How to make enemies


toy soldiers

I’ve been making a lot of enemies lately. People I don’t even know. A guy passes me on the street and looks a little too fashionably dressed and carefully coiffured. I pass a negative judgement (“what a poser”) and the world looks a little nastier. When cars overtake me at unnecessary speed I resent the fact that such idiocy exists and again the world has a few new enemies in it. A lady wearing expensive clothing and a fixed look of disgust on her face stares through me from the passenger seat of a car, and I feel my own face begin to crinkle in disgust. She’s one of them.

For every enemy I add, my world gets darker, more lonely, more frightening. I can feel it happening even as I am doing it. But when I step back and take a moment to consider what’s going on, I can see that the only thing happening is that I am painting the world black. I’m not making any discoveries about some outside reality – life continues all around me as before. I haven’t identified my enemies, I’ve created them.

I’m constructing my own reality and I’m doing it in an unskillful way. I’m feeding the wolf of hate (to use Rick Hanson‘s image) because some part of me believes that I am protecting myself from the things and the people I don’t like. But I’m not. Instead I’m just creating more things and people to dislike and surrounding myself with them. I feel like I’m under siege.

Yesterday, with the help of my Wildmind sangha, I started to break that siege. Yet another potential enemy approached me on the street: A young man with big shades and bigger hair, designer clothes and matching scowl.  I caught myself in the act of creating a new enemy and the phrase “Is this what I want to fill my mind with?” – suggested by a friend in the sangha – arose. Into that famous ‘gap’ between stimulus and reaction I introduced a new thought, aimed at the approaching youth – “may you be well”. I began to remember the stomach-churning pressure to fit in and look good that comes with youth, and I felt a wave of sympathy for him. The relief was instant. I can still feel it now as I write. There is more space in my experience. More warmth. More colour. The world continues to do what it always does, but I don’t have to paint it black.

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10 Comments. Leave new

  • This is exactly the message I needed to hear this morning. Thank you!

    • My great pleasure, Jeff. I hope the message went some way towards improving your experience this morning. Your feedback certainly improved my evening.

  • Beautiful post
    Thank you!!

  • Brendan, thank you for sharing this wonderful lesson! It’s a simple and elegant way to reframe experience. Anyone from novice to master of kindness and compassion can use a gentle reminder as this post.

    May you be well.

  • Couldn’t agree more! I have for many years felt very much an outsider in the place I currently live, and increasingly critical, negative, hostile and ‘unrelated’ to local people. But then I started making an effort to wish everyone well, on the street, on a plane, wherever. That began to turn things round. Then I found that if I thought, ‘may WE be well’ etc, instead of ‘may YOU……’, I felt much less isolated and separate.

    And, incidentally, began to have more positive interactions.

    • Thanks for commenting, Kim. That’s a nice twist, moving to the first person plural. I think that when one develops the habit of wishing strangers well as you see them it has the simple effect of taking up the space that the previous habitual negative judgements held. The result, as you’ve pointed out, is less loneliness and an openness that is perceptible to others, increasing the chances of those positive interaction. Many more of such experiences to you!

  • Beautifully written. So honest. So vulnerable. So touching. Thank you, Brendan! This is helpful in a very concrete way! I will have a look at your Google + community! Sounds like a nice community/sangha.

    • Hi Erika,
      The Wildmind G+ sangha is a rare example of a nourishing, supportive online community, and I wholeheartedly recommend you come check us out.


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