Continuing again from the previous two postings: the hardest thing about loving your enemies, or even your friends, for that matter, is the way that self-love has to be at the core of love for others.
This is easiest to understand in the case of loving enemies.
If you don’t love yourself very much, then you are vulnerable to your enemies because you believe that their low regard for you is justified!
This is crucially important and difficult to fully understand. I recommend meditating on it, repeatedly.
Let me explain a little more. What we don’t like about enemies is not so much that they don’t like us; what really gets us is the fear that they might be right in their not liking us. Our enemies are our enemies in how they trigger our worst fears about ourselves: our ineptitude; our worthlessness; etc.
But what if we were sure that we are really okay?
What if we felt secure in God’s love for us?
If our own sense of self were thoroughly rooted in love, then we would perceive our enemies differently. Instead of fearing that their worst perceptions of us might be right (and then in denial we get angry at them for this), our automatic response would be to think: “they’re mistaken: why?” Instead of doing this little dance of insecurity within ourselves that brings us to a place of defensiveness against them, we would look at them and ask, “what painful experience in their past is surfacing now, distorting their perceptions in this way?” And: “what can I do to reassure them about the presence of an overarching goodness in myself, in them, and in the world? What can I do to realign them, myself, and this situation with that overarching goodness?”
None of this is to claim that we are perfect in ourselves. But it is to detach our own mistakes from the inherent value of our being. Well-grounded in the inherent value of our being, and of their being, the presence of mistakes, pain, and misunderstanding (in ourselves and others) turns into a pragmatic problem to be dealt with instead of striking deep chords of despair throughout the core of our very being.
(Believe me, I’ve been there!)
We are flawed, but not fatally flawed. They may be wrong, but that does not make them beset with sinister motivations. We’re all just limping along doing the best that we can, sometimes inadvertently bumping into each other as we go along. It’s the human condition.
By loving yourself (believing in the inherent value of your being), you become less inclined to interpret “their stuff” as being about you. Being grounded in God’s love for you, you realize that even if they say they hate you, that you are evil, and that they wish to expunge you from the earth, it’s not the real you they mean at all, but something they fear in themselves that they project onto you in their attempt to excise it from their own soul. They are the ones not at peace with themselves. They are the ones who have not learned to love themselves. They are the ones who don’t believe in God’s love for them.
And in realizing this, we feel compassion for them. What painful experiences in their past led them to such a state? What healing do they need?
We might not be able, in the moment, to mend everything for them and help them to a better state of being. But at least being aware of this deeper dynamic helps us respond better than simple defensiveness (which usually just exacerbates the problem). We become free to respond more authentically and creatively to the core of the problem instead of richocheting off the surface of the problem back into our own reflexive and pointless pain. Even if we don't solve their problem, if we can at least strengthen our own capacity for love, the world will be better off.
6 years ago