For some, life’s quest is a call to action, which seems noble and romantic. I, however, have never heard its call, at least that I am aware of. Rather, my life’s quest is best described as a seemingly endless supply of unrelated events and miscellaneous junk simultaneously showing up in my life.
Thus, does Creation provide me an opportunity to learn? I must first notice and become aware of what is showing up, then choose among the disparate items and try to make a meaningful correlation. Though it seems so easy, noticing is difficult, and identifying relevant correlations is even more difficult. Not to mention the added pressure of knowing if I miss either opportunity, the underlying lesson will cycle back around and present itself yet again, or if you are me, several more times after that.
This is exactly where I found myself last week.
I was determined this was going to be a one and done, lesson learned, opportunity.
I had just finished reading the book Coming Alive: 4 Tools to Defeat Your Inner Enemy, Ignite Creative Expression & Unleash Your Soul's Potential, by Barry Michels, when I found myself listening to a podcast with Dr. Brené Brown talking about her new book Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience. In the podcast, Brown referred to a Buddhist principle that changed the way she understood how emotions were related.
The book was interesting, and the podcast was thought provoking. Afterall, it was Dr. Brené Brown. I had learned something from both the book and the podcast, and I felt like I was ready to make my way to the next thing, but I had this nagging awareness circling back to something both had said—Enemy.
Hmmm … a coincidence? Not likely.
Time to find the connection, as I certainly did not want to face this “enemy” again.
Barry Michel’s book provides four tools to defeat the formidable adversaries that exist to conspire against us, aiming to derail our progress, keep us small and stuck. The four adversaries are identified as:
Impulses to gratify yourself: these urges override our ability to assess the consequences of our actions.
Feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted: this makes it seem like the only way to preserve our energy is to stop trying to understand your life.
Feelings of hopelessness: negative emotions strong enough you give up on your dreams.
The reinjury cycle: the process of keeping injured feelings alive by continually reliving them.
Having had direct experience with each of these, I made a note to look for them creeping into my life and creating havoc.
As Brown outlines, Buddhist teachings contain the concept of the “near enemy,” a mental state mimicking a positive emotion, but in truth undermining it. Unlike its opposite, which is easy to spot, the near enemy of a positive emotion flies under the radar and damages structures from within. Basically, the near enemy is the dark side of a positive emotion, and it exists before our very eyes, hiding in plain sight. An example is love. Love is a positive emotion, but when love seeks to control, when it attaches, clings, grasps, and love-bombs, it is considered a near enemy. It is damaging.
The example Brown provided made sense, and once again, I made note to watch for positive emotions lurking under the surface of my life causing damage and distress.
In each case, I made note of the situations to look out for, but juxtaposed, considered side by side, the implication was clear. How easy it is to look without really seeing, to hear without really listening, blaming the hustle and bustle of our daily lives?
Some of the positive emotions I was feeling and self-talk I was using were actually a Trojan Horse for adversarial emotions set on sabotaging my very self; amazing what we accept at face value and fail to consider, as long as it appears positive.
How many times had I told myself something that I was doing, which lately involved copious amounts of potato chips, was a radical act of self-love? I told myself I deserved to treat myself after working so hard, after eating so clean. The enemy near—overriding my ability to assess the consequences of my actions—was self-love twisted out of context.
How many times had I relived, over and over again, a painful encounter? I told myself I need to understand why the other person hurt me, so I could forgive them. The enemy near—keeping injured feelings alive by continually reliving them—was forgiveness set on nothing short of enhancing my role as the victim.
I could go on, but the point is clear. Positive emotions, the ones we pat ourselves on the back for exhibiting, can indeed have a dark side that exits before our very eyes, hiding in plain sight. The enemy near.