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Lions Roar : July 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2008 37 I WAS SITTING ALONE in a New York restaurant awaiting the arrival of my dinner companion. I was only peripherally tuned in to the conversation of the two women at the adjacent table when one sentence caught my attention. One woman, talking about the upcoming eightieth birthday party of her mother, said, “The only problem is that my sister Margie has not spoken to my sister Evelyn in seven years.” For a moment, I found the remark comical. “Only” generally means one small thing among many. But estrangement, especially between kin, is not a small thing. I have no siblings, but I was estranged from a close friend for some years before we were able to repair our relationship, and I remember it as painful. This friend, who was also a professional colleague, wrote me an unsolicited “feedback” letter with his opinion about some- thing I’d done. I felt deeply insulted and, uncharacteristically, enraged. I was mad about being maligned, even though it was in the privacy of a letter, and upset about feeling so disturbed. Although I tried not to think about the letter, it kept coming to mind, and every time I thought, “How could he have said that about me?” Even months later, en route to a meeting at which I imagined he might be present, I’d think, “How could he have said that about me?” and I’d feel upset again. I would remember the insult and my distress about it each time I taught loving-kindness meditation, the practice of cul- tivating universal benevolence. I’d mention the four categories of persons—dearly beloved people, friends, neutral people, and enemies—that we use in this practice to identify the people we know. I often say that if I imagine myself in the middle of concentric orbits of people who inhabit my inner universe, my enemies are at the furthest distance from my heart. The goal of loving-kindness practice, as the Buddha taught it, is that every- one becomes equally dear. Once, a very close friend asked me, “Do you have any enemies?” “Only one,” I said, and I told her about the letter. I remember saying, “I can’t believe he said that about me.” “Don’t you wish you could get over that?” my friend asked. “I do wish that,” I said. “Or at least I think I do. I even feel em- barrassed now that I’ve told you. It was just a letter, and it was a long time ago. But so far I can’t let go of it. Thinking about it still riles me up. It’s too painful.” Some time later, driving to an event at which I was to be one of the speakers, feeling relaxed and happy looking forward to the evening, I remembered that my “enemy” would be sharing the podium, and I thought my reflexive thought: “How could he have said that about me?” And then I thought, “Because it was true!” I felt relieved. At the meeting we exchanged greetings, and I felt genuinely cordial. We made plans to meet again, to catch up on our lives. We met often after that, both of us enjoying our renewed con- nection. Finally, I said, “Let’s talk about what happened between us.” I told my story of receiving the letter and being upset for so SYLVIA BOORSTEIN, Ph.D., is a co-founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. She is a practicing psycho- therapist and the best-selling author of such books as Pay Attention, for Goodness’ Sake and, most recently, Happiness Is an Inside Job. Friends & Enemies When a sharp word turns a friend into an enemy, it’s always difficult to go back to the way things were. SYLVIA BOORSTEIN tells her own story of estrangement and healing. ILLUSTRATIONBYMISSYCHIMOVITZ JULY 18-39.indd 37 JULY 18-39.indd 37 4/25/08 11:57:07 AM 4/25/08 11:57:07 AM