Teachers show up in our lives in the most unexpected forms. Today I want to talk about one kind of teacher that has popped up repeatedly for me: The Adversary.
Sometimes this adversary is obvious: an open competitor in a structured scenario, or someone in conversation with a declared opposing position about whatever, from politics to child-raising or best ice cream makers. While these are often situations that might provide us the proverbial “teaching moment,” these are not exactly the ones I want to explore here.
Rather, I want to discuss those teachers who are closer to us, those who are in our lives as a friend, a colleague, or a family member – on our “team” — yet this person is also reliably adversarial.
An example may clarify. I sat at dinner with a friend the other evening. An outspoken person, our somewhat new friendship is based in part on our mutual enjoyment in engaging in spirited repartee. We might spar over a wide range of topics from art, politics, or business. Sometimes I find our exchanges either intellectually or spiritually challenging – or both.
This particular evening she was darker than usual. She stated that money was all-important, declaring shamelessly that having enough and a lot of money was all that mattered. I countered with the rather usual chestnut that while money was convenient and surely made one comfortable, it could not buy one love or insure happiness. This is bedrock for me; a given. Imagine my surprise when she vociferously, sincerely disagreed. “Of course it can!” she roared. Then she leaned towards me and looked me hard in the eyes, saying with force, “Don’t be all stupid and an Aquarian-age myopic! See! This world turns on money, money, only money!”
I didn’t, couldn’t, reply. She was absolutely sincere. All at once I was inextricably and very aware of a deep core positional difference between us. As I sat there I suddenly saw my friend in her role as my current Adversarial Teacher. A spiritual teacher, gifting me once again.
As it happens in such moments it was just a microsecond in which all the similar such teachers who had come before in my life paraded before me. I won’t list them here – we all have them. But in that instant I saw them and knew them for the integral role they each played in my spiritual awakening. At the time, even though I may have given it lip service (“Oh, that witch is in my life to teach me a lot of lessons!”) I don’t know that I really, really, got it. Really. Appreciated. Lessons.
Sitting there at that table, looking at my friend with my eyeballs while in my mind’s eye seeing the march of others who in my (now long) history had challenged my opinions, beliefs, actions and accomplishments…
Without whom I would never have known who I was, really. What lines I drew and where. What made me fight. What didn’t. What made me passionate. What didn’t. And how very differently others do walk through our world.
And I was suddenly, astoundingly very, very grateful for these difficult teachers. In fact, I quite love them.
My friend and I hugged as we parted that night.