If you’ve done loving kindness practice for a while, you have probably discovered at least one of its secrets. Metta is a transformational practice, not for others but for oneself.
In these difficult and polarizing times, many of us have been challenged in metta practice on many fronts: nationally, culturally, politically and within our families and friendships. A friend and I were talking about sending good wishes to a difficult person, a traditional part of the formal practice. This must be done with no hope or expectation that the other person will change—sometimes a difficult task because of our inherent belief in the “rightness” of our position and the “wrongness” of the other person’s position.
Over time, genuine metta practice gradually opens the heart and chips away aversion. It is our aversion to the difficult person that makes him/her difficult. Otherwise, this person is just as s/he is. We can respond to the person’s opinions and actions in this moment. While we may actively disagree with someone’s opinions or actions, we are not reacting with fear, anger and aversion towards the individual.
Perhaps it’s a subtle distinction, but it is a seismic internal shift from fear, anger, and hatred to calmness, strength and stability of mind. We have transformed, not the other person, but our self. In so doing, we may inadvertently “change” the other because we have changed the dynamic of the entire relationship.