Love your enemies, robustly.
I read this admonition somewhere I cannot remember, but it struck me, and it stuck. The key word in the phrase, the one that drives it home, is “robustly.” I am no fan of adverbs, but there’s a difference between loving one’s enemies and loving them in a manner that can be called robust.
I’ve seen that this extra push of robust loving is actually necessary to counteract the enmity one feels toward an enemy. The relationship is neither benign nor tepid. Rather, there’s passionate negativity at work. A special effort is needed to metabolize hate and transmute it into love.
We can see two things at work. We can understand that everyone is driven by a complex set of attitudes, reactions, and patterns and all are slaves to this matrix of mechanicality, while also knowing that beneath the conditioned reactional self lies a fundamental goodness all people share. This latter part is always present, however obscured. While fundamental goodness may only show up as potential, it is no less real than the actual.
No one is intentionally evil. Everyone believes he is doing the good or at least serving some real and pressing need. It may be that crimes are carried out because conscience is asleep and clarity is obscured by rationale, but no one thinks “I’m going to go do something evil.”
We can’t expect people to be other than their automatic attitudes and attachments dictate. No one can be required to do the work needed to transcend and transmute automatism and abide only in fundamental goodness. This impulse must be personal, and the effort to do the work can only be a choice.
The effort to see and relate to the fundamental goodness in each person, including oneself, itself engenders love. This is the foil to the enmity felt towards enemies. This disposition affords us the opportunity to avoid the habit of withdrawal, submission, or aggression—our usual reactions. Instead, we’re able to address attention to potential goodness, seeing beyond the reactional self.
To be clear, robust loving of an enemy is not ignorant Pollyannaism. Seeing a person’s potential fulfillment is to see with exact precision where he or she is limited. This is the part that requires real strength of being. One has to be able to see oneself and others as each is in the moment, warts and all. One has to develop the capacity to see and embrace bad habits and unconscious reactions without reacting from that same set of impulses.
In this direction is the Tibetan Buddhist teaching of Compassionate Abiding. This practice extends the invitation to do this work of robust love for an enemy firstly with oneself. One suffers in ways large and small, deep and shallow, all the time. This suffering can feel like an inner enemy.
In compassionate abiding, one first looks to the body, to locate the somatic, proprioceptive experience of the suffering. Then one embraces the suffering, rather than pushing it away. Next is to notice and stop the thought-forms and associations giving rise to the suffering. Finally, one repeats the process, again and again. Some American students formulated this process as a mnemonic acronym: LESR. Locate, Embrace, Stop, Repeat.
“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” Michael Corleone says in The Godfather. In the sense of inner work, this is true in a different way. To keep enemies close is to see and cherish their potential. If a person is able to do this, one’s life and the lives it touches are transformed. Enough people doing this will conceive, gestate, and bear the yet-unborn child that is the future humanity.