stories, looking for a magic solution or reversal rather than calmly adapting to conditions with the equanimity of wisdom.

Although friends and articles on psychology and relationships have helped me, I have found a certain part of The Dhammapada to be crucial to healing. I’ve written here before of key passages in the first chapter of The Dhammapada regarding realization of mortality, hatred, peace, and quarrels (for instance, this post on a previous experience and this passage is still one of my most popular, even a couple years later). This passage has acted like an anchor, allowing me to transform my pain into understanding and empathy, rather than continuing to be pulled along by emotional reaction. I’d like to talk about this passage a bit again.

I recently downloaded a different translation of this by Acharya Buddharakhita that left me pondering this passage again. I’m going to share several lines and then make a small comparison.

“He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me” — those who harbour such thoughts do not still their hatred.

“He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me” — those who do not harbour such thoughts still their hatred.

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world; by non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is an eternal law.

There are those who do not realize one day we all must die. but those who realize this settle their quarrels.

The Dhammapada, Chapter 1: Verses 3-6; Trans. Buddharakkhita

“He abused me, attacked me, defeated me, robbed me!” For those carrying on like this, hatred does not end.

“She abused me, attacked me, defeated me, robbed me!” For those not carrying on like this, hatred ends.

Hatred never ends through hatred. By non-hate alone does it end. This is an ancient truth.

Many do not realize we here must die. For those who realize this, quarrels end.

The Dhammapada, Chapter 1: Verses 3-6; Trans. Fronsdal

First of all, both of these follow the opening of this chapter’s focus on how mind shapes a happy life or a life of suffering. We’re shown an existential depth to this that we should recognize our transience, our mortality, and let go of the poison of animosity — the ultimate toxin of desire, aversion, and ignorance. It’s a colossal mental shift to let go of this kind of victimhood – the drama of our lives – but if we can see the passing nature of things, there’s an opportunity to make that shift and see things from a larger perspective. Second of all, I like the difference in how the end of these two selections are translated. One says “settle their quarrels”, emphasizing that the recognition of mortality is a motivator to take action, actualizing that my mind is not only my personal thoughts but my deeds based on those thoughts and those deeds in relation to others. There’s great wisdom in making a move to show that you hold no hatred for someone else and wish them well (I will return to this below). The other translation has it as “quarrels end” as though the realization of the mark of impermanence leads to an immediate washing away of negativity. I think this focuses on the power of the realization in a way that is incredibly poetic, but it does lack that extra element of action. I think this idea is best highlighted by thinking of both of these translations.

One of the basic forms of meditation in some of the Theraveda traditions is that of metta or “loving-kindness” meditation. I’ve actually read a book focused on this approach that argues it was all the Buddha claimed was needed for Enlightenment, and honestly, given passages like that in The Dhammapada above, I can understand that position, especially because I’ve had some of my strongest feelings of insight and compassion from doing metta meditation (as well as the similar, in my mind at least, Tibetan practice of tonglen).

The practice develops loving-kindness for oneself and expands it, offering it eventually to those who we see as hurtful to us. This, then, is a practice about letting go of the painful reactions to ourselves and others in our lives, and practicing it in earnest really can help open the heart and mind. I’ve linked the book I mentioned above and here again, The Path to Nibbana, and here is a shorter description of how to do the meditation. I’ve been trying to take time to do the meditation myself recently, but beyond that, I’ve been trying to take the intention of it, the version of the mantra of old that I have in my mind from practicing it in the past, and put it out there in the world where I can, even if I don’t sit and meditate today.

May you be happy.

May you be healthy.

May you be at peace.

May you live with ease.

I find when I approach the world with this mindset, I find more understanding for others and more love for myself and my own failures (of which, there are many). Recently, when I’ve felt hurt, I’ve tried my best to develop this mindset, and it has made everything much better, and ultimately, I feel like it may even heal the hearts of others a little — perhaps just that intention has some impact in the world.


May this inspire others to cultivate loving-kindness and compassion, especially when it feels difficult. May this help other see that our lives are short, and quarrels are misguided.

Gassho!

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal — Entry 10: Echoes/Grief

Recent days have suddenly been emotionally difficult after relative equanimity for some time. It took some time to pin down precisely what has been bothering me, but eventually, I realized. It’s been a year. In a few weeks, it will have been a year since I got that cold, empty phone call after several days of emotionally distant standoffishness. It’s almost been a year since I was initially prepared for the death of partnership, family, and friendship (I don’t mean to be melodramatic with using the word “death”. That was the phrasing she used at the time–“This must die.”). This anniversary has particular weight not only because of the end of a relationship but also because of the unraveling of my life in general at that time. My job shifted dramatically around the same time, and I got notice that my landlady was also changing the terms of my lease–I got ousted in the process. Difficult changes and challenges have continued to mark the months and days since. It has been the hardest year of my life, even more so than the handful before which were no cakewalks.

