Last week, someone wrote me an email and asked, “What is the greatest challenge one may have to overcome, in order to attain the epitome of a spiritual path?”

This is a story in response to that question. I also copied my brief answer, below.

“Of course, I could write a book in response to your question. Quite honestly, it truly depends on where someone is on their evolutionary path.

But, I will answer it as briefly and directly as possible. I will answer it as if someone has already overcome the majority of their blocks.

All humans are everything good and everything bad. Whatever someone else is, we are that too. The very worst. The very best. This is one fact that most people simply don’t want to know. However, if you are daring enough to travel deep inside of yourself and find all of your darkness, the next challenge is to choose love, no matter what. In the face of the most intense jealousy, rage, etc. Which feels next to impossible. This may sound simple, but when you are in pure darkness and all of your feelings are overwhelmingly focused on eliminating everything that moves, it is almost a non-option to choose the path of love. This truth is verified by our very unenlightened planet.”

What is the point where you close the door to a friend?

Is it when you feel misunderstood?

Is it when you feel put down?

Is it when you feel used?

Is it when you feel betrayed?

Is it when you feel burdened?

Is it when you feel not cared about?

Is it when you feel abused?

Even though everyone has a different trigger point and a different threshold for irritation, anger and pain, everyone has the same feelings right before they decide to create separation from someone. We feel our heart close, or we simply feel up against a wall in our heart that was always there. We feel that we need to dismiss that person from our lives. We need to eliminate them from our circle of friends. We feel that there is no other solution. Either we tried everything, or the betrayal was so great, we simply cannot excuse it in any way. Sometimes, the feelings are so overwhelming, we cannot even put words to them. We just know that having that person in our lives feels like it would be harmful to us.

Sometimes people have obvious struggles with others. Sometimes people just feel annoyed by another. Sometimes the feelings of animosity are so subtle that you simply decide you no longer have time for a person or you would never even make time for them to begin with.

The path of opening the heart is full of bushes and brambles and is narrow, windy and precarious. One tiny misstep can lead you in a completely different direction that you thought you wanted to go. And one tiny true step can open your heart so wide and so full that you cannot tolerate anything less than unconditional love!

I once knew of a student of a teacher that truly believed she was committed to being a loving and caring person. Her name was Matilda. When people were mean or condescending to her, she would dig in her heals and be present for each person until their differences were resolved. She was very proud of the success of her efforts. She really thought very highly of herself in this regard.

At a certain point, she realized that two of the other students continued their perceived harassment of her despite her attempts to create a good relationship with them. They both made a habit of putting her down, making mean and hurtful comments towards her and in her eyes trying to find ways to sabotage everything she did. Their names were Rosie and Philip. All of Matilda’s normal tactics and approaches did not work with them. Talking only seemed to make things worse. Trying to be better friends seemed contrived and one-sided. Working to find their good points quickly became futile.

Due to circumstances beyond her control, Matilda had to spend more and more time with them. She became edgy and mistrusting. Her responses to them became defensive and bullying. The whole situation got so uncomfortable that she became blind to her own actions and behavior.

Although Matilda could not clearly see her own reactions, she was acutely aware of her discomfort and her turmoil. She cried often and felt alone. In her mind, she was doing her very best to withstand the emotional and verbal attacks of Rosie and Phillip. She could not understand why God had put her in a position where others were going to be mean or hurt her. She could not figure out how to love or be friends at all with people who were mean to her. It felt strange, upsetting and impossible!

Then one day, after a week of exaggerated onslaughts from these two, Matilda walked into a room where they both were. Matilda had decided to just find a way to be very strong and ignore them. Immediately Rosie began sarcastically laughing and set about hurling put downs and insults at Matilda. Unbeknownst to Matilda, she herself had reached her tolerance limit! Her insides were exploding. She ran out of the room and ran to her teacher. She was red in the face and shaking when she approached him. She began screaming that Rosie was totally insane and that she could not understand why he did not care and do something about it. At this point, she was out of control and screamed, “Who does she think she is? Does she know what I could do to her?!” In her extreme pain, Matilda clearly saw that she had the ability to commit an act of harm against another. But, as it came out of her mouth, she saw nothing wrong with what she said. Her fury was so great.

Her teacher calmly looked at her. Then, he said, “Who is the insane one?” In that moment an awareness spread throughout her body. She vividly saw and felt herself. Her face seemed contorted. Her body was shaking with rage. Her fists were clenched. She had been spitting as she spoke. The scene was bizarre. She turned and slowly walked away.

What on earth had driven her to such a point of wrath? A few insults? Okay, even a lot of insults? It made no sense! Who was she anyway? Was she this violent person? Then her mind became crystalline, her heart was hard and protected, and her efforts to be loving had been conditional and false. She understood that her desire to be loving had taken her first to a recognition of her lack of love. She knew that she needed to abandon anything she thought she had known, and be surrendered to the fact that she was clueless and closed.

For days, she asked how to love those that were mean to her. For days, it looked more than impossible. During this time she saw many things about herself and her blindness to the situation. She saw that in her fear of them, she was just as nasty and mean as they were. Were they a reflection of her? Was she a reflection of them? She saw that in her fear, she was fully capable of emotionally harming them, without so much of a recognition or care. So how could love and friendship happen?

Then she realized, there was no specific ‘way’ to forgive them, love them and heal. There was only desire, willingness and putting one foot in front of the other. By the day and by the moment, she would have to scramble to find an open heart in every second spent with these two.

The people that adore you are comforting and reassuring and wonderful. But the people that you experience difficulties with are a gift. They are the ones that you can work with to strengthen your resolve, your character and your commitment to be a loving being on this planet. They are the ones that hold the key to your transformation.

Imagine, what if everything you think about those that are mean to you, they think about you as well? And, what if they were right? Imagine. This is a powerful place to start moving towards an open heart.

I love you.

Sivan