December 5th, 2016
I hope to be back soon. I will leave you with a handful of things to think about, inspired by Trump’s election, the ugly build-up to it, and its aftermath. They don’t all have to do with who won, who lost and what might happen in the coming months and years, not in any direct sense at least.
Choose love over fear. Choose love over shame. Whenever you feel yourself getting angry, pause, just for a half-second, and choose love. Decide to do this. Behind every outburst or action or policy we come to regret in ourselves or others is a subconscious decision to allow fear, shame or anger (the latter being typically a facade for the former two) to drown out the voice of love. Let this counsel speak to you as a parent, lover, liberal, conservative, Trump-supporter, Trump-despiser, human being. Let this sacred decision always guide you in your relations to others.
You are not your past. You are your present. You are now. Don’t ever let anyone — including yourself — try to fix you to your past, lock you in place like a statue. We are all growing, living, flawed beings who make mistakes, suffer, and learn, and change.
Stop allowing fear and anxiety to rule your decisions and policies. You cannot foam-cushion every playground. You cannot helicopter over every child. Let kids (and people!) take risks. Risks lead to strength, growth and authenticity. Let children fall. Let children get bruised. Let children get sick. If you raise children in an atmosphere of fear and in a psychological bubble, one spawned directly from your own neuroses, they will grow to be weak, enervated creatures unfit to challenge the dark times to come. On a related note, parents, please, look inward. Understand your own traumas and behavioral issues before you have children, or as soon as you can after you do so. We all come to be parents as imperfect beings, true. But the least we can do is put in heavy effort as early as possible to put ourselves in a position to separate your own baggage from the child.
You may come to think of your life as you behind a wheel, not sure how you got on the road, making sure to swerve away from this rockslide, that pothole, always dodging and going away from something, always fleeing something. Stop. Park by the side of the road. Take out your map. Recall where it was you had to go. Must go. Where you need to be to fulfill yourself. Be the you you are meant to be, that you know deep down you have strayed from. Get back on the road and drive there, directly. Reclaim agency. Stop reacting and going away from, start deciding to go towards.
Never try to evacuate uncomfortable feelings from your mind. Never uproot fear, shame, guilt. It won’t work. You only empower them, you only inflame them by doing this. And they come back stronger. They come back with panic attacks, they come back with backpain, headaches; they come back to take over. There is only one way to engage with difficult emotions. Sit with them. Acknowledge and name them without judgment or haste or need to get rid of them. Accept them. Invite them back whenever they want. You will watch your neuroses slowly diminish in their hold over you. In their power over you. In the act of giving them voice, letting them hold office hours with you, not trying to annihilate the, you will have won. You will have broken down the partitions and compartments you’ve been erecting for years — no longer will you have musty basements, attics and trapdoors hiding the secrets of feelings you’ve been avoiding for so long. You will have regained integrity with your spirit and, with that, some measure of peace.
Slow breath in: the longing to remove someone else’s pain, grief, suffering (could be an animal, could be a family member, could be someone you read about on the news). Slow breath out: your specific wish of comfort and happiness to the very same people, animals or nations you’ve chosen. This is Tonglen meditation, and I paraphrase it from Pema Chodron: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwqlurCvXuM — and I ask you to try this. Add it to your daily meditation. Or do it whenever your own feelings overwhelm you. One antidote for difficult emotional pain is shifting to healing someone else’s.
A thought experiment. Pretend you are God. Pretend that all humans are your children. Pretend you have arisen to the din of their fighting. Pretend you come out to witness all we have seen in recent months. Demagogues stoking hatred and espousing the abuse of women just to get elected. Ad agencies disseminating inflammatory fake news right before an election just to generate ad-revenue. Candidates for office of leader of the free world failing to talk about actual issues — the environment, women’s rights, gun control — and reverting to identity politics and zingers. Your children spying on each other. Denouncing each other. Blaming outside forces and countries. Too separated and afraid of people different from each other to talk or relate, hungry instead to deepen the divide and stoke the fires of their own bias and rancor. What do you do? You’ve awoken to a house in such disarray, overwhelmed with such clamor, such brutality. What do you do? You grieve. You are enraged. You ask everyone to stop. And then you ask everyone to listen to each other. Just listen. Because they are all your children. They all deserve to live. They all are cut from the same cloth. The pain of one is the pain of them all. The joy of one is the joy of them all. And none of them will live in harmony — the peace and harmony you dearly wish for them — until they learn this. And, in turn, they will never learn this until they slow down. Become quiet. And just listen.
Before you die, do one thing to make the world a more beautiful place.
When we do things we don’t like, or have feelings that scare us, we put them in a box or basement. We run away from them. When people do things that scare us, that are awful, we do the same thing. We call the rage-shooter a monster, fit to be executed, and drop them from our minds. Every awful feeling we have deserves the disinfectant of sunlight, of exposure, deserves to be understood and accepted — that’s how we heal. And every person who does something awful *must* be studied and understood for us to heal as a community. There will always be weak-minded people too afraid to do this. Ignore them. Study those who act out in awful ways, their upbringing, their environmental context, their writings, their pain, what makes them human and *not* a simplistic horrorshow villain, it’s the only way for us to grow as a race and heal our collective psychological wounds.
Live a life less shameful than yesterday. I think I’m cribbing that from Mary Karr; at any rate, it isn’t mine.
Survive and serve.