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Embracing the Enemy: A Peace-Building Practice

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on June 28, 2012 at 3:45 PM


Is there someone in your life you have difficulty getting along with? Someone you consistently carry negative feelings toward or who always manages to “push your buttons”? If so, then you are not alone – nearly everyone can identify at least one person with whom they have a challenging or frustrating relationship.


You could decide to avoid that person whenever possible or even take steps to eliminate him or her from your day-to-day life altogether – and some teachers of positive thinking would highly recommend that approach. After all, why should you waste your precious time and energy trying to relate to someone who just brings you down?


However I maintain that examining your difficult relationships can open you to a great deal of insight about yourself and even lead to spiritual growth, if you are willing to do some work. This isn’t likely to be a popular choice in our current society, which supports an attitude of self-entitlement and blame toward others for everything that goes wrong. But there is a way to create a connection with those who offend you and to find peace within yourself in the process.


The first step in this practice is to understand why you have “enemies” in the first place. The truth is that those people whom you most dislike actually represent the parts of yourself that you can’t tolerate or even acknowledge. Your greatest adversary most likely will possess some of the same character traits that you despise and reject within yourself, such as laziness, jealousy, anger, etc. If your own negative traits are deeply repressed within your Shadow, this statement will make no sense to you and seem totally illogical. But keep an open mind and go further into this process even if you are skeptical right now. (Read more about the Shadow here.)


One of the most moving scenes I have ever witnessed occurred at a workshop when a Palestinian woman and an Israeli man came on stage together. As they were introduced to one another the woman placed her hand over the man’s heart and said, “You are the part of me that I have not yet met.” With that simple gesture she exposed the truth behind centuries of warfare and hostility between the two groups of people these two individuals represent. War occurs when we cannot recognize ourselves in the other and find common ground with them. We need to look at every enemy with new eyes and a freshly opened heart.


The simple practice that follows is one technique for changing your perspective of another person and finding a connection, no matter how impossible that seems.


  1. Begin by sitting in a quiet place and taking a few deep breaths as you relax into a state of contemplation. 
  2. Focus your attention on your breath as you inhale and then send that breath into your heartspace. You might even place your hands over your heart in a cup-like fashion, as if to hold the breath that is beginning to fill that space. 
  3. Recognize that this breath you are sending into your heart actually consists of rays of loving energy that are flowing into you and filling you up. 
  4. When you are “full” of this energy, open your hands and begin to “pour” the loving energy out through your heart, directing it to people or places or situations that need your love. 
  5. Envision your “enemy” standing in front of you and send this loving energy to that person. See him or her surrounded and filled with all the love you are pouring out, no matter how angry or hateful you may have felt in the past. 
  6. Allow the face of your enemy to change and soften as love surrounds him or her. Try to see the frailty and vulnerability that lies deep within that person as you recognize your own vulnerability and fear.  
  7. When you are finished, release that person from your awareness but keep within you a memory of the new softer image or his or her face and the vulnerability you saw within each of you.


When you consistently practice sending loving energy to those you believe to be your enemies, you will gradually break down the walls of hatred and resistance you have built over time. You will slowly begin to recognize yourself in that person and understand why you have needed to push him or her away.


In fact, your “enemies” are actually opportunities for you to learn about yourself and heal your deepest, most hidden wounds. To embrace your enemy with love is to welcome into the light your own weaknesses and to finally make peace with yourself. If you wish to foster peace in this conflict-torn world, this is where you must begin – embrace your own enemies, those outside and those within you.

Categories: Relationships, Spiritual Practice, Transformation

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1 Comment

Reply Elaine Mansfield
9:09 AM on August 4, 2012 
Dear Dr. Wyatt,
Thank you for this powerful blog. I have been a student of Jung since the late 1960s, using ideas from Jung and his students to explore my psyche and understand the world. Rather than my present approach of strong boundaries and witnessing when the shadow arises, I will try your approach and offer love to the situation. Although not formally a Buddhist, I am also a lover of the Dalai Lama and feel sure that you are on the right track here.
Thank you, Elaine Mansfield http://elainemansfield.com/

Copyright ©2010 Karen Wyatt, MD

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