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Lions Roar : May 2018
have to be willing to surrender everything, and we have to realize there is no arrival and it is all an unfolding process. Easy to say, and takes everything to do.” This instruction is what I return to throughout my days, and it was particularly pertinent with this new seemingly dif- ficult situation and person. I myself have chosen to turn away from discomfort. I felt tender toward this man for his willingness to engage in what could be a very difficult conversation. What is it that brings us to create and encourage gossip? On the day we were to meet, I took some time beforehand to sit zazen and offer the merits of our meeting to all people who are harmed by rumors. When he arrived at the center, my feeling on seeing him was one of warmth and friendship. He was smiling; we shook hands and went into a private room to talk. Immediately, he offered an apology for disparaging us and talking about things he had not himself experienced. I offered my appreciation for his willingness to even begin this face-to-face conversation. I invited him to share his concerns with me. We spoke at length about how rare it is to actually engage in difficulty, whether it presents itself as a challenging conversation, or lies solely in our own thoughts. We are filled with ideas, pref- erences, and opinions and very often they’re not based on direct experience. Together we explored his difficulties, and I shared mine. What unfolded was the hurt he had experienced himself with two past teachers who had grossly crossed boundaries. He shared his feelings of not being heard by them. This was what had activated him. In this conversation, what I could see happening was that together, we were cocreating the intimacy of courage. Of course, there are circumstances when this is possible, and others when it is not. This was what made this encounter so moving. It took both of us surrendering our old stories and hurts, and meeting each other in the moment. This is what I call true courage: two people practicing the total willingness to let go of being right and meeting each other in the receptive ground of the dharma. KOSHIN PALEY ELLISON is the co-editor of Awake at the Bed- side: Contemplative Teachings on Palliative and End of Life Care. Difficult People Are Suffering People Understanding that, says MITCHELL RATNER, is the key to responding with compassion and skill— even to that guy in the White House. A TEACHING I HEARD Thich Nhat Hanh offer many times is that people who are difficult, people who say and do mean and offensive things, are not evil. They act that way because they suffer deeply and lack the understand- ing and skills to act differently. So rather than respond- ing to them in anger, our responsibility as practitioners is to understand why they suffer, nourish our capacity to respond with compassion, and help them learn to trans- form the roots of their suffering. I came to understand Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching more deeply one day when I realized that the difficult people around me—those who were critical, judgmental, easily irritated, short tempered, and so on—were like that not just to me and others, but also to themselves. If they were being hard on me, they were making themselves suffer even more. I could separate myself, mentally and physically, from their meanness; they could not. It became easier not to take the mean things people said or did personally, and my compas- sion grew. Some years ago, my wife and I walked a thousand miles of the Camino de Santiago from eastern France to western LION’S ROAR | MAY 2018 58