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Loving And Trusting Strangers
A young prodigy wrote: "I have a hard time trusting strangers, and keep assuming that they will take advantage of me. How can I be more inclusive in my love?"
As you might imagine, there are multiple layers to our response to strangers.
Firstly, within ourselves, we want to head towards unconditional love for all situations. People can only steal from us if we are holding onto something. When Ramana Maharshi was robbed once, his devotees went to grab the thief but he stopped them saying, "It is the robber's dharma to be who he is, and ours to be who we are."
Of course, in practice, this is quite hard since we first need to learn who we are. This isn't a static set of rules -- if a robber comes, thou shall let him go. It depends on your state of mind, the collateral context, the robber's state of mind, and so many other factors. So one has to cultivate a refined awareness about all that, and then be sufficiently free of bias such that most expedient response becomes visible. This is not a trivial process, but we can do this more easily if we understand that we are not special, nor do we have any particular resources to keep, hide, or accumulate. We are merely short-term tenants of the house we're living in.
That practice -- to increasingly see that there is nothing anyone can grab from us, since we never had anything to begin with -- helps us cultivate unconditional love.
Secondly, in interaction with others, we have to grow in outward skillfulness.
Sometimes generosity is what the situation warrants. Can we cultivate a heart that is big enough to give untiringly? Like the example of Sudana.
Sometimes we have to oppose, just as Krishna advised Arjuna to fight (in the Indian epic Mahabharata). Can we fight without anger, for the benefit of the other? We don't resist to win but to help others come out of their patterns of self-defeating suffering. This is how Gandhi's defeated enemies would say, "It was my honor to fight against a man like Gandhi."
And sometimes we have to escape the battleground, as Krishna himself did. We don't leave out of cowardice, but out of a deep-seated humility. Perhaps the conditions aren't ripe for any transformation, or perhaps in retreating back, others might be able to take two wholesome steps forward. It requires a deep surrender to the present moment.
The external challenge is to figure out which of those three options we need to take in a particular situation, while the internal challenge is to keep a stable mind and a heart of love.
The reason why this isn't trivial is that there is no recipe for it. Sometimes we'll falter internally, and sometimes externally. Yet if we first look within and resolve to come from love, and then look without to act with skillfulness, we will notice a virtuous feedback loop. Greater our love, greater our skillfulness; and greater our capacity to see clearly, the more our heart can hold. Then, through every opportunity for practice, we orient ourselves towards trusting life's grander emergence.
So, how I can trust strangers more? For one, it is an invitation to empty yourself of anything can be taken away, so there is no room for fear. And secondly, it's a realization that to trust is to love and to love is to dynamically live into each moment so you can find the right skillful response.