The meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg talks of love having both ‘near and far enemies’. It isn’t just love that has such enemies; other states emblematic of a fulfilling life do too.
For most of us, the near enemies are more relevant than the states at the furthest end of the spectrum. On the continuum between love and resentment (for example), few of us hang out at the extremes. Rarely is a person unconditionally loving towards others, or in a state of pure resentment. But the near enemy of love – attachment? That trips us all up.
Increasing our awareness of the presence of near enemies of happiness in our thinking may give us greater freedom.
near and far enemies of love, strength, optimism, etc.
Drilling down on some near (n) and far (f) enemies of a few positive states:
Love: attachment (n); resentment/unforgiveness (f)
Hope: excessive optimism (n); hopelessness/depression (f)
Creativity: procrastination (n); disconnect from authentic self (f)
Strength: false power (n); weakness (f)
Worthiness: self-entitlement (n); unworthiness (f)
Success: ‘upper limit problem’/limiting beliefs (n); giving up before we start (f)
Emotional self-sufficiency: over-independence and ‘fear of getting close’ (n); codependency (f)
Self-control: rigid and no spontaneity (n); poor impulse control and easily distracted (f)
what do we do with this?
The near enemies teaching has the subtlety to help us liberate ourselves from the ways we get stuck.
Freedom starts with the recognition. It’s in going ‘yep, I’m feeling pretty attached right now to this going my way’ and ‘entitlement – hello dude. I didn’t realise you were still here.’ When we notice which thoughts came along to spoil the party and rob us of our peace, we can begin the process of changing our minds.
A closer look at the most common near enemies:
Love is a both an ability and a feeling, and it does not change along with our circumstances. Pretty much everything else when it comes to relationships is attachment.
To love without attachment is a possibility, although it takes profound awakeness. Actually, love is being awake. It is the work of noticing how flung around we are by our desires and our aversions, and consciously choosing not to be quite so caught up in the chaos. Eventually, this changes our experience of love as well as our ability to love. We become capable of generous, selfless, unconditional love.
Although it seems natural (or at least common) to initially resist the idea of non attachment training, sooner or later, we all come around to it as an exercise in basic sanity. Of course, practising non attachment does not stop us from wanting to be in relationship. It is actually the thing that contributes to relationship intimacy and harmony.
Procrastination only happens in the wake of inspiration. So when we are despairing of ourselves for the millionth time for procrastinating, perhaps we can feel grateful that we care enough about doing or achieving something.
Procrastination can be symptomatic of a lot of things, but often it’s to do with (lack of) belief. That, or labouring at the incorrect pursuits: the result of growing up in a culture that prioritises pleasing others over learning what matters to us.
Sometimes we procrastinate for the simple reason that it’s easier than not doing so. It is more instantly gratifying. Only when we grow sick and tired of pursuing pleasure as our primary purpose, does overcoming the desire to procrastinate become possible.
upper limit problems
In his book the Big Leap, author Gay Hendrix talked about the ‘upper limit problem’: the tendency for us to self sabotage at peak moments in our lives. When we have just found love, for example, or had a huge career break. Unless there is an issue or challenge to fixate on, we cannot relax. We feel restless.
Upper limit problems are the near enemies of success, and many successful people have them. We remove ourselves from the cycle when we begin to look at what we are really telling ourselves about how deserving we are of happiness, love, joy and abundance.
Self-entitled thinking – the apparent plague of Millennials – happens when we grow up with the message ‘conceive, believe, achieve’ but forget that we need to actually figure things out for ourselves, like what we are going to achieve, how and why. Entitlement makes us unhappy because it stops us from doing the work.
Narcissism, another near enemy of worthiness, can be easy to spot in others, less in ourselves. When we are narcissistic, we feel great about ourselves provided the attention is on us. We reclaim our power as we develop a more realistic approach to self-esteem.
True strength is in the consistent exercise of compassion and love, which is ironic as we tend to associate these things with weakness. A good goal for us all is to be only as strong as we need to be.
The near enemy of strength is a false independence – a blustery, over-compensatory kind of invulnerability which maintains a cool distance between us and other people. We grow when we see what we have been doing, and we learn to become vulnerable whilst maintaining our boundaries.
I think the legendary singer Leonard Cohen championed vulnerability the best when he said ‘there is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’
Over-optimism is a cage just like negativity, it’s just a sneakier saboteur. The pain for the optimist is making the same mistakes repeatedly, never developing the wisdom that considering the pitfalls of a plan enables. It can be disheartening for the optimist to realise once again that they have arrived at a happy conclusion without merit! Spotting this near enemy in ourselves, we can try to apply a little more balance to our intelligence.
Maybe like me you find the near enemies teaching a usual vantage point to consider the myriad ways we get stuck. I hope so.