More than one Guru who’s teaching style was to run a community or the longer sorts of retreats has been known to have one very difficult person in their close team and to put quite a lot of time into making sure that they stay in the group. Very often they are given posts of responsibility that means that other people have to interact with them. Why would they want to do this?
The reason is that the spats, arguments and unpleasantnesses that this person provokes are exactly what many students need in order to see the negative qualities this engenders in themselves. Of course, there is just the possibility that the difficult person may start to see through their games as well and learn a little compassion in their turn! But to get back to the point; all the time we are engaged in mutual pats on the back with people we have a lot in common with we are reinforcing our own ego and world view. We do it so naturally that we are not even aware of it. It is so nice and natural to commune with like minded souls. When we do meet someone who rubs us up the wrong way it is immediately their fault. If we are part of an organisation and someone wants to do things differently, or does not perform to the standard required we just see them as throwing spanners in the works. We get cross, irritated, embarrassed and they become bad people. We demonise them and we tell other people how awful they are and how difficult they are making our lives. If we are nice people we don’t go round telling tales behind their backs we just spend a lot of time talking to ourselves about it.
In my wife’s family they call this ‘lawnmowering’. The story being that a neighbour asks to borrow the lawn mower promising to return it promptly but it does not come back that day; or the next day; or the day after that. The family are annoyed, then cross, then mad about it. They spend time telling one another what an awful selfish neighbour they have. Finally dad, or mum, gets so wound up about it they declare that they are going round to the neighbour’s to have words with them about the lawn mower and all the other terrible things they have dredged up about his unneighbourly behaviour. Practicing their angry speech they march round to the next door house, knock on the door and wait fuming. But when the neighbour opens the door mum or dad meekly says, ‘I was wondering if you had finished with our lawnmower? Because our grass is getting a bit long.’
I talked in the previous article about the need to take responsibility for our own situation and to start by seeing what our contribution is to what is happening. In this article we are taking that expression of loving kindness one step further and realising that everyone that comes into our circle has something positive and of use to us in our spiritual path. The person who has borrowed our lawnmower has raised all sorts of negativity in us. We could stop, sit back and just deal with that first. Did we realise just how much we jump in with anger? and where does that anger come from? There are so many issues about how we see other people as ‘them’ out there, about our attitude to our possessions, about our innate selfish ego defences, indeed about our sense of self and how we put it before our oneness in Being. That neighbour is giving us the fast route to enlightenment if we could but see it! After we have dealt with that it might be time to go and chat to the neighbour about lawnmowers. Of course if we didn’t go round to collect our lawnmower until we had dealt with all these issues we might get through a lot of lawnmowers!
In the last article I made reference to the fact that many people feel that their parents, or their upbringing, or unfortunate events in their childhood are to blame for how they are now and they hold it, more or less consciously, against their parents. As I said it may well be true but that was in the past. Now you are an adult and you have the most wonderful opportunity for spiritual development. The pain, hurt, imposed limitations, or however you see it, are an invaluable tool in pinpointing where you need to work on yourself. That is the very place to dig down into all the selfish, self defensive things that you are hanging on to. Because spiritual as well as emotional, social development are only going to occur to the extent that you let go of the need to be so defended against.. well… against what you will only ever discover when you let go. But to your parents you can be grateful, they have given you the opportunity to discover one of the greatest lessons life has to give.
I hope you will see that you have reason to be grateful to everyone that you ever meet- even if they are difficult people or put you in difficult situations. You can be grateful to those who are near and dear to you when they irritate or hurt you if you will only use it as an opportunity to become responsible for your negative reactions to what they do. And of course it is easy to be grateful to those who are compassionate to us. It hardly seems worth mentioning that.
This is no new age, airy fairy practice. How easy it is to sit in an armchair or a meditation cushion and generate nice thoughts about everyone and how hard it is to do it in the world of hard knocks. Just remember though when the going gets tough- Your Buddha nature needs this medicine. Be grateful you are getting it!