I used to pride myself on being a do-gooder:
I donated to charity, fed the homeless at the local park and volunteered on an organic farm.
Naturally, I met many idealists like me. But something began rubbing me the wrong way…
Several well-intentioned activists felt so passionate about their cause, they’d create more harm than good. I couldn’t fathom why they justified shaming and even violence.
How could we possibly achieve peace through conflict?
Eventually, I realized it’s not as simple as I thought. I stumbled into a few toxic relationships—at times, I was the narcissist and other times, the victim of one. My worst enemy blinked back at me in the mirror.
In an ironic turn of events, I became someone I never wanted to be. The line between “good” and “bad” blurred. Years of violent disputes nearly crushed me.
But all of this conflict served a greater purpose.
Little by little, I learned how to cultivate kindness and compassion. I discovered how our inner turmoil creates outer conflicts—and a fractured world. And how urgent it is to lay down arms and seek understanding.
I believe the world’s future depends on all of us learning how to find compassion for our enemies, as daunting as that may seem.
We all have a Mr. Hyde
No one wants to admit their flaws.
We all prefer seeing ourselves in a positive light.
Yet each of us has a Mr. Hyde.
In 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson published his famous novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which called attention to our different selves. Namely, a “good” persona deemed appropriate for daily life (like Dr. Jekyll) that conceals our “bad” persona, full of repressed emotions and desires (Mr. Hyde).
These “negative” emotions and traits like shame, rage, selfishness and rudeness make up what psychologist Carl Jung called our personal shadow.
Our childhood environments reinforced the traits we needed to be accepted and ensure our well-being. So, we learned to disown our shadow, casting it into our unconscious.
But we can’t throw away our shadow like it’s the Sunday newspaper. The spiritual path has a way of making the unconscious conscious. Sooner or later, we must reconcile with our whole selves.
We often see our shadow in the unpleasant traits and actions of other people. By loathing someone else’s ignorance, laziness or vanity, for example, we may be unconsciously denying those traits in ourselves.
For the longest time, I couldn’t stand my partner’s angry reactions. They scared me. So I blamed and blamed, labeling him the enemy.
As I helped my partner manage his anger, I became aware of my own anger, something I’ve learned to reject as a small child. I observed the many times I lashed out at him too.
Who was the enemy now?
It turns out that underneath our rage, we both harbored deep hurts, fear of abandonment and grief. So we stopped pointing fingers at each other and courageously faced our inner demons together.
That mutual understanding paved the way for acceptance and compassion.
How to find compassion for our enemies
A universal truth connects us…
We all have an innate desire to be happy. And we’re all vulnerable to the whims of life.
When we face considerable stress or trauma, we resort to various defense mechanisms, like controlling others, lashing out or addictions.
It’s tempting to believe some people are bad. But people who suffer immensely hurt others. (Of course, this doesn’t excuse abusive behavior.)
The more we push against our enemy—whether it’s hateful people or our own inner critic—the more damage we cause. If we want to create a peaceful world, we must stop feeding our fears.
Compassion is above all an inner process. We don’t try to change or fix the other person. We can choose if we want to help, forgive or avoid the person altogether.
Recognizing someone’s suffering and wishing for their liberation helps us find grace in our own difficulties.
And the reverse is true too. Transforming our hardships helps us better understand those of others.
Strengthen your compassion with these tips:
- Imagine what your antagonist’s childhood was possibly like
- Silently send your enemy well wishes: May you be happy and well.
- Acknowledge your own shadow (“negative” emotions and shortcomings)
- Contemplate the person’s role in your spiritual evolution
- Practice compassion meditation
- Extend kindness to others whenever possible
- Take breaks to stay grounded
In A Fearless Heart, author Thupten Jinpa suggests we read or chant the Four Immeasurables Prayer everyday:
“May all beings attain happiness and its causes.
May all beings be free from suffering and its causes.
May all beings never be separated from joy that is free of misery.
May all beings abide in equanimity, free from bias of attachment and aversion.”
Let’s build a better world together
We need to cultivate compassion more than ever.
Despite global turmoil, we have a tremendous opportunity to unite all of humankind.
It’s certainly a tall order.
But we don’t have to solve the world’s problems. Each of us can look within, embrace our shadow and cultivate compassion a little bit everyday.
We cannot fail to achieve enlightenment. Our collective awakening is inevitable.
It’s only a matter of time.
About the author
Annie Moussu is a spiritual coach offering practical wisdom to awakening souls. The world needs your inner peace. Sign up for her newsletter to get blog articles twice a month.
Further reading to develop compassion: