You know this person very well. He may be a friend of yours. She might be a co-worker. They are everywhere, these people, always waiting for the perfect opportunity to test your ability to love unconditionally. They are insulting and passive aggressive, and good at it. If you confront them on their childish, petty behavior they are shocked, “What? Oh sweetheart, I would never imply such a dastardly thing of you! I can’t believe you thought I was mad about something so silly! It’s just an imported rug.” They’re good alright. They make it impossible to communicate with on any kind of important level. They love to say what is on their minds in the pretense of a joke: “You mean you thought I was serious when I said your meatloaf tasted like a baby’s diaper? I was kidding! I’ve never even tasted a baby’s diaper!”
I think these people are delusional. A decent level of self-awareness is a priority of mine when choosing friends, followed closely by compassion, tolerance and looks. (See how I admit I’m shallow? That’s self-awareness.) Of course, I love all people unconditionally in my humanist world-view, but that doesn’t mean I want to hang out with all people. Let us examine, for instance, my ex step-father. Oh my, where to begin? Beginnings matter less in this case. The beginning was pretty good. I liked the idea of having a father figure around. He was teaching me how to play guitar. And he was a silly goober that liked to laugh. Everything changed one day when he came home to find a piece of Beatles memorabilia he ordered arrived in the mail. He opened it, I am guessing with some degree of excitement, and all his hopes and dreams (one would think) were dashed in an instant when he found a tiny chip in the hideous ceramic song-box.
As a matter of course, he blamed his newly acquired step-children. He raged, he insulted, he regretted (I imagined) having ever bought me that “Ole Miss” t-shirt when he was working in Mississippi rebuilding a Wal-Mart. My mother calmed and cajoled as best she could (her account) but to no avail. Our relationship soured that day, never to be reconciled. I should mention that between the time of my mother’s marriage to my step-father and that day, they found out they were having a baby. I can’t help but wonder if maybe he just freaked out about being a first-time father and never recovered. Whatever the case, he turned into an egomaniacal, controlling, narcissistic and in all other ways completely awful asshole. I am not afraid at all to say that or resort to name-calling. I will testify to the previous statement in a court of law without perjury.
Okay, I admit the name-calling is mean. (All that other stuff is not opinion though. Facts.) When I was able, after many years and much self-therapy, to allow myself genuine feelings of compassion for this person who so shaped my existence, I saw pain. Pain and suffering and misery topped with self-loathing and covered in sadness. It emanated from his very soul. I felt sorry for him. I remembered his face when he yelled at my brother, “Eat your greens, boy!” and what I saw was not the obvious anger he spat. It was his paralyzing, debilitating fear of being alone, of being unloved. I felt sad knowing how terrible his early life was and how much he craved approval and love. And how little he knew how to get it.
This kind of awareness comes at a price. As my friend Lynn says, “You can’t put shit back in a donkey!” Once you know something, you are responsible for that information. What this means is simple: knowing what I know about my ex-step-father should make me impervious to his insults. I do alright. Every once in a while my mother will tell me something completely stupid and ridiculous that he said or did and my mind will misfire into a string of slanderous one-liners and a litany of loathsome moments involving him. What can I do? My knee-jerk reaction to him is one of anger and contempt. It’s easy to be loving and kind to a person who isn’t challenging you. I almost never do things the easy way.
What is easy for some is not so easy for others. To me, it is easier to face the ugly truths and bitter emotions as soon as possible in order to expel them forever (or at least a little while.) It is much harder to allow myself, time and time again to be frustrated by the behavior of others. Passive-aggressive people unable to be honest with me or their inner selves frustrate me no end. So do controlling people and people who are always right (thus my issue with the “rightness” of religions.) It’s not important for me to be right. It’s only important that I am “right” for me. It used to be right for me to have anger and resentment for people. I held on to it out of “rightness,” telling myself the way they treat me is wrong. I wanted to continue being the victim. I wasn’t ready to let go of those base emotions. Even now I find myself retracing my steps from time to time when I start allowing negative thoughts about a person to creep into my mind. It takes constant vigilance, people!
