How those who make us angry or even dislike us can be among our greatest teachers
by James Eke
From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #114
Our enemies are our greatest teachers.
Nobody likes to have enemies – at least I sure don’t – but the reality is that just like the Dalai Lama, or Yoda would tell you, anger just leads to suffering and darkness. What we need to do, through training properly, is learn to see the root cause of our anger, see full on the stupid things we ourselves have done that created the discord, accept the result and learn from it all.
It is easy in Zen or the martial arts to look at training through rose-coloured glasses. You go through the motions, you see the tip of the iceberg, you commit yourself to the aspects that are easy or fit easily in your life – what you really are doing though is forgetting about the true work. The true Way.
The simple fact is that while all the external trappings of training are beneficial, the reality is that the most important aspects of training are also the hardest.
Someone either does you harm or dislikes you or has decided to do whatever they can to harm, discredit, ruin or judge you and you feel it in your bones that this enemy hates you or feels nothing but desire for seeing you in misery. We’ve all been there. The automatic reaction to this is anger, confusion, fear, hostility, pain and any other assortment of things that are basically summed up with the word suffering. Then we want to somehow return some form of suffering to that person, whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. This is what I call the throat-punch reaction – someone does something to us and we automatically want to lash back.
Here is the thing, we don’t want to lash back with the throat punch reaction because of anything else except that you want them to feel like you feel and so you can feel right and believe that somehow they will see that they were wrong.
This is pointless though.
We all do dumb things – sometimes really, really, really dumb things. We are all human. I’m sure even the Dalai Lama has had moments in his life that he thinks to himself, “well now, that was really freaking idiotic…how have I been training this long and still do dumb stuff?” The difference between likely him and you though is he probably instantly laughs to himself and then uses that stupidity of being human as a great lesson to move on to a better place in his training.
I’m no Dalai Lama. I am a simple dude who tries to do his best, falls flat on his face, looks back on the past and wonders how on earth I’d ever been so dumb and I try to be better. Some lessons have come easy like a smack in the face that wakes you up, other lessons have been far slower coming. That’s ok though.
Over the past few years I have really come to see, despite hearing it for years or more likely decades, that compassion, patience, and letting go are the most important things to learn from training, that this is actually all that really matters in training.
You might want to believe that Zen is all about sitting. Or you might want to think that Jiu-Jitsu is all about tapping someone out. Or that you need to have high kicks or be able to meditate for 30 minutes without moving, or any other multitude of aspects of what you believe training to be. Thing is, you need to let go of that. You need to let go of this ego-centric view of what training means, this need to attain, this need to prove yourself.
What matters, what training, what the Way is about is coming to an understanding at our most fundamental level that we are all more connected than we can ever understand. This life and our view of reality in which we live is just a dream. Maybe even just a dream of a dream.
Doing harm to another just injures ourselves. This doesn’t mean not to train in your martial art though it means to train yourself so you never have to harm someone.
Responding to hate with more hate is maybe even worse than physical harm. When we lash out with hatred we lose a part of ourselves that we may not even realize we are tossing aside.
The same goes when we are judgemental, critical, mean, selfish, cruel and angry. Of course we are human so these kinds of things will still show themselves. What we don’t or shouldn’t do though if we are serious about our training is let them loose. Instead, see the anger, ask yourself where it is coming from, how much of it did we ourselves create? Then reshape that emotional response into patience and compassion.
Every morning when I sit for my meditation I think about all the people I remember and even those I no longer recall that I have wronged, that hate me, that I dislike and I send back into the universe that I hope they are loved, safe, healthy and will be liberated. I’m not doing this from some lofty perspective but from the perspective of a flawed human who makes mistakes and wishes and tries to learn from them.
If you love your life at all, or even if right now you don’t, you got here, right at this instant through all those events, mistakes, friends, enemies and whatever else has occurred. All of that happened so you could be here, right now, listening to this, breathing, maybe smiling. The question is, if you have been brought here by all these experiences, what are you going to do with it? What did you learn?
It took me 52 years to get to where I am right now. It has not been easy. Some of it was terrible. Some of it was sad. Some of it was wonderful. Some of it was crazy. All of it was, in retrospect, amazingly interesting in its highs and lows – a story of growth and change. When you can see your life in this light and learn from it you really start to see what training can actually be. What really matters most.
I hope that you are at the place in your own journey of training that you can see that compassion, and development of patience and kindness matter more than anything else.
I think that the fact that you are probably someone who understand that training is important, what I would hope is that you make patience for yourself and others the foundation of that, add to that the cultivation of compassion for others and yourself and strive, every moment you can to let go of anger. Be grateful when you get the opportunity to train to let go. Be understanding to yourself and others for the flawed humans that we all are and simply do you best to be better regardless of all the rest.
When you make this your central point of training, real growth can happen, real change.
Here is the thing: imagine if everyone lived life this way. Imagine if everyone trained this way.
Learn to breathe. Learn to let go. Endure the fire of anger with compassion.
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