Everyday Mindfulness

The Wisdom of Loving Your Enemy

We tend to hold on to beliefs, stories, and biases against others that end up hurting us, too. Here’s how we can loosen our grip.

It has been a time of rage, despair, and divisiveness. The enemy is everywhere. As we batten down the hatches against the threat of one another, it might be worth pausing, just for a moment, to be curious about the price we pay for holding on to hatred.

The brain is amazing at spotting potential threats. When you are under attack, hormone blasts turn you into a temporary superhero so you can run like hell or fend off acute pain. In small doses, this cocktail of adrenaline, cortisol, and a thousand other herbs and spices can keep you alive and kicking just a little bit longer.

When overused, however, these very same hormones are the source of chronic sleep problems, digestive difficulty, anxiety, and poor brain function. It’s worth noting that these are the hormones we switch on when we see the world as our enemy.

How does thinking about your enemy make you feel? Does fixating on your foe make you feel strong, healthy, and present? What do you notice in your body when your enemy is near? Are you holding your breath, tightening your jaw, and bringing digestion to a grinding halt?

Cultivating Mindful Awareness

To live mindfully is an invitation to stand up for social justice and environmental stewardship.
It means recognizing where corruption takes us and courageously looking at our own beliefs, stories, and anything else that blocks the clearest and widest view. It’s also important to notice if you are grinding the ax of hatred while imagining that you are standing up for decency and fairness.

As we cultivate awareness, we become experts at noticing when the sword is needed and when the flower. We use our swords in our firmness to cut through ignorance. Our swords free us from the torpor of inaction and disengagement. We use our swords to act boldly and maintain agency over our own inner being. With presence and confidence, we know when to rage, when to run, when to be ready, when to rest. We take action as needed, with no enemy required.

We are spurred by wisdom.

When you feel yourself being swept away by your certainty that the other is a monster, check in with your intentions. If they are for kindness and clarity, step back before you consign your opponents to eternal hell. What you consign them to affects you also. Instead, choose a view that brings understanding and the opportunity to keep your balance, your energy, and your sizzle. Be judicious with your energy so that you can serve your cause with vitality and presence.

A practice to help you stop resisting your anger and relate to it with awareness, so you can free yourself from anger’s strangle-hold.
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  • Sharon Salzberg
  • October 30, 2018

Learning to be present with ourselves may not seem like it directly influences efforts to create change, but it can deepen our awareness and impact how we speak out.
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  • Reid Kessler
  • July 28, 2020

Sharon Salzberg offers wise, compassion-focused views on where the world is right now and the part we each have to play in being the change we wish to see.
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  • Amber Tucker
  • October 2, 2020



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