Maitri is a Sanskrit word for unconditional loving-kindness. Pema Chodron writes: "Without lovingkindness for ourselves, it is difficult, if not impossible, to genuinely feel it for others." We're born, we live, we die and through it all we are always with ourselves, but we are not always loving-kind towards ourselves and this unfortunately often translates into not being loving-kind towards others. When we were little, we all experienced someone else being unkind towards us; we might have acted out against the unjust treatment, but we still internalized the hurt. When we were shamed, we fell into shaming ourselves and then we either repressed it or acted out in defiance of it. Children imitate their parents and teachers, little girls scold and punish their doll babies and boys try to establish dominance in their games and contests. Children learn to teach themselves and others through being taught. To watch little children at play can be heartwarming and heart wrenching because they naturally imitate and follow the adults who can't help but reveal their own strengths, insecurities and prejudices.
We are imperfect beings. We always have been. I won't say we always will be because I am starting to believe that we are all moving towards eventual enlightenment. But in the interim, that is in this present moment, we need to right that initial wrong done to us and stop shaming ourselves and others. We do that by making friends with ourselves. I know that that is particularly hard to do when you've been abused. After I left my abusive boyfriend, I wrote in my journal about feeling this undercurrent of self-hatred. On the surface I was okay, taking classes, being creative and then going back to school, but deep down I was not accepting myself just as I was. I wanted to be different or to have someone in my life to make me feel happier and this led me right into the delusions and paranoia of my psychosis. I had been shaming myself for years; my abusive boyfriend just took that to its extreme. Later I could see that he was doing the same thing to himself. We were both caught in that negative cycle and what love we did manage to have for ourselves often turned out to be misguided or distorted.
When I left the abuse, I thought that I had liberated myself and was moving on to a fresh start, a new beginning, but I had internalized the shame that I generated for myself and that my boyfriend seemed to confirm in me. My illness taught me that I wasn't being my own best friend; I was still buying into negativity. I endured the onslaught of psychosis and it brought me even farther down than I had been before. I moved from being externally abused to being internally abused. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. The negative voices forced me to confront my darker side: my prejudices, my resentment, my egotism, while the positive voices beckoned me to take care of myself. In order to take care of myself I had to befriend myself, all of myself, dark and light and all the shades of grey in between.
When you really make friends with yourself labeling parts of yourself as good or bad doesn't work and labeling others good or bad doesn't ring true either. We are all a mixture of many things and black and white thinking doesn't suffice when you are really trying to love yourself and others. And yet people persist quite stubbornly in taking sides, in painting a picture of self as "good" and other as "bad" or visa-versa. Doing this is being in the thick of an ego orientation and it is an illusion. It would be truer to say that I am good/bad and you are good/bad and everyone on the planet is good/bad. The loving-kind way to say this is that we are all fallible human beings. If we take this to heart, we begin to realize that we are all part of the same family and this deepens the love.
There is just one world and one people on this world. Again so many of us rely on the illusions we create. We make imaginary borders that supposedly divide countries from each other. It's not real and yet we all agree to abide by the fantasy and even structure our lives around it. It's not real that there are good people and bad people because we are and always have been a mixture. Yes there are evil intentions and evil acts, just as there are good intentions and angelic acts, but what we fail to acknowledge is that both can reside inside one individual. We are complex and challenging creatures.
Pointing the finger at ourselves or at others goes nowhere; we have to befriend ourselves, each and everyone of us. Peace is possible, but only if we each do the necessary footwork within ourselves.
The difference between an illusion and a delusion is that an illusion is shared by many and a delusion is just experienced by one individual. It's a deep irony that people without serious mental illness look at those in the grips of it as if they were crazy, when, in a sense, we are all crazy. We all allow ourselves to be controlled by our conformity to socially oriented illusions. We think we've divided up the world; we think that we own things, that paper money is real, that the clock tells the true time. And then there are the illusions we accept into our lives as a form of entertainment: tv, movies, books, games. Buddhists say, look at life as if it were a dream and we should because that's the way we treat it. How much are you taking for granted right now?
Sometimes out of the mouths of babes and other times out of the mouths of crazy people come startling truths, the truths we keep running away from. Those same truths came out of the mouths of Buddha and Jesus and still we're running. I'll probably keep saying this till I'm blue in the face but loving your enemies is the direct route to healing your heart and doing your part to heal the world. And the greatest enemy we'll ever have is ourselves, especially when we're wasting precious time hating others along with ourselves. The problem is not out there, it's in ourselves, in our attitudes and how we relate to pain. This is good news. We can't change other people, but we can change ourselves.
My brother and I were talking the other day about how so many people who claim to be Christians don't follow Jesus. He was speaking in terms of intolerance and a lack of forgiveness. I brought up how so few Christians practice loving their enemies. He responded that that was a tough thing to do and I agreed. What I didn't go on to say was that just because it is tough doesn't mean we shouldn't always work towards that goal. The Buddhists before Jesus approached this practically starting with loving those who loved them to loving those they didn't know well to loving those they didn't particularly like to loving those they outright hated. The foundation for all this love practice is loving yourself and not just the "good" parts, but the whole deal. You can work with yourself on the spot anytime, anywhere. We are our toughest judges, our own enemies. If we can face ourselves with love and compassion, we can face anyone the same way. No one is too bad to be part of the human circle and in realizing this, we can change the world instead of destroying it. The voices once said to me, "Change your attitude and you change your behavior." Too many of us behave very, very badly towards ourselves, others and the earth. Is a change of attitude so much to ask?
A Recovery Blog
This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.