For almost two years, my closest friend has lived and worked as a community volunteer in Central America. Her experiences there have been more challenging than she had expected, and over time her idealism and positive attitude have slowly seeped away–giving way to a more cynical and unpleasant countenance. The toll that her negativity has taken on our friendship has been dramatic, especially over the course of the past few weeks, as she’s sent me unpleseant and sarcastic emails about our mutual friends and the lack of support and interest we have in her life. In the past I’ve responded to these notes defensively and angrily, which has only widened the rift between us. Several of our friends stopped speaking to her entirely and I began to fear I would have to do the same.
Then, last week, I read Sharon’s notes on “Lovingkindness for a difficult person” in Real Happines:
Lovingkindness for a difficult person is about seeing what happens when we recognize a connection with someone instead of focusing only on our feelings of conflict; when we pay attention to that person’s suffering and not just his or her transgressions…Sending lovingkindness to a difficult person is a process of relaxing the heart and freeing yourself from fear and corrosive resentment–a profound, challenging, and liberating process, and one that takes the time it takes.
Freeing yourself from corrosive resentment, that phrase stuck with me. So, for the past few days, instead of letting my friend’s snippy emails get under my skin and reacting angrily, I’ve turned off my computer and taken several hours to think about what she’s going through. When my mind wanders to her while I’m meditating, instead of letting my angry feelings bubble up, I’ve sent her thoughts of lovingkindness. Little by little, I’ve begun to feel less resentful, and finally, yesterday, I was able to write her a kind and sympathetic letter, reminding her all that we’re thinking of her and sending our love and inviting her to be honest with me about what she’s going through. It wasn’t easy, but deep down I knew her well enough to know that something difficult was causing her to act that way.
Then this morning, I received a long email from my friend thanking me for my kindness. She was sincerely apologetic for her attitude over the past few months. She said she had wanted to reach out to her friends, but she felt embarrassed about what difficult time she was having and didn’t want to admit that she was dissapointed by the experience. She told me that a few weeks ago a young child had been kidnapped from the village where she lives, and then just a few days later, the local pastor had been found murdered. My friend had been dealing with fear, pain, and confusion without anyone to talk to. She was suffering, and by paying attention to her suffering, rather than focusing on her “transgressions,” I opened the door for her to speak honestly and openly to me. I know that it will take work and patience to get our friendship back on track, but at least we’re on our way.
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