"My mind fills with anger each time I hear him speak," one of my students reports of his response to a political leader. I find myself wishing ill will toward them all, another says with a pained voice, ashamed of her own reactions to politicians. "I simply can't practice lovingkindness for these people," says a third. In the past few years many meditation practitioners have been coping with such emotions as they struggle to find peace of mind in relation to the national events and elected officials they view as harmful. Students coping with a difficult co-worker, a friend's betrayal, a painful breakup, or an unjust family situation report similar feelings of outrage, anger, or disgust.
Often meditation students will ask me what they should do when their hostility and sense of separation persist despite hours of lovingkindness practice and repeated attempts at forgiveness. Even well-trained students, who understand that their feelings are causing them to suffer and that anger often gets in the way of wise action, sometimes find that feelings of frustration and rage continue.
It's a spiritual conundrum: How do you not succumb to outrage and alienation, yet keep your passion and motivation to fight for justice and social good? Likewise, when your marriage is dissolving, how do you let go of anger, bitterness, and blame while at the same time standing up for what you believe to be right, particularly when children are involved?
One student told me she didn't trust herself to meditate. She found herself seething when she got off the cushion, as it so increased her fixation on how poorly her ex-husband had treated her. A man on retreat—flooded with hopelessness after his wife left him for another man, taking their two children with her asked if he should just go home. Maybe I need antidepressants, not meditation, he ruefully proclaimed.
One possibility for meditators looking to process experiences of hostility and alienation is a reconciliation practice. Often, people who do this practice report a dramatic reduction in their emotional turmoil. Particularly in difficult marriage and family circumstances, they have found that consistently working with reconciliation meditation has enabled them to finally move forward with their lives.