I didn’t wake up one day and decide I was too hard on the ex-ol’ man. I woke up one day and saw his humanity, but the work didn’t end there. If only it was that easy! I still faced the same trouble of allowing his behavior to affect me. He’s not the only one I allow that freedom. Many times I have found myself hurt or insulted or upset by something someone said, some inaccurate portrayal of me or an obvious dig in the disguise of playfulness. So what? Why should I care what anyone thinks of me? I should only care what I think of me. And yet, what you think others believe about you, whether it is perceived or actual, is almost always what you think of yourself. I care about what other people think of me because it reflects some portion of truth I have about myself. If I feel resentment or envy coming from another person (and I do, a lot, I think because I have less life responsibilities due to my life choices) I know that they are showing me something I feel on the inside. So if a person makes a “joke” about how much free time I have, I might automatically assume they are calling me lazy. That is because I believe I am lazy on some level.
It is hard to be reminded constantly to love yourself and be kind to yourself. But that is what happens every time I let my guard down. Every time I feed into or react to what I think is a slight, I am saying, “You have power over me. I’m not good enough to wield my own power.” I hate being a slow learner! I am tired of being knocked off-kilter by someone else’s suffering. What can we do to stifle this cycle?
Pray for a miracle! You could do that. Or you can create a miracle. I am calling this a miracle solution because it felt like it when I tried it. It works. It is a simple, easy visualization device I use every time I need to heal resentment or contempt for any person. Anytime some unaware jerk decides to teach me about self-acceptance, I take five minutes for this exercise. Anytime I need to forgive. It could be someone I know, or someone in traffic. It could be this guy Jeremy in junior high who called me Pork Chop. (I thought it was a fat joke. I wasn’t fat.) This technique works for absolutely any situation and any person. You may have to do it for multiple people. You may even have to do it more than once for the same person. I have.
If you find it difficult to visualize, just practice. It gets easier. You can start small by visualizing your breakfast before you get out of bed and work up to big stuff like visualizing your next new car. In this meditation, try to focus on the feelings associated with the visualization if you have trouble calling up specific images.
Get into a comfortable position, sitting or lying down, but try not to fall asleep. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to relax your mind and body. Now imagine yourself sitting in the middle row of a darkened auditorium. I always see my old high school auditorium with deep red theater seats and a big stage with a lush velvet curtain surrounded by bright footlights. (Go Rams!) The footlights are on and you see someone walk onto the stage. This may be a person you have a lot of trouble forgiving. It might be someone you struggle to understand. It might be someone you absolutely loathe. See them standing there in the footlights. Feel the feelings this person evokes in you, whether it is anger, bitterness, hatred, jealousy, envy or contempt. Feel the feelings, and then release them. Say to yourself, “I release these negative emotions and they release me.” If you still feel them, it is okay. Just saying you release them starts the process.
Now imagine the person on the stage smiling. They have just received the best news they can possibly get. See them getting any and every thing they ever wanted. Celebrate with them their new speed boat, job promotion or lottery winnings. If you cannot visualize or do not know what this person wants, just try to feel their happiness at getting whatever it is. Tune in to your own previous moments of joy and happiness and having something go your way. Feel their happiness coming from the stage. For one person I know, I imagined her winning the Miss Universe contest, arms full of flowers and a shiny crown twinkling. I imagined her adoring fans weeping at her beauty. I imagined a fortune teller revealing to her she was Helen of Troy in a previous life. It made me feel really happy to see how happy that made her.
When you feel the resentment or anger starting to dissolve, you have made progress. Stay in this feeling state with the person receiving more and more wonderful things for as long as you need. When you are ready to stop, mentally thank the person for being in your existence and helping you evolve. Open your eyes and know that you have made steps toward healing a contentious relationship.
Don’t you feel better now? Do you know what the best part is? This is a totally selfish move since what you imagine for others, you also imagine for yourself. Remember all those times you wished doom and gloom upon thine enemies? Not smart. You were in turn wishing that upon yourself. Oops. Imagining happiness, abundance and joy for other people is the best way to cancel out any resentment or unwillingness to forgive. And if anyone needs to know, I would love a fulfilling career as a writer, inner peace and the ability to love all sentient beings without condition. And a sports car. Red.