The practical approach to my enemies?
Hi friend. Do you have “enemies?”
In my Mindfulness Studies grad program, we spent the last month or so diving deep into a style of mindfulness called “Metta” or “loving-kindness” meditation.
It’s a heartfelt form of meditation wishing oneself and others well, thereby developing open-heartedness, compassion, and empathy.
The practice goes through a structure of sending well-wishes to oneself, followed by a benefactor (someone who has helped you), a friend, a neutral person (or someone you feel neither positive nor negative toward), and a difficult person (someone you’ve struggled with in the past, and perhaps someone who’s harmed you).
Sending heartfelt and wholesome wishes of love to a difficult person is a struggle for most people (obviously, or that person wouldn’t be particularly difficult).
But one bit of wisdom (from Buddhist monk Bhante Gunaratana) really struck me while learning about difficult people regarding Metta meditation:
“Practically speaking, if all of your enemies were well, happy, and peaceful, they would not be your enemies. If they were free from problems, pain, suffering, affliction, neurosis, psychosis, paranoia, fear, tension, anxiety, etc. they would not be your enemies. The practical approach toward your enemies is to help them overcome their problems, so you can live in peace and happiness.”Bhante Gunaratana
I consider myself a very pragmatic person.
I like things to make sense, and when they do, I find comfort and direction. Reading this “practical approach,” something I have always known somehow became clear.
Difficult people are not fun—We may see them as our enemies, but they are also in pain.
The reason they are difficult is because of their pain.
Like we’ve talked about in the last few weeks, it’s not personal. It’s their business. And the only person who needs to be in pain because of their choices is them.
If we keep ourselves in pain because of their actions, we only hurt ourselves.
In fact, I can do more good for myself by loving that person than hating them. (Okay, so maybe I haven’t quite gotten to the point of loving my enemies, but I’m at least trying to have some awareness here).
The point is, what if we let someone’s reactivity/difficulty be an alarm to us: this person is in pain.
Instead of personalizing it, we could see clearly that it has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with our “enemies.”
Instead, we might even think “wow, I feel genuinely sad for that person. I don’t know what they’ve been through, but it must have been hard. It’s sad they are still stuck, too.”
Then what? We’re free! We get to go on living, letting them carry their pain, instead of us.
It’s easier said than done, but it has felt quite liberating to pay attention to.
Now, when I become activated or feel reactive, I am better able to sense what pain is mine, and what pain belongs to someone else.
If it’s not my pain to carry, I can “put it down.”
A few of you have emailed me about difficult encounters you’ve experienced recently while working remotely. It’s even harder to gauge the tone sometimes with most of our communication being digital at the moment.
But this is a great opportunity to practice that awareness.
One thing is for sure right now: everyone is experiencing some sort of pain. It’s hard for humans in pain to sync up.
But if people aren’t being their best selves, we can acknowledge (to ourselves) that they might be having a tough time, even if we don’t know why—and we can still try to show up as our best selves—because that can make a difference.
If anything, it will affect our own level of peace. And that’s what it’s all about, right?
When it gets really hard, remember, it can be a good exercise to try and “love your enemy,” stemming from the compassion you feel for your dog!
Sending light and love your way,