It’s been a year now since Trump was elected president. No matter what your party affiliation, or non-affiliation, this year-old administration has caused many to feel trepidation and uncertainty about the future.
In his farewell address to the nation last year, Barack Obama said “at our core we will be OK.”
Driving home from work in 7 AM Honolulu traffic, I sometimes feel myself slowly getting depressed as I listen to NPR radio, realizing that the same tragedies continue a year later: the Rohingya genocide, the melting of the arctic ice, the threat of nuclear holocaust, tax reform that just makes the wealthy wealthier and punishes the middle class.
I think about what Obama said last year—not only will we be OK, but we are, at our core, OK. I flash on the words of the 14th century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, that T.S. Eliot borrowed for Little Gidding, and which the late Indian Jesuit Priest Anthony de Mello uses here:
“All mystics are unanimous on one thing: that all is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well. Strange paradox, to be sure. But, tragically, most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep. They are having a nightmare.”
This mindfulness path we are treading together, we often hear, leads to s spiritual awakening – a waking up of from this sleep de Mello mentions above, which for some is one long, tedious nightmare.
I think some of the depression I feel comes from feeling helpless to do anything meaningful about what is so messed up in the world right now. I sometimes feel angry and indignant.
Robert Thurman (Uma’s father and professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies at Columbia University) wrote a piece in Tricycle Magazine soon after Bush beat Gore back in the year 2000 in which he wrote:
“People are afraid that if they let go of their anger and righteousness they’re going to lose the energy they need to do something about the problem. But actually you get more strength and energy by operating from a place of love and concern. You can be just as tough, but more effectively tough. It’s like a martial art.”
I think our so-called “outer work” is to do something skillful, to speak meaningfully, and forcefully if necessary, but coming from a place of kindness, this “place of love and concern.” Our outer actions will have more impact because we are not coming full bore out of anger and resentment.
Thurman, again, says it perfectly:
“Hatred is so off balance. You blow your adrenals in one minute, and then you’re shaky and weak. But if you’re joyful, you’ll get an endless source of energy.”
But how can you be joyful when things are so messed up? To be sure, this is tough work, confronting our own anger and depression. No one said finding this place of joy in the midst of the world was going to be easy.
We start with baby steps on our cushion – little by little undoing the identification with thoughts, emotions and feelings that blind us to the naturally loving and radiant essence of ourselves and others. There will be moments when we surrender our deepest held views and opinions, and just let go and forgive.
In these moments we “summon our character” as the rapper and poet Dessa writes in her poem “Mercy” (from her book A Pound Of Steam, Rain Taxi Press)
is to summon your character,
red-eyed and sober
and command it to behave
against the current of your instinct,
to reach up and
take down your own flag.
To forgive is to make a snow angel out of sawdust
Beneath the bench where they are shaving down your pride.
Meditation offers us these moments of grace and blessing. We just have to be open to receive them, and discover the freshness and vitality of this world free from our social media freak outs and cynicism.
I confess it has been slow going for me, like developing an acquired taste, bitter at first, then all the more tasty and nourishing with each bite. Joy, ease and contentment truly provide the foundation of our spiritual life.
This ultimately is joyful work.
Relish these moments of joy on and off the cushion, for the sake of all beings.
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