In my martial arts class, sometimes when a student performs a maneuver particularly well, our grandmaster praises her/him and says, “…no enemies!” I’ve always found this to be an interesting way to think about self-defense and martial arts training. Martial arts was developed to enhance fitness and well-being and promote peace, but also to help people overcome opponents (i.e., “enemies”) when needed. If you’re good enough at this, you have no real enemies. Someone might threaten to attack you, but you know you can protect yourself if needed; thus, the person ceases to be a threat, and thereby, ceases to be an enemy. When this happens, many options open up. You might choose to avoid the fight altogether (you have nothing to prove, and why hurt someone if you don’t have to?) and treat the person as if he or she is not an enemy. Your mind will be open to the many possibilities, and you will be more likely to leave the interaction unscathed. You might even decide to treat the person with respect and compassion. If you’re not so sure of your own abilities, are insecure, or believe the other person can overpower you, you may view that other person with malice or consider her or him to be an enemy. I see this a lot in other spheres. Some people early in their training (in many areas, including academic, professional, and so forth) believe they have something to prove and are easily threatened by others who are adept in particular areas, have difficulty with authority, engage in competitive behaviour, and so forth. After some time, some of us realize we don’t have anything to prove; thus, others’ successes cease to engender envy, resentment or a sense of threat.
Where is all of this going? Well, I think that the practice of mindfulness, over time, can also engender this sense that there are “no enemies.” Mindful practice involves being open to the present moment, experiencing what’s happening right now without attachment to our wants and desires, without “ego” as some suggest. Some mindfulness practices involve actively generating and experiencing compassion toward others (and ourselves). Perhaps the regular practice of mindfulness, both alone and with others, can increase our sense of connection with other people and the world (and universe) more broadly. Indeed, some studies have suggested that children show slower declines in generous behaviour toward others after a course of compassion-oriented mindfulness training. Other research has supported the idea that mindfulness training may increase compassion toward others (https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/07/mindfulness-meditation-empathy-compassion/398867/). If we’re all connected, there truly are no “outsiders” (as Desmond Tutu famously stated) and no enemies. It’s one thing to recognize this logically (we’re all connected, breathe the same air, are living creatures, made up of atoms, and so forth), but sometimes, I find I don’t really get things until I experience them. And, I’m sure I’m not the only one! Perhaps the practice of mindfulness and compassion-oriented meditation can help us all experience connection and compassion and realize through this experience that there are truly no enemies. Imagine what might happen if we stopped viewing the person who criticizes or attacks us as an enemy, and instead, began viewing that person with compassion and felt curious and open to her or his perspective. There are several practices that can promote this experience and mindset, and I’ll discuss some of those soon. ~Alexander L. Chapman, Ph.D., R.Psych