Ep. 167: Near Enemies of Good Qualities

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Near enemies… that may sound like a weird phrase, but it’s an important concept. Essentially, they are mental states that appear similar to the true qualities we want to cultivate and embody, but they actually take us further from our integrity and off our path.

Some examples are:

// when someone wants to shun materialism, but they’re still obsessed with living a minimalist lifestyle or spending gobs of money on expensive experiences – the kind is still obsessing about things and money.

// spiritually bypassing instead of addressing blatant social justice issues right in front of us; or not owning up to our own prejudices, biases and judgments.

// someone saying they pride themselves in self-sufficiency when really it’s being hyper-independent. I can relate to this one a lot… my fear of being close to others led to me keeping my distance and making sure I never relied on anyone for anything… which led to me feeling overwhelmed and isolated.

The term “near enemies” comes from Buddhism and is related to “the four immeasurable” (or the four “boundless qualities”) – positive mental qualities that are beneficial to practice. They are compassion, equanimity, loving kindness, and sympathetic joy.

Now, near enemies aren’t the same as true/“far” enemies. A true enemy is easier to spot and is so far from the quality that it’s clearly not the same. For example, cruelty is the “far enemy” of compassion – it’s completely opposite.

A near enemy is a more subtle quality that we may miss or confuse as useful or helpful when, in reality, it’s often an obstacle to practice. For compassion, its near enemy is pity. More on that in a bit.

It’s important to be able to spot these near enemies because in practice, we have antidotes we can apply to these things. And when we’re not aware, that near enemy keeps us stuck, creating unnecessary suffering, often unconsciously.

Let’s talk a bit about the near enemies of each of the four boundless qualities.

We already used Compassion as an example, with its near enemy of pity (a super common one!). When we have pity, instead of feeling connected to the other and a sense of common humanity, we see them as separate, unfortunate, or “less than” in some way.

Other near enemies of compassion are despair, and even sorrow. Both can be deeply self-referential in that we’re focused on our own suffering and often lose sight of the other being we’re presumably feeling sad about, and often leads to inaction.

True compassion recognizes suffering in another AND inspires us to take action. It also recognizes their suffering as a reflection of our OWN path. Mutual connection to the suffering in life. It brings us closer instead of separates us.

With the quality of Lovingkindness, its near enemy is attachment/greed. For example, when someone calls you up and is all sugary sweet and complimentary, but you know it’s because they want something from you.

In that person’s mind, they’re being nice and loving. They don’t get why you would be upset about it. But it’s because we can sense insincerity.

And for us people pleasers, it can be even more subtle – we go out of our way to help people and sacrifice, and it appears we’re being loving, but in reality we’re doing it because we want people to like us back. The idea of someone not liking us is so terrifying that we give and give and give. Then we feel resentful because we often give to people who aren’t the type to return the favor.

Ironic, right? Our aversion to loneliness and being alone, or our attachment to needing to be liked, creates the exact thing we are trying to avoid.

Sympathetic Joy (or appreciative joy) is genuine joy for others’ happiness and good fortune. Its subtle near enemy can be fake happiness. “OMG I’m so happy for you! That is amazing!”…But you’re not really feeling it because you have this story running in the back of your mind that now this proves you’re not worthy, or you think that they didn’t deserve it.

Or like when we’re stoked for someone else, but only insofar as how it reflects upon us (think: parents who are only proud of their kids if they’re doing what they want them to do).

The fourth immeasurable is Equanimity, which has the near enemy of indifference or callousness. True equanimity is about being with what is without judgment or attachment or averson. NOT just putting up a wall and not responding to what arises.

Ignorance is another near enemy of equanimity. There are some people who walk around calmly and serenely, but it’s really because they’re not aware of what’s going on, otherwise they’d be very upset. 

Like Buddha, when he was protected in the palace from all forms of suffering. Then he snuck out and witnessed suffering, and, no longer ignorant, the false sense of equanimity faded away and set him on his path.

So, how do we know when we’re dancing with a near enemy? We can look and see if it’s led to more separation from others or more self-centeredness. We can also notice if there’s more or less empathy with other beings.

We can practice being aware of these increasingly subtle levels of awareness and become more aware of our own blind spots, shadows, and habituated behavior.

Finally, we can tap into our common humanity.

The boundless qualities help us feel more connected and less alone, and this creates shifts in our inner and outer worlds.

Then, we can access our wise mind and heart and respond from that place, with more compassion, skill and love.


You will learn:

// Day-to-day ways near enemies sabotage us

// What a near enemy is, and how it takes us away from our integrity

// The near enemies of the 4 boundless qualities… and their far enemies

// How to recognize a near enemy in our own lives so we can get unstuck



// Episode 43: Jealousy and Sympathetic Joy

// Episode 83: Vulnerability & Lovingkindness

// Episode 106: Empathy vs Compassion

// Episode 107: Equanimity in Everyday Life

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