Yes, I know. Two book reviews back to back. The joy of reading is a lovely thing. I read “Love Your Enemies: How to Break the Anger Habit & Be a Whole Lot Happier” by Sharon Salzberg and Robert A.F. Thurman over a year ago and while looking for something a couple of days ago, came across it and ended up reading it again. It is a wonderful book and I want to share it with you!
Love Your Enemies:
How to Break the Anger Habit & Be a Whole Lot Happier
by Sharon Salzberg and Robert A.F. Thurman
Publisher: Hay House
When situations and people upset us, anger is a natural emotional response because we feel victimized, hurt and defensive. The whole world looks like our enemy, especially when our expectations are not met. As the anger builds up, we become our own enemies.
Could we transcend this anger and pain? Yes, according to “Love your enemies: How to break the anger habit and be a whole lot happier” by Sharon Salzberg and Robert A F Thurman.
Inspired by HH The Dalai Lama, “Love your enemies” is a practical and simple guide that teaches us to identify these enemies, set ourselves free from the “Us vs. Them” thinking and bring about a transformation in our relationships by developing compassion towards self and others. It talks about the concept of “lovingkindness”.
Drawing heavily on the Buddhist way of thinking, and written in conversational style, it explains the four kinds of enemies we meet as we go through life. Each type of enemy is presented in sequence, taking us from the outer enemies to the enemy within, based on the premise that the process of finding freedom and overcoming our anger, fear and self-preoccupation must ideally follow this sequence.
This transformational book offers tools to free ourselves from these four types of enemies in our lives, developed from the ancient Tibetan mind-transformation teachings. The enemies are categorized into:
- the outer enemy or outer influences that harm us,
- the inner enemy or our own destructive emotions,
- the secret enemy or self-obsession, and
- the super-secret enemy or self-hate that keeps us from being happy.
Life, however, is less than ideal and so – after I read the book, I realized that one can start at any of the stages described in the book.
For instance, if you find it hard to figure out where to start and have a sense of hopelessness, it is a good idea to jump into the “Appendix” of the book and practice the “lovingkindness meditation” to help you develop self-compassion before you even begin to read the book.
If you would like to start by experiencing inner freedom, Chapter 4 is a great start.
If you are in a place where you are unable to let go of your anger, Chapter 2 will help identify and overcome the inner enemy.
No matter what type of enemy you face, inner or outer, the process of overcoming is the same: identification, understanding, developing tolerance and compassion and then, simply rooting it out to free ourselves. The outcome? True happiness and living harmoniously with others.
The first thought I had was this – it is not easy to achieve freedom from our enemies. It takes a lot of mental focus, courage and constant effort to let go of our habits, the way we perceive those we interact with, and our standard responses.
On one hand, when we have to deal with our enemies, we must stay in control, even if we feel vengeful and want to lash out at them.
On the other hand, we must ensure that we actively engage with the world and rather than show our anger or fear destructively, we take constructive action that stems from kindness, both towards ourselves and others.
When we refuse to return anger with anger and reject the belief that revenge is the only option, we enter a world of limitless and enlightened choice.
Eventually, the distinction between “Us” and “Them” diminishes. Since there is no difference between self and others, there is no enemy. When we emerge victorious over our enemies, we realize that ultimately, we are all interdependent and no one lives in isolation.
“Love your enemies” seeks to teach the reader to successfully change her relationship with her enemies and live a life guided by wisdom, tolerance, compassion and love. The concepts are easy to experiment with.
The alternating commentary by the authors and their easy writing style flows smoothly, complementing each other through their stories and teachings. Sharon share stories and examples from her own experience and that of her students’, while Bob’s teachings are drawn from his personal experiences and the Buddhist canon.
We are introduced to the concept of our enemies being our best teachers, based on the premise that unless there were people trying to harm us how could we learn patience, tolerance and forgiveness? Why waste energy on hating those who wrong us? Why not practice tolerance instead?
A nice analogy is that of martial arts, where we must transcend anger to gain the power to defeat our opponents. Anger throws you off balance and depletes your energy, making you weak. Fear does the same thing.
“Love your enemies” explains why anger is the ultimate inner enemy and offers gentle strategies anyone can adopt, practice and make into a habit. It describes how mindfulness can heal our relationship with time. We learn to let go of our tendency to dwell in the past and channel our attention and energy to the present, connecting with what is in this moment.
Naturally, all this does not happen overnight. It is a gradual step by step process and requires us to embrace the concepts of “give and take”, kindness and altruism. By practicing self-compassion, we learn that when we make mistakes, we have a choice how we treat ourselves afterward.
Finally – it is one thing to read about overcoming our enemies, but how to work on it? What practices can help us transform our relationship with our inner and outer enemies and deliver us from anger and fear? The authors offer a series of meditations, tools and exercises in the last fifty pages of the book.
About the authors
Sharon Salzberg, a teacher of meditation for more than 30 years, co-founded the Insight Meditation Society, the Forest Refuge, and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. Sharon’s work is based on the practices of mindfulness and metta, (lovingkindness), the aim of which is to cultivate love and compassion both for ourselves and for others. Her books include Lovingkindness, Faith, The Force of Kindness, and the New York Times bestseller Real Happiness.
Tenzin Robert Thurman is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, holding the first endowed chair of Buddhist Studies in the United States. He is the author of the bestseller Inner Revolution, as well as Anger, In nite Life, and other popular books. He is also a translator of Tibetan texts. He serves as cofounder and president of Tibet House US, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the endangered culture of Tibet
“Love your enemies” helps us find peace within ourselves and with the world – I’d say that’s a worthy quest! What do you think?
Buy the book on Amazon (affiliate link)
I am grateful to Netgalley for an advance review copy of this wonderful book.