Sage's Pages: "Love Your Enemies" Part 1

Posted by admin on 1/11/14 in Inspiration

Welcome to part one of our four-part exploration of “Love Your Enemies” by Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman. In this module, we will explore Part One: Victory Over the Outer Enemy. 

By now, we hope that you’ve ordered and received your copy of the book from Hay House, but if you haven’t, you can order it here with a special Wanderlust 50% off discount (enter code 5758 at checkout) and catch up with our reading group once you’ve finished Part One of the book. 



In this section, we will explore how to overcome the obstacles presented by the “Outer Enemy”: the people and institutions that harass, disturb, or harm us in some way, as well as situations that frustrate us.

Let’s begin with a general roadmap for confronting any and all of the enemies we’ll explore in the book:

“Regardless of which enemies we face, the method of overcoming them is the same. First, using critical wisdom, we clearly identify the enemy, and then we engage mindfulness to experience fully how it operates. Next, we move toward dismantling our adversarial relationship with the enemy by learning to tolerate it and then by developing compassion for it, even as we take action to root it out. Finally, freed of our enemies, we can relax in the bliss of true happiness and the joy of living harmoniously with others.”

Sounds pretty great, right? But perhaps easier said than done.  We'll give you some tools below to make this a more realistic practice for you.


To cut to the chase, we can offer the following conclusion.  It doesn’t really qualify as a spoiler alert, because you might suspect as much already, but we’ll underscore it here since it’s presented so early in the book, and it can serve to guide your work through this book:

“Ultimately, we come to understand that there is no ‘us’ and them’, no separation between self and other, and therefore, no enemy.  Victory over our enemies is a deep realization of our interdependence.”

Sharon opens her discussion on the subject of outer enemies by putting up front one of the tools that will help dissolve enmity: lovingkindness meditation. 

“Lovingkindness is a translation of the word metta, which has also been translated as “love” and “friendship”. Lovingkindness os a deep knowing that every individual’s life is inextricably interwoven with all life and that, because of that connection, we need to take care of one another, out of a sense of wisdom that recognizes that when we care for others, we are really caring for ourselves.”

The act of loving our enemies has a two-fold benefit: when we wish true happiness for an enemy, and if the object of our wish does indeed garner happiness, that enemy is much less likely to cause harm to you or others.  But even if that act of lovingkindness does not bring our enemy happiness, it does give us a sense of inner peace. So there are two reasons, off the start, that we should develop a constitution that is centered on lovingkindness.

She brings up a potent metaphor for how we direct anger and frustration at others: traffic. “When we are caught in gridlock and freak out about the traffic, we forget that we too, are the traffic. We may be part of the problem as well as, potentially, part of the solution.”  By recognizing our role in the situation and being willing to work with our antagonists, we step outside of the “traffic” and create a zone wherein we invite those we previously held at bay, and explore bringing them into a conversation about creating a solution.

A very important thing to recognize here is that there is “nothing weak or defeatist about not confronting our enemies directly and aggressively. Rather, it is a completely different way of relating to others that allows us to avoid being trapped in the role of victim or aggressor.” Instead of reacting from a place of anger, jealousy, or fear at our enemies (which indeeds weakens our strength), we could transmute the "traffic" into an opportunity for communication and transformation.

So, how do we do that?


First of all, remember that relating to others as though they are in a separate category from us objectifies them.  That allows you to maintain the tension in your “differences”, and gives you permission to keep them at bay. We must change our view to learn to see every instance of harm as an opportunity.  As Sharon reminds us, The Dalai Lama says that we should be grateful to our enemies because they teach us patience, courage and tranquility.


Second of all, recognize how you react to perceived injury.  One way to escape hurt is to avoid harm altogether, but if you can’t, you'll feel the need to defend yourself against hurt.  Recognize that between avoidance and defensiveness lies a middle ground, where you can act preemptively - it is crusial that we develop the skill to have a moment of recognition before we are angry, and in finding this moment of clarity, we can rob our enemies of the chance to hurt us.


How do you avoid reacting with anger and hurt? Critical wisdom. It takes a clear understanding of the situation to exercise physical and verbal restraint. In Buddhism, critical wisdom is represented by the sword of Majushri, a divine bodhisattva whose name means “gentle Glory”. The sword is razor-sharp, as our intellect should be to see things “as the truly are”. This includes supposing the worst possible outcome, so that we can put things in perspective.

“If we can free ourselves from the excessive fear of the unrealistic outcomes that we anticipate, we improve our chances of avoiding those very outcomes. If, instead of anger, we conceive that every single pain our torturers are dishing out now will make us better able to deal with any future pain, then bearing it will seem like an achievement.”

The ultimate obstacle in overcoming our anger toward our enemies is the thought that unless we have the strength of anger, they will trample us.  We mistake ourselves into thinking that anger is a protective shield, when in reality, anger depletes your energy, robs you of balance and clarity and makes you more vulnerable. Anger, in fact, gives your enemy the upper hand.

Remember that a compassionate mindset is your ally in abating anger: if you live your life with a mindest of scarcity, that mindset emphasizes what we lack as opposed to what we have, then anyone who has something we want is now the enemy. Rather, when we not only have gratitude for what we have, but when we can rejoice in other people’s happiness, then we realize that happiness is not a zero sum equation: someone else’s happiness doesn’t need to take away from yours.


Remember, too, that we often co-create our enemies by projecting attributes onto them so that they more readily fit our definition of an enemy. 

“We have a mental template of what we consider harmful, injurious, and frightening, and with or without provocation, we project that onto people, turning them into enemies.” 

Once we recognize all of the above, we can deal with our outer enemies by practicing seeing things from their perspective. Once we do so with clarity, realizing our own prejudices, we can see that our enemies, who are not in a “different” category than we are, are operating with their own particular mindset which has it’s own prejudices. Knowing that reacting with anger will make ourselves vulnerable to further hurt, we choose compassion to diffuse the tension.


Sharon provides a very specific and useful meditation for dealing with your Outer Enemies on p. 158. Please take the time to read over that passage, and then sit on your meditation cushion (or somewhere quiet where you can reflect) and read each paragraph along with a few minutes of meditation practice. Visualize the person or group of persons that antagonize you, and work through her instructions. It is our hope that after this exercise, you will conclude that:

“When you truly grasp that it is the projection of your own hurt and anger and fear that turns someone into your enemy, and you are able to recognize your kinship as fellow human beings, it releases the energy you previously invested in defending yourself and your ego. Now you can use this precious energy to work on rooting out the inner enemies, such as anger, fear and jealousy.  In this way, the enemy you so disliked becomes your ally: your teacher, your helper, even — dare I say it — your friend.”


Your homework for the week:

1. In the coming days, observe a frustrating situation that occurs to you and place a conscious effort in the moment before anger or defensiveness arises to have a moment of critical wisdom.  How does it feel to tamp that negative energy, and were you able to see the viewpoint of your antagonizer? Share your experience below.

2. Were you able to perform Sharon's lovingkindness meditation? And did you feel like it provided some clarity in the subsequent days when you encountered your "enemy'? Share your experience below.


Put your responses in the comments below, along with any questions you have for Sharon, and she will select a few comments to respond to.  The more precise and descriptive your response, the more likely she will be to respond to your experiences and/or questions.

Tags: Book, book club, love your enemies, reading, sage's pages, salzberg, sharon, sharon salzberg

Show your love


Search the Journal