The concept of keeping your enemies close to you intrigued me greatly the day I read about Nelson Mandela’s practice of having his rivals over for dinner. He believed that breaking bread together broke down barriers. “No wonder his life has been such a positive and powerful influence in the world,” I thought as I finished reading the article in Time magazine about his views of leadership.

During my recent retreat in days of deep meditation and visioning, I took with me a haunting thought about someone I perceived had approached me as an enemy. Conceptually, I knew from previous experiences that when someone approaches you from an antagonistic position it does not necessarily mean you can never find your peace with each other. It simply means you must find greater understanding.

My mind remembered this concept, but my heart ached from the inaccurate assumptions that had been made about me. And so, my inner struggle accompanied me into my retreat.

After settling into compassionate sacred awareness and knowing that the external world is a reflection of the internal, I welcomed the image of my perceived rival into my sacred space. My rival came and there I sat in complete compassion and willingness to understand the perspectives of another, because those perspectives were reflections of my own doubts.

It did not take long for me to understand, and for the seeming weight of being unaccepted to be lifted. In its place, I found acceptance of another and myself—as we are—doing the best that we can in the moment.

I realized that in the end our fears were the same. We both feared unacceptance and simply had different ways of expressing the very same fear. In compassion, I could not only hold my own fear of unacceptance, but I could hold that same fear for another. In the end, we were more similar than we were different.

Before the day was over, a sweet voice from the other side of the veil whispered in my ear, “Enemies are those who come to help you define who you are.”

Isn’t it true? Is there anyone like a rival, a person with a different view point or belief, to help you define who you really are? And isn’t the bottom-line challenge an opportunity to decide whether or not you will use this fear to become your greatest self, or that which you fear?

In my case, I could either become compassion or I could become the very unacceptance I found so unacceptable. It was my own inner rival—unacceptance—that longed to know acceptance, and that was achieved through loving understanding.

Yes, during my days of silence I also held my kindness, humor, tolerance, and many more qualities in my loving embrace. I held them in love, so that they could become more of how I walk in the world. Yet, the one that needed most to be held dear was my own inner enemy. That is where I made the greatest difference. Mandela was right. Breaking bread together does break down barriers.

For a moving prayer on this topic, visit: Universal Prayers