A few weeks after 9/11, The Onion (“America’s Finest New Source”) ran this headline: “A Shattered Nation Longs to Care about Stupid Bullshit Again.” It wasn’t fake news but satire, humor, and there was probably some truth to it. The Onion could use that headline again now and it would be at least partly true.
The election in November and the inauguration in January has left many of us really bummed out. We have a new term for it: Post Election Stress Disorder. PESD. Evidently, it hits people on both sides. The American Psychological Association’s recent survey, “Stress in America,” shows that 49 percent of Americans remain concerned about the election, 66 percent are concerned about the future of the nation, and 57 percent were worried about the current political climate. The election is still stressing people out, while the inauguration is still creeping them out.
Over the weekend, Huffington Post ran an article titled “A Zen Master’s Advice on Coping with Trump,” the Zen master being Thich Nhat Hanh. The piece includes some quotes from Thay’s new book, At Home in the World. The HP also asked a nun and a monk from Plum Village in France for some guidance on how to survive in Trumpland.
Brother Phap Dung stated,
“We have the wrong perception that we are separate from the other. So in a way Trump is a product of a certain way of being in this world so it is very easy to have him as a scapegoat. But if we look closely, we have elements of Trump in us and it is helpful to have time to reflect on that.”
The article also quoted James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist and founder of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, who wrote in The Guardian,
“Trump’s grand and vulgar self-absorption is inviting all of us to examine our own selfishness. His ignorance calls us to attend to our own blind spots. The fears that he stokes and the isolation he promotes goad us to be braver, more generous.”
The Trump Presidency is almost unbearable to me. It is an outrage and a national embarrassment. My fear of and loathing for the man is wide, and deep. But deeper still is a place within where I know that Phap Dung and James Gordon are right: Trump is a reflection of ourselves.
The enemy always is.
In 2011, following the death of Osama bin Laden, I wrote:
“As a way of developing abundant compassion, prayers for a monster can be powerful. When we practice loving-kindness meditation, one of the four types of persons we develop compassion toward is a “hostile” person. Someone with whom we are at odds, have difficulties about, who provokes our anger…”
Trump is certainly in that category. I added that “sometimes practicing compassion should be a real challenge.” Part of the challenge is looking inside and seeing the reflection of our enemy within. It is going to be difficult for me to summon up warm thoughts of loving-kindness for the monster in the White House. It is much easier to despise him. But that is not the Bodhisattva Way.
Compassion does not mean we stop our resistance, or that we cease calling the enemy out for his frequent lies, or stop mocking his alternative reality. The way I look at it, resistance is compassion, too. We resist for the sake of ourselves and others.
There is no doubt in my mind the nation, and the world, would be better off if Agent Orange had never run for president, let alone gotten himself elected. But the enemy is here, and for us, his presence is not a reason for despair; it is an opportunity, a cause for compassion, a test of our capacity for tolerance.
“For a practitioner of love and compassion, an enemy is one of the most important teachers. Without an enemy you cannot practice tolerance, and without tolerance you cannon build a sound basis of compassion. So in order to practice compassion, you should have an enemy.
When you face your enemy who is going to hurt you, that is the real time to practice tolerance. Therefore, an enemy is the cause of the practice of tolerance; tolerance is the effect or result of an enemy. So those are cause and effect. As is said, ‘Once something has the relationship of arising from that thing, one cannot consider that thing from which it arises as a harmer; rather it assists the production of the effect’.”
Shantideva, A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life*
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As quoted in How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life by Dalai Lama XIV