I make my living as a meditation teacher. And in the last two months or so—as I’m sure you are perfectly aware—people have been freaking out. The election, the reality tv mogul, the surreal and terrifying descent of our country, has people profoundly worried and upset. As a teacher, they ask me what to do. How should we handle this? What does a Buddhist or meditator do in such a situation?
To start out, I want to say that I’m just as freaked out as anybody else. The the rage and despair I’m feeling are intense, and I know many of you feel the same way. The election outcome is a catastrophe, and we are staring over the edge of a yawning abyss—something unlike anything we have ever seen in our lifetimes. It hurts and it’s scary and there are so many people who are going to suffer the consequences in the most painful ways. I’m not going to try to sugarcoat those facts.
From the perspective of deep practice, all those upsetting thoughts and feelings dissolve into vibrant emptiness. From the viewpoint of complete nondual thusness, there is no problem of any kind. Nothing has changed and nothing has ever changed and there is nothing to do. This is a beautiful and true realization, and yet this would be true even in the midst of a Holocaust, so it’s somewhat lacking in practical application.
The same is true, in my opinion, about belief in the idea that “love will conquer everything.” If we just don’t hate or resist, if we just love all the deplorables, then everything will turn out OK. As beautiful—and absolutely necessary—as this aspiration is, it wouldn’t have been enough to stop any of the million historical tragedies we could all name. Monks executed in the killing fields of Cambodia may have loved their persecutors infinitely, but still they died. Loving the opposition is required, but by itself it’s not enough.
Taken as a prescription for action, both of these attitudes are fantasies for children, and don’t apply to the very real and very dangerous political waters we find ourselves in. It is not the time to sit and do nothing, or smile serenely at your persecutors. That doesn’t mean these two attitudes don’t have their place, though. They definitely do, which I’ll get to in a minute.
First, I want to ask you a question. What is your practice about? Is it about getting good at meditating? Is it about drifting off into a cloud of bliss? Or is it about helping to relieve the suffering all living beings, to help everyone to have a better life? If all you care about is having strong concentration skills or feeling good all the time, it may be time to reevaluate.
We are facing something uniquely dangerous and totally unlike anything we have faced in at least a century. It threatens our democracy, our sense of fairness and decency, the many institutions we cherish. While most affluent white spiritual people will probably be fine, not everyone in our society has the money or the privilege to sit back and act all serene and above it all. People may lose their healthcare, their jobs, their homes. Families will be split. And your smug “awakening” isn’t helping them at all unless you actually get out there and do something about it. People, animals, the environment may suffer even more deeply than they already are. Are you going to sit in your meditation retreat and just let it all happen?
So my answer to the question of what to do is this: go out and protest. Take everything you’ve got and jam it into the gears of this illegitimate and revolting presidency. Call your senator, your congressperson, and call them again the next day. The essence of awakening is internal non-resistance, and yet externally we must resist and resist and resist every crazy, unethical, inhuman, sad, stupid, uncaring thing they attempt. Read, educate yourself, sift the real news from the fake, and take positive action. Together we have the will and the guts and the brilliance and the resilience to make it happen. Together we have the power to undo this travesty and set our world on a new and better track.
And that’s where the nondual awareness and love come in again. You will get tired. You will get sad. You will feel despair. But from the point of deep practice, all that dissolves into vibrant emptiness. You have direct access to the fountains of peace that will relieve your thirst. Your practice—and you must continue to practice—will reignite your spirit when it’s worn to the bone. Your practice gives you the unshakable love that allows you to nurse the wounds of the injured, to care for your enemy, to see how we are all connected, to feel communion with all people and all beings, to get off your cushion and your phone and go outside and live your awakening in the world. Now lets go do it.
photo by Christopher Neugebauer