Most of us are our own worst critics, so it's important to practice loving kindness to ourselves. However, when we're really hurting, we can exert so much effort dealing with our own suffering that we lose track of what we do to those around us. When we're suffering, even from self-inflicted wounds, it's also easy to project our feelings of anger or shame onto others. Unfortunately, the closer they are, the more damage they endure.
The most difficult aspect of being at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp is dealing with the reality that I have caused pain to those who loved and trusted me. Being here, there is nothing I can do to help clean up the mess. That's frustrating. There is also the realization that my mess left some permanent stains that will never fully clean up. That's sad.
In the midst of all this mess come the writings of the Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön in her book When Things Fall Apart. Much of her writings are about the practice of loving kindness which is the derivative of the Sanskrit word "maitre." The word also translates as unconditional friendship.
Practicing loving kindness, as she describes it, is more than just telling myself and others, "Don't worry. Everything is OK." It's a different approach where we're not trying to solve a problem. She writes, "We aren't trying to make pain go away or to become a better person. In fact, we are giving up control altogether and letting concepts and ideals fall apart." Our reactions become memories which come and go as we realize that whatever we experience is neither the beginning nor the end. It's just now.
The trick is to experience the now without judgment, without buying into criticism or bitterness. Because when we buy into these reactions, we practice them. Instead we should practice gentleness and letting go. Instead of struggling against the force of confusion and fear, we can simply meet it face to face and relax. When we do that, we gradually discover that clarity and open space is always there. It's already there, we just couldn't see it.
How long does it take to perfect this maitre practice of loving kindness? Probably a lifetime.