Cooling anger with compassion
The first time I practiced a loving kindness meditation I absolutely hated it. I cringed at the vomit worthy cheesiness; it was way too Hallmark for my straight shooting, practical mind. It wasn't until much later that I found a compassion meditation that worked for me. You see it wasn't the action of compassion that repelled me or even the feeling you get from being kind and practicing compassion, it was more the descriptions of compassion. The words really hadn't done the practice justice and to me were just a bunch of boring clichés compiled into a guided meditation.
Instead of talking about being compassionate, we can start to practice it with very little use of words. This is actually more valuable because it teaches us to feel compassion as opposed to just speaking compassionate words.
The practice of cultivating compassion that I was taught uses visualisation exercises during a seated meditation practice. In the beginning you visualise someone you like in their happiest state then you progress to visualising someone you feel indifferent towards before visualising someone you don't get along with or who has upset you. This is where it gets interesting.
The initial thought of having to invite someone who I was unhappy with into my special meditation time felt unpleasant but I tried it anyway. The biggest challenge was maintaining my focus because the mind automatically wants to move away from anything unpleasant but it was well worth the perseverance.
Explaining the experience in words doesn't do the practice justice so I really encourage everyone to try it themselves. For me, the most surprising result was that after a little while visualising a person that you dislike to be in their happiest state, lifts and lightens the heart.
I am not suggesting that this practice can be used to heal traumatic or devastating conflicts. It's not about disregarding serious actions of others that are just not OK and it isn't about reconciliation. The process teaches us how impermanent our mind states are and how we can defuse any angst we are carrying around about others that are ultimately only causing suffering to ourselves.
The long term accumulation of compassion towards ourselves and others gives us perspective and makes us less reactive to things that we may have previously found irritating. We don't have to take all of our moods and thoughts so seriously all of the time.