November 12, 2016 - Comments Off on Practical advice for the the apocalypse
When I heard from a coworker here at Dharma Publishing that it looked like Trump was going to win, I was completely surprised. Clearly the polling system is broken, but the feeling was like being punched in the gut. Clinton was not my ideal candidate but I certainly didn't fear for our country's future with her at the wheel. Someone as consistently chaotic and ignorant as Donald Trump having access to 6,000 nuclear warheads was, and still is, an existentially terrifying thought.
There are plenty of opinions on exactly why we're screwed and I don't want to add to that echo chamber. I thought Sam Harris did a pretty good job summarizing the very real danger we now face:
Now that the news has settled into my brain a bit, I figured it was time to process some of this through writing. I see many of my friends back in New York are participating in protests and speaking truth to power and that's incredible! Democracy at it's finest, speaking truth to power. I can't do much from my commune in the woods though.
So I thought it might be interesting to provide some thoughts from a perspective of what I've been practicing out here. Full disclosure I'm a beginner at all of this so any misinterpretations of teachings is on me.
Practicing compassion - for everyone.
A powerful practice can be sitting and practicing compassion for those you feel the least amount of compassion for. In the book Hidden Mind of Freedom (good guidebook for meditating btw) Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche writes, "What seems to be purely compassionate may really be somewhat self-oriented, based on grasping. We like certain feelings and responses, so we tend to act in a way that stimulates them... Even experienced meditators may have traces of grasping. Only as we let go of it can compassion arise... Even the thought that each of us is capable of becoming compassionate, or of becoming compassion itself, can have a highly beneficial effect."
So the practice would be twofold - practice feeling compassion for those in communities who would be directly affected by some of these divisive policies. But also practice feeling compassion for Donald J. Trump - someone who is so ignorant of his own mind that (I am convinced) he doesn't have the ability to feel or care about the suffering of others. For me that is much more challenging and theoretically could yield more fruit.
Noticing the suffering of everyone
Compassion would be wishing to lessen the suffering of others, but noticing suffering is another good practice. Again the concern should be the organizations that are potentially being defunded, the minority groups that are seeing progress pull back like a receding wave.
But the fact is half of our country voted for this person - and however misguided they may have been I think it does speak to some suffering being felt by many Americans. I know my impulse is to look down my nose at the middle of the country and brand them racists - but I'm not sure that gets us very far. It is definitely worth pointing out that obvious racists overwhelmingly support this person, and that is terrifying - but it seems more likely that people are suffering, feeling scared and hopeless. It's relatively easy to manipulate fear and hopelessness over into anger at the "other" too.
By recognizing the suffering of those who seem inaccessible, ignorant, and plain wrong it will ultimately serve us more. As we welcome our first atheist president into office it may be worth remembering a little hippy named Jesus Christ:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
This is the way to move toward healing, and no doubt it's hard to find now but I'm trying to start on that path a bit more in daily practice.
But also taking care of yourself
A common way to close practice is to dedicate the merit. Merit is a big term in Buddhism but one way to think of it is that, by virtue of practicing - just sitting and being still, noticing thoughts - we are becoming better people. We are less prone to being carried away by emotions and better equipped to handle situations just like the one we are in now.
What I'm trying to say is that taking care of yourself is crucial - it doesn't need to be meditation necessarily - if you need to cry, sleep a lot for a few days, exercise, scream into a pillow, do it.
Of course I'm going to make the argument for examination of mind. A shared and tumultuous event like this one is actually great practice to work with. There's an impermanence component - Barack Obama was an inclusive and erudite leader I could truly respect, and losing that can be devastating if you think it will last forever. There is a clear sense of anger and fear, two very clear emotions to work with and tease out in relation to thoughts as well.
Use anger to move but try not to be moved by anger
There's a zen koan that seems appropriate here:
The Governor asked a teacher: I have read in the scripture the following and I do not know what it means. "A boat driven by unfavorable winds drifts towards the land of the demons." Please explain it to me.
The teacher responded: What kind of idiot asks such a stupid question!
The Governor visibly stiffened and turned red with red.
The teacher then said: A boat driven by unfavorable winds drifts towards the land of the demons. The Governor's demeanor suddenly changed as he got some understanding.
I'm not saying anger is bad - there's plenty to be angry about here. And it's also not to say "take no action" - action will be badly needed over the next four years, I fear. But can you recognize anger and use it as fuel for appropriate action? In my case, social media can be useful but it is all too easy to allow myself to be pulled into a negative echo chamber that doesn't actually provide any new or useful information. To me this is a useless anger, and apart from the negative mental effects ultimately it's wasted time. Organizing, educating, demonstrating a clear and articulate outrage - these would be more useful qualities I would like to embody more.
We're in weird times and it's getting weirder. The final point would be about Sangha, or community. Whatever happens in the immediate future it's important to come together as much as we can and share, try to be as open and inclusive as possible. If that manifests as peaceful protest, organizing support for affected groups of people, or simply coming together in the spirit of art, culture and progress to help preserve what this incoming clown car of "politicians" hopes to dismantle is useful.
All that being said, if you want to sit out the next year or two in the woods of Northern California we're always looking for volunteers!
With love and hopefulness, peace out.