On cold and rainy afternoon in West Barnet recently, I caught up with the Me Who Loathes Me. We shared a cup of tea and watched the clouds moving across the sky.
Me: So, when was it we last got together?
MLM: Yeah, not so long ago—at the funeral service for Paul, a fellow practitioner of mindfulness.
Me: Yes, Paul, what a wonderful man!
MLM: Yeah, if anyone ever put your schtick in stark contrast, it was Paul. He understood goodness, something that still eludes you. What do you actually do on your meditation cushion anyway? I mean, that fact that you, a meditation teacher, telling students that sitting practice is making friends with themselves, and you don’t actually like yourself! Well, it’s a crushing irony, wouldn’t you say?
Me: Hmm, right. Anyhow, so what brought you to the funeral?
MLM: Well, you know, to paraphrase Trungpa Rinpoche, it’s not that we’re such f*ck-ups, it’s that we want to keep our issues bottled up as a family heirloom. I’m always lurking around. Nothing like death to release what’s under the floorboards.
Me: Sorry MLM, but before we go further, I have to confess something. I can’t figure out why I keep inviting you back. It’s never fun. I mean I do invite you back, don’t I?
MLM: Oh definitely, you’re quite the host. Why, what’s wrong with my company?
Me: Well, to be critiqued (and harshly!) for every move, every flicker of thought, especially for failure on the path of practice, to be convinced that others disregard you as much as you disregard yourself, so that the only solution is to throw yourself down a deep hole where the sun never shines, to be denied the chance to enjoy even the simplest pleasure, or for that matter to properly remember and appreciate someone who is gone — it’s quite the assault. It’s negative and hurtful, evil really.
MLM: If you only ascribe evil motivations to hurtful actions you will never understand them. I’d be careful with that.
Me: So why do I invite you back—I mean, over and over?!
MLM: Well everybody needs love. You especially seem to crave attention. I’m company.
Me: Love? How can you say that?!
MLM: It’s simple really. To denigrate something, you have to appreciate it. You have to care. Remember, after denial, anger is the second of the 5 stages of grieving. We met last at a funeral, right? Death is change. Everything is changing. Who can blame anyone for being pissed off? Anyhow, aggression is attention, and attention is what you’re all about.
Me: But it’s so painful! Why would I invite this aggression on myself? It’s such a relief when you’re gone!
MLM: Who knows? Maybe it’s a kind of love that you know, a love you understand. It puts you at the center, so it’s familiar and comforting.
Me: I don’t even want to think about that.
MLM: Well, you might have to think about it. But you don’t have to dwell on it. There are always reasons, but then the reasons have reasons. To get back to why I keep coming back, let me ask you a question: how do you feel when I’m gone?
Me: Great! Relief, really.
MLM: After I’ve exposed and attacked your many, we could even say innumerable, failings, are you sorry I left?
Me: No, not at all!
MLM: OK, I have another more important question: once I’m gone, are you sorry I visited in the first place?
Me: I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about that.
MLM: I thought so. I come back because, for some reason, you don’t regret that I came in the first place. Not wanting to be like everyone else, you are proud to put up with your own self-ravaging. After my visit, you’ve earned the T-Shirt that says, “I survived MLM”—a T-shirt that only you can wear. It’s lame, but for a little while your black hole of insecurity has been filled up. It’s one way of being useful, an original meaning of the word proud, by the way.
Me: OK, as sad as that sounds, there may be some truth to it. It certainly is reassuring to emerge from your embrace. But there has to be a deeper reason for all this fuss. It feels like a distraction.
MLM: Hmm, how intuitive of you, unusual. Sure, when you invite me it’s because you’re hiding, you’re afraid.
Me: What am I hiding from? Is there some deep dark secret that I’m trying to keep from seeing?
MLM: Well, what’s secret to you is there is no deep dark secret.
Me: So what I am afraid of? Just how bad I really am?
MLM: No, no, no! That’s not what scares you. You’re always so hard on yourself. That’s my job! You are afraid, that’s true. But what really terrifies you is how good you are.
Me: How good I am?
MLM: Yes, you’re not just OK, or alright, or a little bit good. You are basically good, breathtakingly fundamentally innocent–and deep down you know this and you know that everyone else is too.
Me: But why should I be afraid of being good?
MLM: Because you’re used to something else, that’s all.
Me: What could I be so used to that it blinds me to understanding myself?
MLM: That’s simple: hanging on to me.
In a flash the Me Who Loathes Me was gone. Without his company, I felt lonely and a little sad. Outside, the rain, by virtue of the wind, was splattering the window. The clouds overhead were moving north, as if toward evening. There was still tea in the cup. It was cool by now, but I took the last few sips.
Editor’s Note: This conversation brings to mind words from a poem by the 19th century wandering yogi Patrul Rinpoche: “Don’t be hard on yourself, even if you can’t practice the Dharma.” For more from the Shambhala tradition on the possibility that you and everyone you know, society itself, is basically good, see Sakyong Mipham’s The Supreme Thought.