Several years ago, while on retreat, I was meditating as I walked an outdoor labyrinth. Suddenly, the words came to me: “Release all concept of enemy.”
I was startled. I hadn’t been thinking at all about enemies. In fact, having been on retreat for several days, I hadn’t even had a disagreeable encounter all week.
More surprising than that, though, was what the message was telling me: enemy is nothing more than a concept—just an idea in the mind.
Thanks to that labyrinth revelation, I have become more aware of how often the concept of enemy is invoked. There are the obvious examples, of course—people of other nationalities, ethnicities, religions, socio-economic classes or worldviews are often seen as enemies—and the concept of enemy fuels much of our current politics.
But it doesn’t stop with people. We can see all kinds of things as enemy: the weeds in the garden, the stain on the shirt, the morning commute, the cold virus that’s paying a visit.
People sometimes look to the natural world for evidence that having enemies is, well, natural. Isn’t the lion an enemy to the gazelle, the hawk an enemy to the rabbit? Well, no. They are participating in the food chain that we’re all part of—life sustaining itself on itself. Enemy has nothing to do with the food chain. It’s a category we use to justify malevolent actions towards another.
To release the concept of enemy we first have to notice it. We have to be aware of when we are caught in the concept ourselves, and also notice when it is being used to manipulate us. How many times have you received a phone call from a fundraiser invoking the concept of enemy in order to raise money for a candidate or cause? Can you imagine if we all rejected the whole concept and politely asked them to come up with a different strategy for making their case?
Of course there will be people with whom you disagree. There may even be people whose actions you feel you must oppose. But the only way they become an enemy is if you make them one in your own mind.
One of the most famous sayings of Jesus is, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” By saying this, Jesus was actually negating the concept of enemy. It’s not possible to love someone and at the same time place them in a category called enemy.
Maybe one reason we cling so tenaciously to this concept of enemy is that it enables us to project all the traits we don’t like in ourselves onto other, avoiding the hard work of healing ourselves. But as the Tao te Ching so wisely states:
A great nation is like a great man:
. . .He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.
(translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Who falls in your category of enemy? CEOs? ISIS? Wall Street bankers? Right-to-Lifers? Immigrants? Marines? Fox News Anchors? Democrats? Your neighbor? Your boss? Humanity?
Can you imagine for just a moment how profoundly your life—and the whole world—would instantly change if this concept of enemy simply vanished from our minds?