Reaching the messy end of friendships, of relationships, of other sorts of bonds that seemed inclined to last but have frayed apart recently, or currently are fraying, I’ve been trying to find ways of coping with things and with people that does the least harm while maintaining my own self to a reasonable degree — not putting myself into a situation where I will be devoured and have nothing left for Freyr, for the wights, for studying, for meditation, for my other friends and loved ones, or anything at all.
Buddhism approaches how one should protect oneself, or if one should protect oneself at all, differently depending on the school. But the interior attitude does not change, whether one takes steps, or what sort of steps, to remove oneself from harm or the potential for harm.
Monks, even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you should train yourselves: “Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.” That’s how you should train yourselves.
“Train” is an important word. Doing this is anything but easy, even in circumstances that are relatively pleasant much of the time. It’s both common and easy to have stray nasty thoughts about people who annoy you, when someone cuts you off driving, or cuts in line in front of you, won’t move when the light turns green, steps on your toes, bumps into you hard enough to make you stumble or drop something, etc. It’s basic Internet 101 on get enraged at the opinions of others, as well. And politics.
It’s unlikely someone will start sawing your limbs off, but you may find yourself subjected to a monologue about politics you find abhorrent (I know someone who is a great fan of Rush Limbaugh; I’m gay and passionately support women’s rights), from someone you can’t afford to seem rude toward, so you seethe inwardly and fantasize about sawing their limbs off.
It’s an accomplishment, and not a small one, to manage to be polite to people on the exterior almost all of the time. It’s very hard to create interior kindness, patience, and forbearance that doesn’t shatter as soon as someone sits near you and chews with their mouth open.
Peace, ultimately, comes from within ourselves. Especially the sort of peace that grows.
It’s said that what we hate most in others are things we hate about ourselves, and it’s a fact that most western people, when they try to do metta meditation, and have to start with genuinely wishing themselves happiness and freedom from suffering, have trouble doing it. We harbor a lot of self-loathing.
The advice is to start with someone easy, like your best friend, or your mentor, your lover, someone that your heart can embrace without any selfishness and wish for their happiness and their freedom from suffering. And then eventually work your way around to yourself. Some people find wishing themselves happiness even harder than wishing the “difficult person” happiness — someone you don’t like very much, but not necessarily someone you hate or someone who’s abused you, because dealing with those people is fairly advanced and you’d ideally want to not be alone in your practice when working with something so hard.
I realized that these things and people who are fraying away from me need, more than anything, a great deal of love and kindness — both toward them and toward myself — to loosen the attachments and let them go, and heal what’s left behind.
The image that I had was of uprooted trees, or partly uprooted trees. And i knew it would not harm them to finish uprooting them, to work from the bottom and fill in the soil with lovingkindness and gently push the trees out of the ground, instead of pulling from the top and ripping them out. With an intact root system, they can grow somewhere else. And I’m not left full of pieces of other people, inside my soulscape, with land that does not return to itself the way soil and plant matter does here without any human intervention. There are microbes and worms and plenty of other things that do that, largely invisibly. But I’m not full of helpful things tilling and aerating me until I’m full of rich black earth, ready to be filled with a garden.
I have to do it myself.