Triggered by ‘Difficult People’? Step away from the Reactive Mind towards a Heart-Centered Mind

TGI’s perspective on cultivating a Whole New Heart-Centered Mind

A spiritual practice is an essential part of spiritual life. One example of practice would be cultivating presence and discernment between a reactive mind and an open mind.

Eckhart Tolle invites us to be grateful for the big egos around us, as they are a “wonderful spiritual practice.”  He says, “Ego cannot manipulate presence.” 

There is a story of a zen master who used mundane tasks around the monastery as a teaching tool. Students would be asked to dig holes or sort rocks as they practiced presence.

One extremely agitated man complained bitterly about the silly chores, making everyone feel on edge. Finally, when asked to dig up patches of grass, this student became enraged. He threw down his shovel and sped away in his car which left everyone elated. To their surprise, the zen master followed him, convincing him back to the class.  Later, when someone asked why he would want him there, the old monk replied simply, “because I pay him to be here.”

Difficult people are everywhere these days and it’s natural to think that getting rid of them is the best solution to the problem. (Which may or may not be possible at times.)

However, it is possible to learn how to stay present when things feel uncomfortable, a practice that can rewire the brain for equanimity and nonduality around difficult people.  It trains us to bring space into our reactive mind and invites a deeper relationship with life exactly as it is.

In his book, No Mud, No Lotus, The Art of Transforming Suffering, Thich Nhat Hanh writes,

“Meditate on your perceptions. The Buddha observed that the person who suffers most in this world is the person who has many wrong perceptions, and most of our perceptions are erroneous.”

In my experience, difficult people are suffering in ways that aren’t always easy to see.  When triggered by someone’s behavior, I notice how my mind tends to reactively judge. They shouldn’t be acting like that!

These thoughts create suffering in me which creates more thoughts based on the perception that they shouldn’t be acting like that when they ARE acting like that. Accepting reality means allowing people to be as they are and not taking it personally. Asking myself, can I accept this, too? And if possible, offering compassion to the suffering arising in myself and the other.

The Coaching with Spirit program gave me spiritual practices to connect with my inner experience. Primarily, I discovered that my reactivity to other’s behavior can either be a call to battle (adding fuel to the fire) or an invitation to engage with self-care and grow.

By cultivating a greater capacity for self-compassion in those moments, it’s possible to keep an open heart in any relationship. 

The blog is written by Kimberly Ruggiero.

Kimberly Ruggiero is a long-time meditator. She also works as a transformational coach and artist.  She has a BS in Chemistry, MA in Consciousness Studies, and studied at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Art. Kim has training in MBSR and is certified through the Engaged Mindfulness Institute.

She works as a Program Coordinator in Integrative Health and Healing and facilitates a Mindfulness Meditation Group at TGI –  every Tuesday evening online – 


Mindfulness Teacher
If you like this blog learn more about Kim and her teachings by attenDing our Mindfulness Meditation group every Tuesday. This friendly, open-hearted group is for anyone interested in meditation and exploring awareness training. Newcomers are always welcome. The basic structure is guided meditation, conscious sharing and topic discussion. We go about 90 minutes, sometimes more or less but you are welcome to arrive and depart as your schedule allows.

Learn more:

Mindfulness Meditation Class with Kim 

@ 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm EDT


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