Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Loving the enemy for your own sake

Are you crazy in love with the person you are partnering with? Are you deeply fond of and appreciative of your former partner(s)? Are you free from stress when your obnoxious neighbor/co-worker/almost-friend pulls their latest stunt? If not, what’s stopping you?

The answers can go two ways: the other person should change, or something could change in my own heart/mind.

This is the ancient puzzle: how to love your enemy ( which is to say, someone who isn’t doing what we want them to do). There are two instant ways out of this puzzle, both basically impossible for most of us most of the time. One is total and complete presence. Your spouse calls you a “creep” in a bitter and sarcastic tone. In the total present you don’t have associations with the word “creep” and her tones are just what they are, sounds to your ears that are as good as any other sounds. The second way of instant out, is the “letting it go,” way, which is to say, you notice your attachment to not wanting to be called a creep and drop it.

Sometimes these work, but I’d like to offer a broader and remarkable system to un-do these so-called “hurts” we carry around, a path to inner freedom and love. It’s called the Work of Byron Katie, and was formulated by Katie in the late 1980’s as a result of her “waking up” from years of depression, anger, alcoholism and agony.

There are basically three parts to her work: a commitment to truth, a shift of attention, and a return to self-awareness. This is not how she formulates it.. In her words: Judge your neighbor, write it down, ask four questions, turn it around. ( All this can be seen at www.thework.org, and in her two books , Loving What Is, and I Need Your Love: Is that True).

So, let’s start with truth, Truth, how you want to shape it, it’s not the subjective opinion we carry around. It’s not our high opinion of ourselves, that we really aren’t judgment people ( unless forced to be, that is). So, the truth is, much as we know we shouldn’t do it, much as we sometimes struggle mightily against it, we judge our family, friends, neighbors, and enemies. For the purpose of this discussion, we’ll use the most petty and honest definition of enemy: someone who doesn’t give us what we want. Katie suggests: judge our neighbor, write it down.

These then are part of the truth we need to gather, the truth that we judge, and that even more confirmed truth when we slow down our thinking by putting it down on the page, writing it out in our own hand. Here’s one that was useful for me to wrestle with, this judgment/thought/concept: “My father shouldn’t have been so critical.”

So, I’ve judged Dad, I’ve got the painful thought down in clarity, I don’t have to go around and around in my head. Seven words. Years of hell before I had a way out.

Now come the four questions ( judge your neighbor, write it down, ask four questions, turn it around). And the three first questions are more sides of the truth I need to see if I want to heal myself from seeing Dad as the enemy who criticized me.

Question one and two go like this: 1) Is it true? 2) Can I absolutely know that it is true? True here means objective reality, instead of my wish for how reality should be or should have been.

So, one, Is it true that “my father shouldn’t have been so critical?” Now I might get all my friends to agree with me, and child rearing experts to agree with me, and my sisters to agree with me, but all that is in the service of being Right. The old I’m Right/You’re Wrong game. But is it true that my father should have been a different person? Here, to say this, I have to posit my self as some sort of God, who can command people how to be.

The second question makes this even more clear, Can I absolutely know that “my father shouldn’t have been so critical?” Which is to say, can I absolutely know, that for my highest good, and his, that “my father shouldn’t have been so critical?”

No, I can’t, I’m not God. Dad was what he was. I believe he shouldn’t have been so critical, but this is a wish, a belief, some could even call it a fairy tale, but it’s not a truth.

Question three lead to a different sort of truth, the truth of the consequences this belief/thought has for me when I attach to it. Question three is: “How do I react when I hold this thought?”

Which is to say, how do I feel inside, and treat other people and Dad outside when I attach to the thought, “my father shouldn’t have been so critical?” This is time for more writing, write down the dirty laundry list of consequences of going along with this belief. The list is the usual suspects: angry, sad, cheated, victimized, hurt, belittled. And the consequences in terms of behavior are a combination of anger and withdrawal from him or anyone else I turn into Dad ( the transference thing.).

