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In Love and Struggle: Learning to Love My Neighbor (More)


Seeking to deepen my understanding of mindfulness of body, I took part in a weekend yoga and meditation workshop called “Transcending the Limitations of the Body” at the Shambhala Center in NYC this past weekend.  Joe Mauricio, who taught the techniques of meditation class I just completed at IDP, and yogi Jessica Stickler facilitated the workshop.  The teachers were awesome, and the information presented was incredibly practical, accessible, and powerful.  And also – there was this guy that annoyed me the whole time.  I mean he really, really got on my nerves.

  And it all started when, while I was out of the room, he moved my meditation cushion to the side and put his where mine had been. 

We Buddhists take refuge in the Buddha (the principle of enlightenment), the dharma (the truth in the spiritual teachings and teachings of our lives), and the sangha (the community of meditation practitioners).  Suffice it to say that for me, the sangha isn't always the most radiant of these three jewels.



I do tend to love people, and yet, people tend to get on my nerves. Especially when I think they're intruding on my personal space.

During the first mindfulness of body meditation we did in the workshop that day, I was mostly mindful of my irritability. Heat, I noted. Heat. Tingling. Pulsing. Heat. My heart was a closed fist, and even when I asked it nicely to relax a little, so I could put a many-petaled flower of joy in there, its little fingers stayed tightly curled. 

I pretty was surprised when I still hadn't shaken my funk by the tea break. Dang! I thought, this guy has gotten me totally twisted. I haven't felt this way since... since...

Oh yeah: since the Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation training at Spirit Rock. We’re on a ten day silent retreat, and on the second day a man takes a chair from the back of the room and puts it RIGHT in front of my cushion. In the middle of the room.  

I spend the next two days thinking about how I just can’t stand this rude man, and doing metta/lovingkindness practice all the while, for him and for the sad little girl in me who was so hurt by his actions. A few days later he holds the door to the dining hall for me and smiles, and I think – maybe he isn’t so bad. I notice that the lopsided way he chews his food is after all kind of cute, and his scratching during meditation - I don’t know, maybe he has a rash or something. I begin to practice metta for his potential rash, and the way I feel about him changes, and continues to change.

  When the retreat is over, I am introduced to him by one of our teachers. Turns out, he is on the board of trustees for the foundation that covered my tuition for this program.

OH yeah.  The man who I thought didn’t respect me or care about my feelings at all had in fact read my application personally, believed in my work, and had made it possible for me to attend this incredible training in the first place. And now he was asking to meet with me and the other scholarship recipients, because he wanted to offer more scholarships for people working with vulnerable communities, and he wanted to know if this training was useful and nourishing for us.

  I thanked my lucky stars that the retreat had been silent, because if it hadn't been I might have told this man all about himself in that moment where I believed I had been disrespected. Truth be told, I still think what he did with that chair was pretty careless. But I would have been so wrong about HIM.


Loving our neighbors isn't about being polite -- smiling, or holding doors -- although it can show up that way. It's about making room for ourselves and each other to grow and change.

  In Sharon Salzburg's book Lovingkindness, she writes:

“Anger and aversion express themselves in acts of hostility and persecution. The mind becomes very narrow. It isolates someone or something, fixates on it, develops tunnel vision, sees no way out, fixes that experience, that person, or that object as being forever unchanging. Such aversion supports an endless cycle of harm and revenge. We see this reality politically: with racial struggle, with class struggle, with national struggle, with religious hatreds. Anger can bind people to each other as strongly as desire, so that they drag each other along, connected through various kinds of revenge and counterrevenge, never being able to let go, never being able to be still.


Love, on the other hand, is wise enough to realize that what we experience right now will not always be so, and wise enough to honor this truth with grace. In a community in which we are almost all students, we need love to hold each other accountable, and even more love to each other a break sometimes.

I'd like to say that I was able to transform my annoyance this past weekend into gratitude for this person who gave me opportunity to work with my ego fortification.  I did not.  But I did manage to stay with my own feelings, resist reacting to them impulsively, and watch them eventually soften.  I did manage to see that while this person may have offended me, he was not The Offensive Person, not The Enemy or The Ignorant One, but rather – another being who had experienced enough suffering in his life that he was willing to devote eight hours of an unseasonably warm and sunny Saturday to working with his body and his mind. 

Like me.

Some kinds of love, they take time.


Photo: http://www.jetcityorange.com/Buddhism/

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GREAT article! when i first

GREAT article! when i first read the title i immediately thought of my actual ~neighbor~, who thinks i am the devil and accused me of something i didn't do MONTHS ago.... i wrote her off as a nutcase and have avoided her, but maybe i should rethink the situation... open my heart maybe. namaste

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