I had a really cute little newsletter all set to send out to you the morning after the election. It made no mention of politics and had a nice article about how to reduce stress now that the election is over.
Obviously, I thought Hillary Clinton would win.
As I recovered from the shock of it all, and wiped away my tears (I am not a Donald Trump supporter. I’m sure that’s very surprising.) I deleted the newsletter that I had scheduled to send you. It seemed trite in comparison to the events that are now taking place for us a nation.
So, here’s an updated newsletter, with an updated opening article. My intention with this article is not necessarily to champion a particular political viewpoint, but in the days following the election I have been doing a lot of soul-searching, and I feel inspired to share a spiritual perspective on all of this and offer a tool-kit for those of you who wish to use this time as an opportunity for growth and healing.
Let’s remember that “growth and healing” doesn’t necessarily mean “make it all better” or “make it all go away.” As a spiritual teacher, I have felt that this is something that some people are hoping I can give them. Unfortunately, I cannot.
Healing isn’t always comfortable. In fact, much of the time it is the opposite; when we heal, we generally have to look at parts of ourselves that we don’t want to look at. We have to sit with uncomfortable realities that perhaps we ourselves had a hand in creating, when we would much rather have a beer and binge watch Downton Abby, thank you very much.
There is nothing wrong with taking breaks, by the way. Do whatever it is that helps you to unwind for a bit. But then it’s imperative that we roll up our sleeves, because we have some work to do.
If we want to.
If we don’t want to, we can try to just sweep it all back under the rug.
If you go that route, you’re going to need a really big rug this time.
Is it such a bad thing that we can’t easily sweep it all back under the preverbal rug? The spiritual perspective here would be to say that no, it’s not a bad thing; this is actually an amazing opportunity for both personal and collective healing and growth.
You see, the bottom of the national pot is being stirred with this election, and a bunch of stuff that was hiding at the bottom has now risen to the surface. Some of us may react with shock and horror, but the truth is that the stuff was already there. We just couldn’t see it as clearly as we can now. Now, here it all is in the broad daylight, ready to be seen, ready to be witnessed and then, if we choose, ready to be healed. To quote Buddhist teacher Zenju Earthlyn Manuel;
“Today, after the 2016 elections in the U.S., we are living out the example of what happens when what goes unacknowledged surfaces and it feels like a new reality but you know in your heart it is not… But we are fortunate. There could be no other answer to our meditation and prayers in dissolving hatred than to be placed front and center with it and be exposed. Our rage, pain, and anger are to be exposed if only for us to transform and mature with it. In Buddhist practice we say congratulations because now is the time we have been practicing for.”
This is ‘exposure’ is happening to us on a collective, national level, but to paraphrase
the alchemists most traditional healing systems throughout the world; “as above, so below, as within, so without.”
What this means is that whatever is happening around us is also happening within us. Everything outside of us is a mirror, reflecting us back to ourselves. (More on that here.)
So the question to ask ourselves now is “what has this election brought up for me, and what are my reactions to it showing me about myself?”
I have found that looking into the mirror of my own reactions to this election has been very transformative, and shown me where my own personal potential for growth resides.
You see, after the initial shock of the outcome wore off, fear set in for me. Deep fear. Curl-up-in-ball-and-cry-for-hours fear.
This fear was an amazing teacher. As I cried, literally curled up in a fetal position on my couch and then on my bed, I let the fear wash over me. I surrendered to it, and it felt like a tsunami. It felt so dark, so foreboding, so endless and so overwhelming. I just kept welcoming it. I just kept feeling it. As I turned towards this emotion, I felt that I was looking into an abyss of endless darkness. As I looked closer, I saw that it was both the darkness of human potential, and the way that darkness symbolizes the unknown.
I thought I would never stop crying.
And then I did.
It took awhile, but I did.
Once I stopped crying, I was able to understand that I clearly have healing work to do around uncertainty; I also have healing to do around my “fear of the dark”. This is an example of what our reactions can offer us: they can show us where our work is. They can show us where we are stuck. To quote the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron:
“Everything that occurs is not only usable and workable but is actually the path itself. We can use everything that happens to us as the means for waking up. We can use everything that occurs—whether it’s our conflicting emotions and thoughts or our seemingly outer situation—to show us where we are asleep and how we can wake up completely, utterly, without reservations.”
I want to start by addressing the concept of uncertainty, which is where some of my healing work resides: We all love our bubbles. That’s just a human thing. For example, I love living here in Seattle in my liberal bubble, with my like-minded community. It’s very cozy. I also love my family life with my partner and my cute little beach house and my fluffy orange kitty. I love my work, my hobbies and I enjoy many privileges on a daily basis. The thing is, if any of it were to suddenly go away, I would be utterly shocked (and horrified and saddened). I love my bubble, and part of what keeps me feeling comfortable is the illusion that it’s all permanent.
The trouble with the illusion of permanence is an important concept in most spiritual traditions. We tend to feel stunned when things occur that challenge our bubbles. For example, when my dad died a few years ago, I was, among other things, totally shocked. How could my dad die? Of course, I understood intellectually that he could and would pass on someday, but I didn’t really understand it on a deeper level.
We work very hard, usually unconsciously, to maintain the illusion of stability, because the idea that what we love might one day go away is very uncomfortable. No one can fault any of us for wanting to be comfortable. The problem is that even when we work hard to maintain our illusionary bubbles, eventually they will burst. The Nature of Reality will rear it’s head.
The Buddha said: “All things that are born must die. Work hard for your own freedom from suffering.”
What he meant by this is that our reality is inherently uncertain and impermanent. It always is, it always has been and it always will be. We free ourselves from suffering when we make friends with impermanence.
To that end, impermanence has many gifts.