Notice that core realization of question three: that there is on the one hand my Dad’s behavior and on the other my reaction to that behavior when I hold the belief that “my father shouldn’t have been so critical.” So the truth here is seeing what I, me, myself and I, did to me, myself and me, when I latched onto the thought/belief/story that he should be different.

So far, we have three levels of truth: one, the truth that I have a judgment; two, the truth that this judgment is not reality but is a thought/story/belief/concept. And three, the truth of looking at the list of how my attachment to that thought brings about a bunch of painful feelings and results. This is a big truth: it’s not my Dad’s criticism that was eating me up, it was my reaction to believing that he should have been a different kind of Dad.

Now it’s time to shift attention. The fourth question goes like this: “Who, or what, would you be without that thought, in the presence of the other?”

So, imagining Dad ( he’s dead) in my presence what happens if I am not holding onto the thought, “my father shouldn’t have been so critical?” Who would I be if I can see him with a mind and heart free from that belief?

This happens: I can see him.

This is a huge shift since I’m not absorbed in the bad feelings of question three, and in the righteous belief that questions one and two dispel. I’m not all as stuck in the land of me, me, me.

What’s left then, if it’s not all about me? Dad.

I can see his red face, and his tightened breathing and his glazed over eyes that can’t really see me. I can feel his frustration and bottled up fury and his own feelings of worthlessness and lack of inner poise. I can hear his harsh voice, but without being lost in my own wishing that he be different I can observe something I couldn’t see when I was lashed to believing he should be different. I can see that he is suffering. I can see that he can’t really see me. I can see that he is in his own pain.

What his pain is I can guess by remembering the pain I’m in when I’m critical of others, but a better way to continue this shift is to now use the language of non-violent communication. In this language, I look for an understanding of how he is feeling and what he feels his unmet needs are. So I can look at my father without the story that he shouldn’t be so critical and guess that he’s feeling anxious and I can guess that he’s feeling a need to be secure about how I’m doing in my life. Which is to say, he wants things to turn out well for me and he’s freaking out with his own story about how they won't. Or maybe he’s feeling a need to be accepted by his peers and I’m too different to make that easy for him. Or he’s feeling a need to validate himself and if I’m too unlike him, that makes it hard for him to validate me. Again, the fear, fear of the different, fear of what’s out of our control, a wish for things to turn out “well,” but in our definition of “well” and our idea of how this should come about.

Fear and control. That sort of thing. I can imagine that in him. If he were alive, I could ask him, “Is what’s going on is that you are anxious about me, and have a need to feel secure that I’ll be okay?” He could say, yes, or no, but at least with my attention shifted out of poor me and into curiosity about him, we can probably get somewhere.

For now, though, this is about loving the enemy named Dad. Without attaching to the story, seeing him from inside his own wants and felt needs, with the added incentive of question three’s laundry list of how painful it is to believe the story, loving Dad becomes an easy option. The easiest option actually, because any other route is painful and stressful.

So truth and a shift of attention set me free, now all that’s left is self-realization. This is the ‘Turn-around” of judge your neighbor, write it down, ask four questions, turn it around.

There are two turn-arounds to “my father shouldn’t have been so critical.” One is, “I shouldn’t have been so critical of Dad.” This is the old wondrous route of taking the medicene I offer to others, practicing what I preach. If I think it’s so easy for Dad to stop being critical, how come I didn’t stop my own criticalness all those years. Humbling at first, and then amusing to see our own hypocrisy.

The second turn-around is one of taking radical responsibility for my own well-being: “ I should stop being so critical of me.” This is the core self-realization: if I’m not being self-critical, nothing he says can bother me. So now I’m triply free: free from the idea that the belief, “my father shouldn’t have been so critical” is anything other than a belief. Free from the pain of attaching to that belief and not seeing him as a human with his own feelings and perceived needs. And free to put my efforts where they might do some good, on changing myself.

Loving the enemy thus turns out not to be a matter of being good, but of freedom and self-love. It’s the free place to be, and that feels great.

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