Q: Dear Todd, how can Ukrainians respond with love to their enemies?
TODD ANSWERS: Someone recently asked me how I can suggest that even people in Ukraine respond with love when their lives are in danger. The person went on to tell me that they struggle with spirituality because “we have fear for a reason and if a bear is charging at you, it doesn’t care if you respond with love or not, it will still eat you. If you respond with fear, maybe you’ll at least run away and get to safety.”
This is really a great question and something I know a lot of people wonder about. The good news is, mindfulness does not make us foolish, naive or deluded. Mindfulness is simply about being more aware — more aware of danger, more aware of potentially harmful situations, and most importantly, more aware of how best to respond.
Luckily, this even works for bears. Experts say don’t panic and try to run away from a bear or it will surely eat you. Many animals can sense fear. Even humans can pick up on it. The agitation in you triggers agitation and fear in the animal and they are more likely to respond out of fear themselves and preemptively attack. However, if you stay calm, if you stand your ground, if you look strong and big and confident, the bear will back off. People are the same way. Studies show that when we feel fear, we are more likely to be victimized.
As for Ukrainians, responding with love isn’t about giving something to their enemy. It’s about giving themselves the inner strength to go on. Hate is draining and love is invigorating. The response on the outside may look the same, but on the inside, only love is sustainable. Love is about responding rationally, not in a reactionary manner. It’s about not losing ourselves so we can know how to respond most wisely. It’s about maintaining our faculties so we can best be of service to our cause. It is the complete opposite of rolling over and accepting brutality.
There’s a very common thing that we all do where we confuse love and kindness for naivete, foolishness and self-endangerment. We think that to love a burglar or a murderer means inviting them into our house for tea. But that is foolishness. Mindfulness is about being aware of danger, being mindful of even dangerous people, but being mindful at the same time of the fear and the hatred and anger in our hearts and minds.
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