Lojong Practice Journal: Don’t seek others’ pain as the limbs of your own happiness
The 59 slogans through a social justice lens
“Don’t seek others’ pain as the limbs of your own happiness” is basically an instruction not to indulge in schadenfreude — the experience of pleasure at witnessing or hearing about someone else’s misfortune. On a basic level, this makes sense, and yet feeling satisfaction at watching someone get their comeuppance seems to be a common human trait.
I have worked with this slogan most in the context of past romantic relationships that were steeped in toxicity. I am humble enough to admit that I’ve felt a degree of smug satisfaction to hear that an exes’ current relationship is not going so well or a mutual friend has cut them out of their life too. I can also admit that for years, when including anyone who treated me badly in my Metta practice, it was motivated entirely by the wish that they would apologize and admit their wrong-doing. “May they be happy,” I would think. And the footnote in my thoughts would be, “Because happy people have some measure of kindness and maybe they might just admit what an asshole they were.” I used to think that until I got the apology I deserved, they didn’t deserve to be happy.
I was well aware of this caveat to my practice and held the intention to one day be able to let it go. My commitment to liberation means offering the possibility for redemption and truly wanting everyone to be free of suffering. It also means recognizing that there is no liberation in bitterness, nor thinking of a full, complex human being in binary terms of “good” or “bad.” This practice has not been about minimizing when people cause harm, but about recognizing that part of the healing process is found in relating to our shared humanity. As the oft-repeated phrase goes, hurt people hurt people.
It was during a 49-day retreat that I finally felt a shift when it came to the stage of Metta practice where I was extending loving-kindness to the difficult people in my life. I was using my usual phrases, offering them out first to myself, then a beloved, then to a neutral person:
May you be happy,
May you be safe,
May you have ease of mind.
I generally change up who I bring to mind as the beloved and neutral people, but for that fourth step, the difficult people, there are only three I’ve known personally who fit the category. So there I was, two weeks into wishing happiness, safety, and ease of mind for the three people who have caused me the most harm, and for the first time ever, I genuinely felt it. I truly wanted them to be happy, to be safe, to have ease of mind — whether it benefited me or not. I wanted it so badly for them that I visualized bumping into them somewhere, giving them hugs, and being pleased to wish them well.
The physical sensation was different to all the times I’d wished for their happiness before. Where I often felt a slight tightness and contraction at the base of my throat and in my chest, this time there was only spaciousness and light — like a warm glowing sun radiating from my heart and throat, vast and expanding. Tears fell down my cheeks and a sensation of immense joy washed over me, greater than anything I’d ever felt upon hearing about their suffering.
My longing for their wellbeing did not fade when the meditation session ended. As I left the shrine room and went about my day, it actually grew. At one point it turned into a deep longing to connect with these people. I felt as though, if I was not on retreat, I wouldn’t hesitate to send them care packages, to call them and wish them well, to tell them I love them and want them to be happy. Eventually, that intensity eased off, but the authenticity of wishing them well has not gone away.
Compassion is not the same as absolution. I have not forgotten how I was hurt by these people. Understanding what was toxic and unhealthy about being in a relationship with each of them helps me maintain healthy, loving boundaries with those in my life now.
I do not want my happiness to hinge upon the suffering of another, no matter how they may have treated me. Happiness is not a zero-sum game and whole-hearted compassion does not have conditions.
My current relationships are loving, strong, and intentional because of what I learned in both healthy and unhealthy relationships in my past. The limbs of my happiness are built upon the strength of the relationship I have with myself and with others. I find happiness in building strong communities, in clear communication, in loving wholeheartedly and being loved, knowing how that feels and how it calls me to be my best self.
This blog was originally published on Medium.
This is part of a series of posts I am doing to support my dharma practice.
Visit www.KaitlynSCHatch.com to find out more about what I do.