Leaning into hate and fear

The wisest among us have always known of hate’s power to consume decency, and they have counseled us accordingly. “Love thine enemies,” Jesus is quoted in the Bible. The Buddha advises that one moment of hate destroys eons of accumulated merit. Mohammed teaches forgiveness above all else, the true heart of Islam.

Despite such teachings and the urgings of our better nature, our day-to-day lives are too often consumed by hate. We hate spinach, commercials, un-flushed toilets, lights on when the house is empty, the gas tank too low, poor grades, parking tickets, waiting on line, stepping on gum, trying to reach AT&T, washing dishes, raking leaves, people who ask us for money, cars that won’t start, telemarketers, taxes, freeloaders, politicians, sexual predators, airline security checks, the high cost of gasoline, music of many kinds, runny eggs, stubbed toes, dirty clothes on the floor, getting sick, and crying babies on airplanes – the list goes on and on and on.

For every person in the world there are many hundred ways to hate. In confronting our suffering, each of us constructs a personal hate list. One might argue that what we feel is not hate, just aversion, dislike, displeasure, unhappiness, disgust, dismay or discomfort – but these are simply subtleties of hate. The seed of hate is planted with the first “no” we learn as toddlers, and transforms itself in adulthood into “matters of taste.” We regard such discrimination a badge of honor, and use it to define ourselves and others. In time our investment in hate grows so large that giving it up feels like sacrificing life; it is at moments such as these that violence sometimes arises.

Beneath hate one always finds fear, for it is upon fear that hate first sets its sharp talons. Our fear is born in confusion and bewilderment, and borne by us through denial. We exist in a universe of only marginal predictability, where accidents can happen to any of us or ones we love at any time. Illness, injury, and death come suddenly and without warning; it’s no wonder we are afraid. In denial, we gather possessions, regularly exercise, drive carefully, eat the right foods, stop smoking, drink in moderation, pick our clothes up off the floor, floss and bathe daily, take out the garbage, do our homework, drink green tea, put on sunscreen, check our tires, buy organic bananas, say please and thank you, balance our checkbook, and pray. Despite our innumerable efforts, things happen, sometimes terrible.

Of all types of hate among the most corrosive is self-hatred – and we are brimming over with such loathing. We are imperfect: we’re fat, lazy, anxious, ill-tempered, impatient, too critical, out of shape, wrinkled, worried, dishonest, sleep deprived and weary. And worse, we believe our self-hatred is well deserved. In our tireless efforts to escape fear we have further confused ourselves and others.

We can’t escape hate’s grip by hating hate; to do so we first must lean into fear. Leaning into fear requires making friends with uncertainty, and to do this we must learn to relax. Each moment arises completely fresh – open, original and spontaneous. Through the practice of gently relaxing into the open space of here and now, fear loses its grasp and we can enjoy the effortless liberation that dissolves hate.