We choose our friends but we can’t always choose who we live or work with. As a result, you may spend many hours a day with people you do not get along with. So, how can you make your home or workplace somewhere that is more pleasant, peaceful, and caring for one another?
Certainly you can do things that are simple yet effective, like buying flowers or sharing fresh fruit. We know some businesses start each meeting with three minutes of silence, in order to create a psychological break between activities. This can also be applied at home, as it is a brilliant way to bring people together on the same page. But often difficulties go deeper, especially if it feels like someone has it in for you, and even more so if the offender is your parent or boss.
We were teaching a week retreat in an old vicarage in the countryside of County Wicklow, Ireland. A beautiful place, yet many of the participants had difficulties they were dealing with. In particular, Helen told us that she had a very critical, angry boss, Mary, who would walk in each day and immediately begin to find fault with everything Helen did: the way she was dressed, the way her hair was, that she was always late (which she wasn’t) and so on. Helen was becoming a nervous wreck, feeling inadequate and shameful, as well as developing a real bitterness toward her boss. She wanted to leave, but jobs were hard to find in her area.
At the retreat we taught Helen how to develop greater objectivity towards Mary. We reversed roles so that Helen could see she was actually being very self-centered, as many of us are, by presuming it was all about her. She had immediately assumed that she must have done something wrong, as Mary did not seem to like her. She was then able to see that that, instead, Mary might be unhappy or facing her own problems and taking it out on Helen.
It was very important for Helen to go beyond thinking of herself as the cause and to see the bigger picture, even to realize that it probably had nothing to do with her at all. This was a profound insight. She was then able to practice a meditation we taught her to cultivate kindness. This helped Helen develop more self-confidence, and a greater sense of connectivity with others so she didn’t take things so personally. It gave her greater objectivity, awareness and freedom, which also led her to a deeper understanding of Mary, and even compassion for her.
After the retreat was over and Helen was back at work, she happily wrote to tell us what had happened. She had been focusing her kindness meditation on Mary and had begun to perceive what an unhappy and sad woman her boss really was beneath her tough exterior. Helen watched her moving and talking to people and saw the loneliness in her body language, sensing sadness in her voice. Each time Mary approached her, Helen would silently direct toward Mary, ‘May you be well, may you be happy, may you be peaceful,’ while sending her boss thoughts of care and compassion. This not only lowered her own stress response but also balanced her reactive feelings.
Helen saw the reality of this other woman’s unhappiness, and how all the criticism and anger appeared to be due to her own issues, rather than anything that Helen had done. Meditation cleared her mind and opened her heart so that she was no longer giving her power away but was able to stay steady within herself. No longer absorbing the criticisms, Helen could talk to her boss quite fearlessly.
Next: Kindness Meditation