Making Progress

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Proceeding gradually

In the meditation on all beings as friends, begin working with the best of your friends, without jumping right away to neutral people or enemies. Of course the future will impinge on your mind: "I'm going to have to do this with neutral people; I'm going to have to do this with enemies." But hold back rushing on to neutral people and enemies. It's just too much of a stretch. After you actually enact the therapy by concentrating on friends to gain felt experience, you can move on to neutral people. Eventually, you will see all people as friends somewhere over the course of lifetimes, and since closeness predominates, that's the most important relationship.

Try to visualize each individual. If you're not good at visualizing, then just feel that the person is present in front of you. Then consider neutral people, not quickly, but over weeks. As you are able to cultivate the feeling of closeness more effectively, then start with minor enemies. Keep going back in time as much as you can, doing it very slowly, because doing it slowly unties many knots. Think of your high school reunion. In time, you can go way back to grade school; those enemies often loom larger in our minds. At first you don't think they do, but then when you recall so-and-so, who made fun of you for whatever reason, you're back in that situation, and all the pain and humiliation come flooding back.

The implementation of this exercise is difficult, because we hold on to knotty experiences, but it isn't just a matter of letting go. It's a matter of transforming these experiences, thinking "Just as I want happiness, don't want suffering, so Priscilla Ferrin—with whom I competed for first in the class in the eighth grade—also wants happiness, doesn't want suffering."

One of my classmates in the sixth grade punched me in the jaw, and even though he broke his hand, I still bear a grudge. If I keep feeling he wronged me—if I remain hung up on the wrong—then my personality is defined in part in relationship to that scene. However, when now I see that person as close, as having been my best friend, this undoes a good bit of the definition of myself. To see that person differently, I have to become different, too.

Reflect that this can be disturbing, but it also is liberating. It could even be shattering, in a good sense, to break down those positions of friend, enemy, and neutral person.

It won't change the fact that somebody deliberately stepped on your hand as you reached down to pick up a pencil in the third grade, but it will change the attitude you have toward that person. The fact that our personality forms out of our emotional involvement and in reaction to other people in such situations often makes it difficult to entertain a different relationship.

By meditating on people one by one, you feel the shock of change in your experience of that other person, and the mind is gradually transformed. Since the force of the meditation weakens from time to time, keep repeating the meditation. Eventually it becomes second nature and then even first nature.