It is my impression that most people who teach meditation skip some very important steps when they talk to students about unconditional love or forgiving those who have harmed them.
It seems to me that most teachers either in their talks or books launch too quickly into their views on the value of unconditional love and the practice of offering compassion to all who live. What I feel is more helpful is to take the time to talk to people about whatever levels of anger, or aggressive urges, or thoughts of revenge they may be experiencing. Take the time to find out about the situations in their past or present which they are struggling to deal with. To the best of your ability find ways to acknowledge that their feelings are either completely reasonable or at least understandable. Don’t try to launch right away into some discussion about how they need to “pray for their enemies” or ” to offer love and compassion” to their antagonists during silent meditation. I am not saying these are not good and proper suggestions. What I am saying is that part of what is happening when people are hurt, angry, and confused is that they need someone to listen to them and to see things the way they are seeing them. Over time as people feel supported and acknowledged it will be far more possible for them to engage the work of diminishing serious resentments through talk therapy, silent meditation, prayer and the like.
The real danger is that if a person is told to let go of their anger before they are able to do so, this attempt will likely lead to only greater levels of frustration. Many will feel they are being told that there is something wrong with their feelings or that they should just let the person they are angry with “get away with it.” The conflict between what they are feeling is in direct contrast to the moral and spiritual messages they are being given. This conflict can be quite trying. Some may try to repress the anger or rage they are feeling because they think they “should” do so. This will only add stress to their psyche and can create a pressure cooker experience within the person where sooner or later they will lash out with even greater anger or aggression than before.
All of these suggestions are offered with the assumption that a student realizes the need to develop better coping skills with difficult people and situations and is moving in the direction of learning how to love and forgive more freely. It is just that helping them get to the point where they can offer love and compassion to all who live requires, in my opinion, more patience that is commonly used and a series of preparatory steps that are commonly skipped.
What I feel is most practical and helpful is to ask a student to make a list of the people they love and with whom they have little or no conflict. Helping a person offer love and good wishes during meditation to those people they love or at least like is an excellent way to help them begin what might be a long process. This very simple practice will allow a person to think about ways they can improve the quality of the love, respect, and friendship they offer to those they care about the most.
As a person learns to improve the love, respect and friendship they offer to those they care about, the experiences that arise from these efforts will generate sufficient momentum that will allow them to begin to widen the circle of people they offer love and best wishes to during their meditation. Slowly, patiently as you work with them, and walk with them, and be someone who is a “safe person” for them, they can then learn to forgive people who are harder to forgive.
The goal is to offer unconditional love and forgiveness to all who live and this is an essential skill to be willing to learn if one wishes to reach the deepest experiences of peace in meditation. It is just that it is important to help people move towards this goal gradually, and at a realistic pace given the feelings that may be active within them at present.
Will Raymond firstname.lastname@example.org