When my son was 5, he came home from preschool one day and asked if Emily could come over to play.
“Emily?” I inquired, surprised. I had heard about Emily before—how she intruded on his games at recess, ran through forts he’d made in trees, demanded he get off the swings when his time was up.
“I didn’t know you and Emily were friends,” I said.
“Oh, we’re not,” he replied matter-of-factly. “We’re best enemies.”
Fifteen years later, my son’s creativity in relating to difficulty is still a teaching for me. “Enemy” is a strong word, but his 5-year old use of it captured the intensity of not wanting, not liking what’s undeniably here. “Best” enemy flipped the aversion on its head: Emily became the challenge that he chose to meet as an adventure.
With the full complexity and suffering of our world today never more visible or close at hand, I am sitting with much that I don’t like and didn’t ask for. Annoyances, pain in the body, grief. My family celebrates Christmas, and this year the couch in front of our tree is full of the absence of loved ones—an experience shared by countless others around the world, of all faiths and creeds. The ‘wish list’ of things I’d prefer to be otherwise—personally, societally, nationally, globally—is long.
Yet, mindfulness practice teaches us that wanting things to be different than they actually are is a root source of suffering. These ‘unwanted visitors’, as Rumi puts it, intrude on my lovelier longings, on the unruffled peace that I’d prefer. How not to get entangled in the argument that things should be otherwise? Or not become immobilized by the enormity of the challenges at hand?
My young son’s insight offers a way of dancing with the unwanted, transforming the ‘enemy’ into an ally for growth. No problem that the mind wanders 1001 times during practice. No problem that fear, anger, or tears of grief fall during this time of such loss, separation, and divisiveness.
We practice to ensure that even as the heart breaks, it is in service of breaking open–of accessing the deeper reservoirs of care, compassion, love that allow us to connect with ourselves and each other in ways that matter most.
We practice to remember what my son learned with Emily: it’s only ever the challenges that grow us, stretch us, and bring to the fore the resources required to see us through.
2020: May it be our “Best Enemy,” mobilizing what’s needed for this next new moment, new challenge, and new year.