Is there someone in your life who repeatedly treats you unkindly? Do they inflict hurtful judgments, sometimes blatant and other times disguised as helpful criticism? This person is your spiritual teacher. In the sting you suffer at their words and deeds is the seed of compassion, of understanding the power each wields to hurt or heal, blame or bless. The unkind have shown up in your life for this purpose: to teach you the sanctity of kindness — that, in the larger picture, kindness to one another, to animals, and to the Earth itself is what matters most in life.
— Me or anyone who gets it
I remember a time when I walked through life with the goal of showing everyone I mattered. I divided people into two classes — those I needed on my side and those who didn’t count.
Those I needed I worked to charm: Do you see how smart I am? How funny? How creative and classy and downright likable? Most times I put on this show without even knowing it.
As for those who didn’t count, I wanted them to know I didn’t give a rat’s ass what they thought of me. To such people I might be rude, judgmental, or just too cool. If they were serving me in some way, I could find fault with their service. If I viewed them as competing, I could talk shit about them.
In both cases, my intent was to prove that I mattered by impressing that fact on others. This approach led me to my needing to drink and wanting to die. Eventually, I felt I mattered to no one, that my life was in fact a superfluous failure.
But a lot of people succeed far better with this approach than I did. They may practice it for a lifetime, amassing just enough proof of their superiority to get the satisfaction they need. Still, they’re constantly hungry for more. Each time they judge, they get a little boost of feeling smarter! If they pronounce that judgement, they savor a sense of wielding power, that their words can zing like handy little thunderbolts. Life, for them, is a vast swamp where they have to keep constantly stepping on the backs of less-thans to stay afloat themselves.
These are the unkind.
To live this way doesn’t mean you go around being rude as fuck, because we all know rudeness doesn’t serve us. To live this way means being polite in self-interest: good manners act as a subtle form of manipulation. Acrid, judgmental thoughts may be blurted on occasion but more often sound only in the mind, where they eventually poison the thinker. The harsher our thoughts about others, the harsher we imagine they must feel toward us.
Lucky drunk that I was, my despair drove me into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, where people spoke a different language: higher power, being of service, love and tolerance. I worked the steps. I found my higher power. And though that “flimsy reed” of connection initially seemed to me like gripping a sewing thread I couldn’t even feel, I gradually found that, the more I pulled on it, the more I could feel it and the stronger it grew.
Today, my relationship with god — in my case via my guardian angel — is by far the most important in my life. I love my angel and I know better than anything else that he (not the goddess I ordered) loves me — immensely, and not for anything I’ve done. He loves the goodness of my essence, which he knows better than I do. He steers me toward goodness though I may know nothing about it.
Sorry if I lost you there! As a Near-Death Experiencer who’s collaborated on that connection for decades, I can get pretty woo pretty quick. I hope not to alienate anyone hurting as I hurt for so many years, when words like the above would have seemed pure gibberish.
The point is that, loved in this way, I have oodles more good stuff than I need. I have so much that my only object is to give it away.
When my son turned 13, he observed my behavior skeptically and remarked one day, “Mom, everybody doesn’t have to like you!” He was trying to make sense of the banter he saw me exchanging with strangers, the compliments I gave, my idle questions about how someone’s day was going or how long ’til their shift was up. Why chat after every AA meeting? Why throw sober parties? He couldn’t imagine what else I might be after.
It’s actually the polar opposite of what I once was: I want others to know that they matter. I want to help them, however incrementally, to feel good about themselves, to know that they’re likable and smart and appreciated — that someone sees just a bit of their beautiful essence. If their body language shows me what they want most is to be left alone, I honor that by shutting up. (For instance, talking to anyone on the bus only scares the shit out of them…)
Kind thoughts toward others generate a kindly world for us to inhabit. But kindness toward ourselves is harder to master. That one, I’m still working on. Whenever someone criticizes me — perhaps the unkind in my life — I reel in the effort to right myself. Whenever I’m ill, exhausted, lonely, or otherwise down, it’s still a challenge to enfold myself in love. Since my dog died, I’ve developed silly little go-to tricks, like sending love to the birds I see through my window or even, in a pinch, to my house plants! As soon as I send out love, I sense a replenishing influx of love from god.
Awareness that I’m a bit absurd, some person alone and talking to a chickadee or a ficus tree, only adds to that love. I am human. I am trying. It is enough.