When I really remember and stay present to the fact that everything I know and love and depend on will one day be taken from me, I certainly have a reason to grieve. However, I also have a reason to celebrate, because all of my relationships, my privileges, my hobbies and my work are imbued with a richness and meaning that would otherwise not be there. How much better would I treat my partner if I really remembered that one day we will have to say goodbye to each other? How much more passion would I infuse into my work if I really remembered that one day I would not be able to do it any longer? How much more verve would I live my life with if I remembered that it was all going to end at any time and in any number of ways?
We often live our lives, participate in our relationships and pursue our interests as if we have infinite time to do so.
When we remember that this is not actually the case, our lives and relationships take on a richness that would otherwise be lost. This is the gift of staying present with the fundamental groundlessness of life.
Of course, uncertainty is also scary.
When Donald Trump won the election, I became terrified of many horrible possibilities for the future. I wanted to know what’s going to happen, but the truth is I have never known what is going to happen. However, before Donald Trump won it was much easier to ignore the fact that my life is inherently groundless, unstable and unpredictable.
Of course, it is very natural to be afraid of this uncertainty. Remember that it’s not about making our feelings go away, but rather about examining them and using them as a mirror to really look at ourselves.
For myself, I find that uncertainty is scary because it means that I may have to endure darkness.
However, despite my fear of darkness, when I examine it more closely I can see that the darkness is actually what inspires us to create and celebrate the light.
For example, when Donald Trump got elected, I have noticed and continue to notice an outpouring of love, compassion, passion, commitment, kindness and inclusivity from my community. What a beautiful thing to witness. Intense darkness requires very bright light. The light that people feel called to shine out into the world right now would not be so bright and beautiful if the election had gone a different way.
This is a hard idea for the thinking mind, which understands and judges the world in very black and white terms; it’s either right, or it’s wrong, it’s good, or it’s bad, and of course what’s happening in many peoples’ minds right now is an idea that it’s very, very bad.
It may be, but if it’s very, very bad then it also has to be very, very good, because the darkness is the very thing that calls us to shine the light.
This is what Pema Chodron means when she says “regard everything that arises as awakened energy”. All energy, whether dark or light, is an expression of the same thing. For example, if we use the metaphor of an ocean to symbolize awakened energy, or God, (or whatever you want to call it), then we can think of all the phenomena of life as waves that rise up and then dissolve back into the ocean. I might stand on the shore and judge some of the waves as bad, some of the waves waves as good, some waves as dark and some waves as light. There’s nothing wrong with judging. However, the bigger picture is that all of the waves are made of the same ocean. They are all expressions of the same energy. They are all God. God is in the darkness too.
(If God is a loaded term for you, I’m sorry and I get it. I like that word so I use it sometimes, but if you want to insert another term that works better for you please do.)
If God is in the darkness too, then we must have faith. Just as the darkness gives us the opportunity to shine light, fear gives us an opportunity to find and heal our faith.
This election has really challenged my faith. It has pushed me to ask myself what I really believe in and what I really trust. It’s easy to have faith at church with your friends on a sunny Sunday, so to speak, but what about when you’re by yourself at 3 am and your house has just been torn apart by a hurricane? Where’s your faith then? And if you can’t find your faith then, did you ever have any real faith to begin with?
These are honest questions that I have been asking myself. I don’t think anyone can answer them for me, but it is certainly important that I answer them for myself right now, when I do indeed feel like my house has been just blown apart by a hurricane. I encourage you to ask yourself the same things.
Honestly, it would be easier for me to forget about faith and just start rebuilding the damn house. When your house gets wrecked by a hurricane, you feel like you really need to do something about it. Which is how I’ve been feeling about this whole situation. Like, oh my god, I’ve got to do something!
But what, exactly?
It’s easier to look at systems that are bigger than us (like political systems) and feel overwhelmed. From there, we might become afraid, we might become angry, we might become righteous. There is a real danger here if we couple these emotions with the need to “rebuild our house”. If we do this we risk acting out of fear, or acting out of anger, or acting out of righteousness, etc. When we act from those places, we create division; we are acting from our wounded-ness, which will only serve to create more wounded-ness. Rage against the machine and the machine rages right back. As Ghandi said, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
We can choose a different way.
The opportunity is here to lean into our feelings, let them wash over us and show us where our potential for personal growth and healing lies. This gives us some internal breathing room and some freedom from the tyranny of our own emotional landscape. From there we have the freedom to chose action that comes from a place of peace, equilibrium and unconditional love. We can think of this as enlightened action. Enlightened action heals.
Speaking of enlightened action, Merrium-Webster’s dictionary defines politics as: the total complex of relations between people living in society.
To that end, we must remember that every action that we take is actually political. Writing this article was a political act, and doing this emotional and spiritual healing work that I have written about is political work. How we choose to spend our money is political. How we treat our friends, our neighbors and our families is political. How we treat those who have different opinions and values than we do is political. How we choose to spend our time is political. What we give our attention to matters.
This is an important time when all of our choices, even very small ones, carry great importance.
It’s an honor to be here with you.
A Message from the Hopi Elders:
You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered…
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
See who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
– Oraibi, Arizona, Hopi Nation
“Many of us are terrified of what will come in the future, but the best part of the future is that it doesn’t exist. The truth is that we don’t know what will happen. There are many stories that we can tell ourselves about what will transpire, but the truth is that we just don’t know. The future is nothing but infinite potential, as it always has been and always will be. It is important not to walk into it with a contracted mentality. It is important not walk into the future with a sense of doom. We must move forward with an open heart, we must walk forward with a sense of possibility. If we contract in response to our fears, we will take that energy into the future and create a contracted, fearful situation. It is important to stay open to all of the possibilities; the essential groundlessness of our situation.”
– James Ishmael Ford, Boundless Way Zen