Freedom From Ill Will

There’s a saying that nursing a grudge is like taking poison and expecting it to make the other person sick.  Wishing bad things to happen to others does nothing to them, actually, but it does make us suffer.  The good news is that we can end this suffering.

We seldom decide to have ill will.  It usually just sneaks up on us and subtly takes over.  It’s common to use anger as an emotional place to hide from the wounds of life, but it’s like a narcotic: seductive, and then a torment. 

Not only is ill will sneaky and painful, it’s also contagious.  If we act on it, the target of our dislike will be angry and probably pass it on to others.  Usually, some time after I do or say something inspired by ill will, I regret it.  That can make me ill-tempered, and on it goes, spreading like a virus.

If you’re meditating and find yourself thinking about someone who’s wronged you, or just gets on your nerves, you have a great opportunity.  You can even amp it up by thinking about all the reasons you dislike this person. Then turn your attention to how it’s affecting you physically – how you feel as a result of these thoughts.  You’ll probably notice tightened muscles, a prickly or burning sensation, a feeling of pressure in your head.  That’s dukkha, self-inflicted suffering.

Several Buddhist texts recommend that you then force the thoughts of dislike out of your mind.  It may be easier to turn your thoughts from ill will to good will, or metta.  Maybe the most do-able first step is to have compassion for yourself, for suffering this way.

All the Four Divine Abodes (metta, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity) serve this purpose well.  I find that saying phrases of metta for all beings is the best next step for me.  Once I’ve put my mind into that mode, I can then get specific and send goodwill to the person(s) who’ve annoyed me.   If thinking about joy works for you, try that.  For many, recognizing that the suffering of ill will torments everyone can soothe the heart with equanimity.

The more we practice with ill will, the easier it becomes to spot it arising in our daily lives, and stop feeding it with malicious thoughts.  Gradually, it loosens its grip on us and arises less frequently.  It’s a process, and the first step is simply to recognize what ill will does to us.  Then we just need to keep encouraging thoughts and feelings of well-being for all, including ourselves.

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