Considering how we can curb our aversion and live in a more open-hearted way, we come now to the nitty-gritty. We can do our best to avoid people and situations that aggravate us, but inevitably, we sometimes must confront people and things that are not easy to love.
So in working with others as with oneself, we have to go deeply into the mind. In the direct contemplation of what is arising – the dividing line between what we’re comfortable with and what we’re not – simply note the flavour of consciousness. Is it contracted, defensive, anxious, demanding? Listen to the tones and the energies behind the topics that the mind brings up; tune in to the waves of irritation, fear, guilt, and so on; and extend empathy and non-aversion. It’s about not fighting, blocking or running. Holding our centre, we thus can soften the edginess of the mind. We can open to include the experience of ourselves and others in our awareness. This is the cultivation of the boundless mind; over time, it widens to include it all. — from Ajahn Sucitto in his book, Pāramī, chapter “Holistic Kindness”
When we feel our boundaries rising up, we can try to understand what’s happening. Our first instinct may be to deny our negative feelings, to flee, strike out, or panic. Sometimes our own unwelcome emotions can frighten us. We may feel that we’re faced with a life-or-death confrontation, so strong is the desire to be rid of uncomfortable feelings. But it is possible to step back and observe what’s happening in our bodies and minds. The body in particular is an accurate barometer, and if we look deeply into it we can discover how this biological unit works without taking seriously every signal it sends. By attending to the sensations in our bodies, without acting on what may feel like pressing emotions, we experience the reality of our life, the dukkha, the discomfort that we often waste our energy suppressing. We can breathe and allow these sensations, gradually coming to know them.
At an even deeper level, we can tune in to the thoughts in our mind as if they were a (possibly annoying) talk show radio program. What is the actual content of these words? Is a familiar story being repeated, loudly? Are we busily blaming someone else for our feelings? Is the tone of our inner monologue dominated by righteous anger? Helplessness? Guilt? Embarrassment? Indignation? Starting to identify the nature of our inner chatter can be surprising. We might discover that our triggers were previously hidden and are now, in this uncomfortable moment, being revealed. Once we see and understand the workings of our body and mind, our heart may open with compassion for ourselves, and eventually, others.
One benefit of doing this deep reflection, on the spot, when uncomfortable, unwelcome thoughts and emotions come up, is that we can learn to make ourselves easy to love. We can acquire the habit of forgiving ourselves, and maybe others, as a matter of course. Once our aversion and defensiveness are set aside, kindness is what’s left.