Know Your Enemy

Sun Tzu's ancient Chinese text, "The Art of War" tells us that, to win the war, you must know your enemy.

It is here, in the area of enemy-identification, where I believe our resistance movement could use some help from spiritual traditions.

We blame the person in the White House, those who put him in power, corporations, culture. And yes, all of these play their parts and they must all be held accountable. But if we give them all the responsibility we (a) disempower ourselves and (b) miss out on dealing with the real enemy.

See, the enemy cannot be person, a group of people, a corporation, a nation, a religious sect, or even a system—the moment we point the finger at an individual person or group of people, we have unwittingly fallen into the hands of the real enemy. 

The real enemy is what it has always been throughout the ages. The same enemy in every epic novel, in every myth, in every devastating chapter of our history books. 

The real enemy is in your mind. It's in the minds of all of us! It is asmita, sometimes translated as the ego. It is the idea, "I am separate"--separate from other members of the human race, from the natural world, from the universe at large. 

If you really take time to investigate this, separateness is ludicrous. I could not be here without my parents and the ancestors before them. I am clearly a product of my time and place, as evidenced by the language I am speaking right now. "Aaron," whatever she is, didn't make up any of the words or ideas that she trades in. If I were to eject this physical body and the mind it holds, out past the stratosphere, it would quickly become something else altogether, most likely fumes and particles. I rely on the conditions of my planet--its air, its temperature, its gravity, its nutrients--to survive. My existence is completely contingent upon the human race and the planet and the conditions of the universe. There is no real way to discern where I end and everything else begins. 

Nonetheless, there is a compelling sense that "Aaron" is this self-existent, autonomous thing that ends at the edges of my skin. And it is from this delusion that all other dangerous falsehoods flow. 

competition: me against you
hierarchy: me above you                                         
supremacy: me of greater value than you
objectification: me as subject, you as object / me as active agent, you as passive and disempowered
authoritarianism: me controlling you
enslavement: me owning you

I might fight the above all day long, but until I can uproot their original source within myself--until I let go of the the compulsion to hold myself apart--I better be ready to see competition, supremacy, objectification and all the rest sprouting up throughout my landscape.

No other human, no part of nature could possibly be my enemy. They are all an extension of me. The only enemy I can have is actually just an idea or an energy: asmita, separateness, a sense the I am self-existent and stand outside of you. This is why the Yoga Sutras begins by saying that we achieve the state of Yoga, truth, oneness, by dealing with our own thoughts. Because if we can't deal with asmita and put it in its rightful place, we will believe in the idea that there is one individual who can win, who can beat other individuals. And war is inevitable.


Keeps the sad game going.
It keeps stealing all your wealth-- 
Giving it to an imbecile with
No financial skills.
Dear one

Oh, Hafiz. He nails it every time.

In this short poem he tells us what happens when we mistake the enemy as an individual being or a body of beings. Pointing the finger in anger relieves the finger-pointer of responsibility. But in doing so it also relinquishes her of all her power. 

Responsibility and power are linked. We've all heard that, "with great power comes great responsibility." But it flows the other way as well. If you are willing to take responsibility for your own part in this great, complex exchange called life, then you are also taking up your rightful power. When we refuse to take responsibility and instead pin it on someone else outside over there, we are declaring to the universe, "There's nothing that I can do. I am a passive object here, not an active agent. I am a victim not a perpetrator. I HAVE NO POWER."

So when Hafiz says that blaming, "steals all your wealth," he means that when you point your finger at another, you shoot your power, your truest resource, right out of your fingertip. 

The "imbecile with/No financial skills" is amita, the ego. So when we blame we nourish and prop-up and propagate the false idea that I am over here and you are over there and never the twain shall meet. This "keeps the sad game going," because it naturally leads to competition among the various parts of the human race. It is a sad game indeed.

The ego is an imbecile because it believes that the game is real. That there will come a time when, if you've amassed the most possible resources in your own name and stepped on enough heads of others, you will ascend to the very top of humanity and be crowned a bloody king. It believes that there is real value to be gained from separateness and competition and hierarchy and all the disgusting results that follow. 

But the truth is, the game of acquiring resources is only valuable insofar as it connects us back to something real, something true and valuable. If you went to a financial adviser, she would likely begin with this question: "What do you want? What do you find the most valuable?" Not coincidentally, this is the same question that I ask when I first start working with a spiritual practice client. 

In the context of finances you would be considering your most heartfelt goals and desires, "When do I want to retire? Do I want to have kids? Do I want to travel a lot? Where do I want to live? What kind of lifestyle do I want?" Then the adviser would help you assess the resources you have, and plan ahead in order to best amass more resources and channel them toward your heartfelt goals. 

But the ego has separated itself off from what's valuable. It doesn't get that the amassing and directing of resources is not an end in itself. It has forgotten what resources are there for in the first place, which is to serve what we most love.

So when we blame, as we disavow responsibility, we are giving away our personal power. In the same gesture we are disconnecting from what we most love, from what is most real and valuable.




The 45th U.S. president is trapped in the sad game. He acts like someone deep in a delusion that he is separate and that winning financial wealth and political power will make him happy and satisfied. But, as he outwardly seems to be "winning" at the game, he bears none of the signs of someone happy or satisfied. While he might be good at accumulating status and money, he’s giving away his REAL wealth to an imbecile who gets him further and further ensnared in idiocy and suffering with each turn.

One sign of someone with real power, real wealth, real happiness: they don't go around pointing their fingers at everyone else. Yeah...

So when you see 45 or someone else who is trapped in the game, don’t spit at him. That just exacerbates the root issue. Instead, take a deep breath, reconnect with the real and the true, and say, “dear one, wise up.”




As a movement, we need to assess our real power. The greatest financial resources may rest with the 1%. The political influence may rest with the corporations and government elites. But what do we have?

Love, wisdom, vision, imagination, communication, creativity, style, artistry, health, beauty, vast talent, physical space, relationship to the Earth and the Universe, just to name a few. We must look to these and honor and nourish them. We must accumulate these resources, cohere them, organize them and collaborate with them.

We must be very mindful that we are not wasting our precious resources on blame and anger. We must respect our own power and our cause enough not to give all our good stuff away to the enemy.




STORYTELL: Make a list of all the times you have blamed in anger--be it blaming yourself or someone else. Then look to see what false beliefs were really to blame for the situation.
MEDITATE: Close your eyes and find a place in your body that feels alive. Breathe in and out of that space and allow yourself to accumulate real power there. At the end, dedicate your power, your energetic resources to healing the world.
ACTION: Make a list of all the resources you have at your disposal. Think about how you can use one in a positive way, a way that combats one of the real enemies: separateness, competition, hierarchy, objectification, authoritarianism, enslavement. Then take that action!