Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Your greatest enemy is your greatest teacher - darn it!

I read this beautiful and simple Buddhist saying somewhere, a number of  years ago, within a moment that stood alone, separate, as if waiting for me. It was that poignant, that perfect:

"Your greatest enemy is your greatest teacher"

 I knew this in every fibre and twitch of my being as soon as i read it. But it took me a few moments longer to process it with my sludgy brain. So I searched for an example to test the theory. I imagined my greatest enemy, and who came up surprised me. She was my opposite in personality - we had clashed for years and years - yin and yang -  though I did not think of it that way - as there is harmony and balance in ying and yang.  What I did think of was how as opposites, we always talked over eachother - as if we were in different worlds. I was never able to let things go when she said things I judged to be wrong-minded, or untrue or...whatever they were doesn't matter really - when two people clash there is plenty of fodder. She is a member of my extended family, so she is someone I could not avoid, she is part of my life.

I found it rather unpleasant, ok, terrible, to think that she could be my greatest teacher. She, teach me? What could she possibly teach me other than things I don't agree with? She was very conservative, I was, well, NOT. She seemed to only think of money, numbers, counting, counting...i never had money to count...She was reactive, I was certainly

Clearly she needed to change, not I...


I knew as soon as I said this, my old mantra, that it was holding me back - that it actually cemented our tense relationship. This new little line i read forced me to realize that  I needed to change, not her. Sure, she might need to change as any human being needs to, but that was not my business to decide or worry myself over. My part was to change myself - and learn, from the enemy.

I did learn. And it was not pretty. I found that I was full of pride, that I was stuck in my ways, that I was not open to her differences, nor was I ready to celebrate anything good in her. She was the devil and I liked it that way. Such a heavy burden this was for me! Clearly, I was my own enemy.

It was slow, but I started to open myself up, try a new way of seeing. For example, we thought very differently - I excelled at abstraction, she at very concrete ideas. I could explore an idea and never stop exploring, she needed only to explore it until she found a way to make it useful or not, the end. Not a bad way, actually...I started to see her opposite ways as not inferior, but as an alternative way with wisdom of its own. I softened. When I started to perceive her with  fresh eyes - being open to her possibilities, her goodness, I began to be more free within myself - I will explain.

I realized that what I was doing is very similar to what psycologists call "oppositional identity formation" - my "good" identity was directly dependent on sustaining her "bad" identity - this meant I had to feed the monster - my idea of her being a "monster" had to be sustained by examples and stories. Anything good that arose from her I ignored, as it would not uphold my idea of her or of myself in relation to her. In other words, it was all about my ego, my idea of myself.

Ego is not bad necessarily, it just has to stay in check, in balance. Yes you should stand up for yourself at times, you should have a strong sense of self and your abilities, but no, you should not be so tied to your ego - your positive identity, that you cannot accept when you are wrong, that you crumble when others shine a light on your not so positive self, that you act in very strange, very unhealthy ways, very needy ways to maintain that positive identity -  that grand sense of self not grounded in what's real. I had to stop feeding the monster, so I could get a better look at reality, and rest in what is real - she is good, I am good - enjoy.

wow I learned a lot from my enemy.  And she had no idea.

But what she does know now, is, that I appreciate her very different abilities, especially the ones that urked me before, and that though things aren't always smooth, I do find her funny and full of heart, that I admire her energy and her forthrightness... and that we are not enemies...

I am no longer threatened by her goodness.

Identify your greatest enemy - be open to what they can teach you - it is a most difficult thing, but you can come out the other side better for it.


Tony Anders said...

A good lesson to learn. I too now try to be a "claimer" and not a "blamer" as what I claim and own, I am in a position to work on the change I wish to see. Thanks for sharing!

Heather Conroy said...

You have hit on something that fascinates me Marcime. It's the stories we tell ourselves to maintain our position, dislike, or distance from someone else. This is our personal narrative which plays like a tape in our head when we think about someone (like your in law) who challenges you. As you realised the very best way to change the tape is to realise that it's playing in the first place. Because humans interpretive beings we naturally connect up the dots and make a story out of events, conversations and any other information. It's how we make sense of the world.
Think of all the stories you have, some of them are really dominant- like the ones we tell ourselves about our place in our family, or the type of family we had. Then we can look at other possible alternative stories that might explain things. Other people in the same family have a different story for the way things were or are! Fascinating territory for writers to explore and kudos to you for being brave enough to write about it!

Beth Chapman said...

Marcime your courage to write with such honesty is truly applauded. You've written what most of us would prefer to avoid-tactfully of course. It reminds me of the difference between mirrors which reflect our image and windows which we see through and beyond. If the sun is just right you can also see your reflection shadowed in the window. Your awareness was the mirror. Your embracement of the reflection is now the window through which you can see both a beautiful reflection and the colorful pallet of life. Thank you for your courage and honesty.

Anonymous said...

I had the same epiphany moment you had about those who have been my greatest teachers in life. This is a challenging lesson, if not the most challenging.


Eco Yogini said...

a very good lesson, but interesting in that i didn't think of a "person" when I read the word "enemy"... maybe it's my profession with language and being picky on semantics... :)

I find situations have helped teach me things, especially the difficult situations (i.e. upset parents in my office etc).

even changing the way we label things or people (such as using "difficult instead of the extremely negative connotations of "enemy") can change how we view them and our own involvment-reactions.

very thoughtful post! :)

angelguided said...

yes it is difficult to acknowledge that an enemy is teaching us anything. This story reminds me of my sister and myself. We are yin and yang, she is vibrant colourful, extreme whereas I am more closed, deep thinking and serious. I have understood the concept that others are like mirrors showing us a part of ourselves we may not like and I have battled with it forever. Unfortunately, we do not speak anymore and I must admit I miss her zest for life, her eccentricity and her colourful stories. I hope, one day we can re-build our relationship on love rather than resentment.

marcime said...

thank-you for the dialogue everyone!

yes - to claim instead of pointing fingers away from oneself all the much more effective and energizing!(Tony)

and yes, Heather, I think that way too - the idea that the narrative/story tape that plays in our heads, which orients our perception of the world - and to know that you can change this tape - (Heather)

And the idea of the mirror reflection leading to a clearer view - the window - to see clearly through to the inter-connected reality of not just oneself (Beth(

Aine - same epiphany? tell us your story :)

Eco yogini - so true that it can be gnarly situations as much as it can be people...

Angelguided - sorry to hear about your relationship with sister - this can be the most contentious relationship - hope you find a way, an opening...


Sai said...

An invaluable lesson! Thank you for sharing your story.


A tough lesson to learn, with healthy doses of self honesty. Ouch! :)

Cathey said...

A lovely story well told. May I quote you anonymously for a class I am teaching on this Buddhist principle? Cathey E in Oklahoma.