It’s interesting looking back, as anxiety-provoking as it might be. It’s interesting because clearly time has passed. Much has happened. However, either due to some sort of experiential time warp or longing, it doesn’t feel that long. The events do not feel that separate from now. In fact, the last 2 or 3 months are the first time that they’ve felt separate at all. I think that’s why I can say it feels like a scar now in one of my recent writings.


Honestly, I started writing these words for this entry a few days ago and then put it aside. Some reading, writing, and meditation have brought me into this experience more–facing it rather than wriggling under the knife of emotional pain. Loving-kindness meditation has been extremely powerful in this brave, tender facing up to change. It involves wishing yourself, a close friend or loved one, a stranger, an enemy, and all sentient beings loving-kindness in gradual succession. This is the mantra to guide this visualization of loving-kindness (first said for yourself, than the friend, etc. while imagining pure positivity sent to each):

May I/you/all be happy
May I/you/all be healthy
May I/you/all be at peace
May I/you/all live with ease

I’ve found that offering such positive love out into the world, into everything, releases my focus from “me” and “my” pain. I can flow along with the world and the suffering of others, helping them find their own connection and loving-kindness as well.

I don’t say this to say that my feelings are unimportant or easily ignored. They’re there, and if I hadn’t been practicing hard for months now, I’m sure that I’d be utterly lost in them as I was for a few days about a week ago.

What are those feelings? I think that they’re my first real experience of grief. I lost an entire life in this transition–home, lover, family, and friends. My story had to be fundamentally altered, a process that I’m still working through.

What stands out to me as a symbol of this grief, nestled into the whole experience is the loss of my ex’s grandmother. She died only a few weeks after my ex dumped me. I saw her in person one last time. She was very ill. We talked for a while. She was clearly in a lot of pain and wasn’t fully in our conversation. As I got up to leave, she told me that I was “right up there” with her grandkids in terms of people in her life. She basically said that she cared about me almost as much as them. She died a few days later. Those were her last words to me.

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Grief

This might seem unimportant, but I have never had anyone I was really close to die before. My great-grandmothers died when I was in my youth, and a classmate died as a teen, but I wasn’t as close to any of them as I was to this woman. This was my first really personal experience of the loss of death other than a few pets dying while growing up. It’s a peculiar kind of loss, knowing that you cannot, will not, ever see this person again, a person who was a family member (as I was honorary grandson to her, I definitely considered her grandma as well). This kind of experience brings home the true depths of loss in the fullness of its meaning.

Alongside this was the loss of one of our cats too. He died in the same time period, and in many ways, he was the heart of our home. I still think of him and speak of him often…

So these echoes of grief, of loss, have a couple solid anchors in death. Not only was there the symbolic death of love, friendship, family, and home in breakup; there was the actual death of a couple key pieces of that structure.

Some might read my posts of the last several months and point at how much I have grown, but suffering, ultimately, cannot be rationalized or justified. We move to find some meaningful explanation of our troubles, to pin them down and make them “OK”. However, that’s the same drive that leads us to blame the victim–“They had it coming because…” All we can do is lay bare the root causes of our suffering or someone else’s and sit with those causes mindfully, accompanying them and that person through the mystery of being, rather than trying to explain it away.

With grief, I’ve had to face my attachment to the way I wish life were in the barest rawness of disappointment, despair, confusion, loneliness, and fear. It’s brought me into a deeper relationship with myself and Truth, but that does not mean it was justified or a “good” thing. Such experiences lie beyond any plan, rationalization, or telos. I would never wish such a thing on anyone or try to explain how it’s good for them. I will open my arms to accompany any I meet with grief and share loving-kindness with them in the abyss.


It seems like every return to this writing has changed it. It’s been an interesting process, and while the pain still resides, it doesn’t torture me as it did when I first was writing these words. It truly has been a hard year, but unlike the beginning of this post when I felt like I couldn’t survive another year like this, I’m now looking at this moment and the path that lies ahead with equanimity. In honor of the mix of feelings I’ve gone through and where this year really started, I’d like to add a song by Adele. For some time, I listened to her songs about heartbreak again and again, and I think that “Rolling in the Deep” will always remind me of this time. However, I’d like to share another one about moving on, burning the past, and heartbreak in all of its pain, confusion, longing, and forced violence to the attachments that were. It came up on the radio while at lunch the other day, and it immediately reminded me of all of this:

Here’s to setting fire to my own rain.


May this help those who endure heartbreak, grief, and the anniversaries of life-altering times feel accompanied and seen. May it help them find their own means to establishing equanimity within when it feels like the world is in turmoil.

Gassho!


Previous Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry– Entry 9: Scar
Next Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry– Entry 11: Just Live