Regardless of what side of the political spectrum in the USA you fall into, the divisiveness and combative words that many of our major political leaders are spewing is causing many Americans to feel more entrenched, angry, or just plain hopeless.
Q. What advice would you offer to Americans struggling to come to terms with and make sense of the country’s current political climate?
If we care about our ourselves, the other inhabitants of this planet, our environment, and the future of our children, we may feel frustrated by the current choices our political leaders are making that may have a negative impact on us and everything we hold dear. Expecting ourselves not to feel any impact while this battle is waging around us is unrealistic. That would be like being on the Titanic and expecting ourselves to not feel any stress while our ship is sinking. So, the first thing I would suggest is to expect to feel some stress resulting from our current political climate.
Luckily, though, we can minimize this stress and experience more peace and hope by implementing the following in our daily lives:
A. Daily formal mindfulness meditation practices
People who meditate regularly often report experiencing less stress, a greater sense of calm, and feeling more grounded. Recent fMRI scans actual show that the brain activity of people who practiced mindfulness meditation daily actually decreases in the stress-activating areas of the brain and increases in the areas of the brain associated with feeling calm and ease.
Regular mindfulness practice is also associated with a person’s ability to stop imagining “worst case scenario” consequences (aka “catastrophizing”), thus reducing stress. This practice also helps us develop greater “big picture” thinking&mash;something greatly needed in modern culture today.
B. Compassion and Loving Kindness practices
As the lyrics to an old Jack DeShannon song remind us, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.” There is more than enough fear, anger, and greed prevalent in our American culture today. Adding more of our own fear, anger, or greed to the collective will only exacerbate the already prevalent negativity.
So send out compassionate and kind wishes to yourself and all the people who are suffering on our planet today—even those who have polar-opposite political views. Wish that we may all be free from fear, anger, greed, and confusion. Wish for each of us the resources to be happy, healthy, and peaceful. Wish for all of us to care deeply for one another and our planet.
Q. What spiritual teachings or universal truths do you see expressing themselves in American politics today (e.g., karma, suffering, impermanence, delusion)?
The Mahayana Buddhist vow, “Delusions are endless, I vow to extinguish them all,” reflects the tendency of the untrained mind to get mired in and clouded by delusional thinking that is not grounded in reality. These delusions (also referred to as ignorance) are being acted out preeminently in American politics today in nearly every arena. Here are some examples:
- A vast number of our politicians ignore massive amounts of scientific evidence warning of the negative impact global warming on our planet. It is vital that they enact regulations to protect the earth from the ravages our unconscious greed and consumption that are being inflicted on the earth with devastating results (rising shorelines, intensifying storms, droughts, fires, etc.).
- The free-rein competition and rampant greed of corporations when pursuing wealth comes at the expense of the well-being of all people. True happiness and inner peace does not come from getting more but arises more naturally when our actions promote harmony and well-being for all.
- It is delusional when we think our best interest is to condemn or discriminate against others based on race, gender, religion, origin, or sexual orientation and identity. Anytime we harm another, we are in essence harming ourselves. Lashing out at any human subgroup is not only unfair and inhumane, it also causes us all more suffering in the long run.
The antidote to delusion is wisdom—the wisdom that comes from being centered in our hearts and minds—and making the conscious choice to live as caring and aware spiritual beings. NOW is the time for us to bring wise and aware people into positions of power.
Q. How can we feel compassionate towards others who live with a completely different set of beliefs and who act/speak in ways that seem unkind and hostile?
Each one of us is acting out from our own inner wisdom or inner fear. Anytime we speak out in anger or judgement in the attempt to control or change a situation, we are actually projecting our own fear body onto the current circumstance. It would appear that the majority of Americans on all sides are presently enmeshed in the “fear” category.
We each have experienced inner pain and confusion caused by fear. There is so much internal stress and suffering involved in being caught in fear. No matter where on the political spectrum we reside, the more fear we have, the more rigid, polarized, and unkind we become in our political thinking and behavior. This is an incredibly painful loop to be stuck in! Since each one of us has been caught in painful loops during our lives, we can have compassion for our own and others’ inner turmoil, regardless of differing beliefs.
Q. How should we deal with the paradoxical choice of speaking up or doing what we believe is right versus accepting/allowing a situation to unfold with detachment?
We can have compassion for the collective fear and pain people are experiencing and stop narrowly focusing on their political positions. Detachment is not about ignoring our own or others’ pain. It is about seeing this pain clearly, having compassion for it without getting lost in the pain itself, and choosing to act from wisdom. To heal ourselves and our planet, we can choose to see and hold our collective pain with kindness and understanding, while also taking engaged action to improve unjust circumstances.