21 Ways To Turn Ill Will to Good Will Where There
Is A Will There Is A Way
My recent posts have highlighted two very powerful,
yet opposing forces in the human heart: in a
traditional metaphor, we each have a wolf of love
and a wolf of hate inside us, and it all depends on
which one we feed every day.
On the one hand, as the most social and loving
species on the planet, we have the wonderful
ability and inclination to connect with others, be
empathic, cooperate, care, and love. On the other
hand, we also have the capacity and inclination to
be fearfully aggressive toward any individual or
group we regard as them. (In my book
Brain: The practical neuroscience of
happiness, love & wisdom I
develop this idea further, including how to
stimulate and strengthen the neural circuits of
self-control, empathy, and compassion.)
To tame the wolf of hate, its important to
get a handle on ill will
irritated, resentful, and angry feelings and
intentions toward others. While it may seem
justified in the moment, ill will harms you
probably more than it harms others. In another
metaphor, having ill will toward others is like
throwing hot coals with bare hands: both people get
Avoiding ill will does not mean passivity,
allowing yourself or others to be exploited,
staying silent in the face of injustice, etc. There
is plenty of room for speaking truth to power and
effective action without succumbing to ill will.
Think of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or the Dalai
Lama as examples. In fact, with a clear mind and a
peaceful heart, your actions are likely to be more
Ill will creates negative, vicious cycles. But
that means that good will can create positive
cycles. Plus good will cultivates wholesome
qualities in you.
So lets get started!
prevent or transform ill will
1. Be mindful of the priming, the
preconditions for ill will. Try to defuse them
early: get rest, have a meal, get support, talk
things out, distract yourself, etc.
2. Practice non-contention to undermine
the heat that creates ill will. Don't argue unless
you have to.
3. Inspect the underlying trigger, such
as a sense of threat. Look at it realistically. Was
something actually an "injury" to you? Be skeptical
of your justifications.
4. Be careful about attributing intent to
others. We are often just a bit player in their
drama; they are not targeting us personally. Look
for the good intentions beneath the action that
made you feel mistreated. Look for the good in
5. Put what happened in perspective. The
effects of most wrongs fade with time. They're also
part of a larger whole, most of which is usually
6. Cultivate positive qualities like
kindness, compassion, empathy, and calm. Nourish
your own good will.
7. Practice generosity. Much ill will
comes when we feel taken from, or not given to, or
on the receiving end of another person's bad
moment. Instead, consider letting the person have
what they took: their victory, their bit of money
or time, etc. Let them have their bad moment. Make
a gift of forbearance, patience, and no cause to
8. Investigate ill will. Take a day, a
week, a month - and really examine the least bit of
ill will during that time. See what causes it . . .
and what its effects are.
9. Regard ill will as an affliction upon
yourself. It hurts you more than anyone.
10. Settle into awareness, observing the
ill will but not identified with it, watching it
arise and disappear like any other experience.
11. Accept the wound. Experience the
feelings of it. Do not presume that life is not
supposed to be wounding. Accept the unpleasant fact
that people will mistreat you.
12. Do not cling to what you want instead
of what you've got.
13. Let go of the view that things are
supposed to be a certain way. Challenge the belief
that things should work out, that the world is
14. Relax the sense of self, that it was
"I" or "me" who was affronted, wounded.
15. Do religious or philosophical
practices that cultivate love and goodness.
16. Resolve to meet mistreatment with loving
kindness. No matter what. Consider the saying:
In this world, hate has never dispelled hate. Only
love dispels hate.
17. Cultivate positive emotion, like
happiness, contentment, or peacefulness. Positive
feelings calm the body, quiet the mind, buffer
against the impact of stressful events, and foster
supportive relationships -- which reduce ill
18. Communicate. Speak (skillfully) for
yourself, regardless of what the outcome may be. If
appropriate, name your experience to release it;
feel it as you speak it.
Try to address the situation with openness and
empathy for the other person. Then you'll be freer
and calmer to be more skillful.
19. Have faith that they will pay their own
price one day for what they've done, and you
don't have to be the justice system.
20. Realize that some people will not get the
lesson no matter how much you try. So why
burden yourself with trying to teach them? Further,
many people will never actually experience your ill
will - such as politicians. So why carry it toward
21. Forgiveness. This doesn't mean
changing your view that wrongs were done. But it
does mean letting go of the emotional charge around
feeling wronged. The greatest beneficiary of
forgiveness is usually yourself.
* * *
As they say in Tibet, if you take care of the
the years will take care of themselves.
is a neuropsychologist and author of
Brain: The practical neuroscience of
& wisdom with
Rick Mendius and Mother Nurture: A Mother's
Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate
Relationships. A summa cum laude graduate of
UCLA who received his doctorate from the Wright
Institute in Berkeley, CA, he founded the
Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and
Contemplative Wisdom, edits the Wise Brain
Bulletin, and writes a blog for PsychologyToday.com
as well as a weekly newsletter called Just One
Thing; his articles have also appeared in Tricycle
Magazine, Insight Journal, Inquiring Mind, and
Buddhist Geeks on-line magazine. He teaches
regularly at universities and meditation centers in
Europe, Australia, and North America, and has audio
programs with Sounds True. Rick began meditating in
1974 and has practiced in several traditions; he
was a board member at Spirit Rock Meditation Center
for nine years and is a graduate of its Community
Dharma Leaders program. He leads a regular
meditation gathering in San Rafael, CA. Currently a
Trustee of Saybrook University, he was also
President of the Board of FamilyWorks, a non-profit
agency. He and his wife have two adult children.
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