Spiritually incorrect?

Updated On — 14th Jul, 2017


In this much written about contentious election season, filled with so many angry accusations and counter accusations, where civility and decency appear to often take a back seat to distrust and fear, we cannot but take a moment and ask ourselves: what does my personal integrity have to say? How do I rise above and hold meaningful, wise, helpful conversations?

Personally, this is a toughie.

On one hand, my background in traditional Buddhist teaching and training says one thing, but often my gut says something which feels a little more nuanced.

Often in these emails I find myself talking about forgiveness, loving-kindness and compassion, the staples of a Buddhist world view, in ways that sound to me, as I re-read them, as taking an easy way out of a messy situation by using sanitized examples, slightly moralistic platitudes or kind of pious sounding pronouncements.

The issue for me is that many people who consider themselves as a forgiving person, who have taken to heart the teachings on forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion offered by the world’s religions, and authentically mirrored in the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela – may not be psychologically ready to forgive.

Or, it just might not be what is called for if done in an inflexible or Pollyannaish manner.

Sometimes when we are hurting from hatred, distrust, anger, we can feel almost compelled or obliged to forgive – and this risks taking this felt obligation, often unconsciously, as a kind of spiritual threat. We can easily fall into feeling re-victimized.

So and so politician spews hateful speech, angering tens of thousands (and hurting under the anger, I would say). Yes, you can forgive as the crazy talk of a lunatic.

But is that truly what’s called for here?

Caveat: I am asking you personally, not making any blanket statements.

I am simply using this an example, with admittedly a low trauma potential. But the issues here apply to racial violence, gang rape of teenage women, politically motivated tortue …

It certainly doesn’t help to fall into the view, held by some, that folks who take the teachings on love, compassion and forgiveness to heart are somehow, or should be, above politics.

There is no denying that forgiveness, loving kindness and compassion can be revolutionarily transformative and healing. But can we really say we are “above” politics, when the issues in this election season are so critical to the future of not only our country, but the entire planet?

I have seen social media posts by sincere, spiritual folks that say that since a certain respected meditation oriented blog had some few Facebook posts that were “political” that anyone into forgiveness and compassion would unfollow them as the blog would be seen as “angry” or “not spiritual.” And the “political posts” in question were all well written, in a calm yet concerned tone.

This is what I am getting at, what I just wrote above.

A very fertile soil for contemplation.

The deal for me is how we as meditation practitioners position ourselves around these issues.

In other words, in choosing our own rhetoric, can we encourage folks who may superficially view forgiveness as weak or irrelevant, so they may explore the transformative potential here, and be mindful of those who are into going deep into forgiveness and compassion and hit some scary places inside, as it just may not be their time to go there?

Inside we know the right responses, but stuff gets in the way.

Meditation is incredibly helpful in clearing away a lot of this meaningless stuff that gets in the way of our heart’s genuine response.

Just take a moment and reflect what does my personal integrity have to say? How do I rise above and still hold meaningful, wise, helpful conversations?


“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

-Antoine de Saint Exupéry



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About Tom Davidson-Marx

Former Buddhist monk, now father of two and full time registered nurse, my passion is sharing what I have learned from a life-long love, study and practice of the early Buddhist teachings. Thanks for reading.

4 thoughts on “Spiritually incorrect?”

  1. And…I have one other comment I’d like to add, because this seems the right forum to do so. And it’s been on my mind a lot lately, as I observe others in their reference points of spirituality. I am sometimes taken aback and find it quite notable to see how many people who self-identify as “spiritual” seem to feel that it’s the high road to shun politics, or following politics. I can’t count the number of people from all streams of spirituality I’ve run into who think that following politics is just “toxic”, or playing into a worldly drama that’s nasty and unbefitting the pureness of intent for a peaceful and harmonious planet. Or, it’s just raucous and personally ruinous to peaceful states of mind. I rather depart from these mindsets, and sharply. I think that to be unified with the world, to truly understand how we are connected, it’s almost a spiritual mark to stay close to the issues at hand and who we are evolving into, collectively. How can we take action, remain engaged, otherwise? How can we talk about being unified while splitting off from the dark and the dirty that’s going on, as if superior or beyond it? I don’t think that spirituality is about remaining isolated and buffered in a gated bubble of peaceful contemplation and one’s own immediate circle. I rather think that being fully attuned to the thick of all the mayhem and being able to work through that emotionally and spiritually, to stay connected, in the world but not of it, is the path of a spiritual warrior. I don’t think self-protection from suffering, inner or outer, is necessarily enlightened. At least that’s my own bias.

  2. I love the comment that The Donald is a distorted image of oneself. I, in fact, have had the disturbing, yet liberating, feeling over being overcome by a sense of empathy for the yelling orange billionaire. How badly must he want to be loved? To want to win over the hearts and minds of the whole world, to gobble it up (almost as a child in a pretense, like Max and the Wild Things) to be willing to say and do absolutely anything to acquire that, and then maybe still not even be satiated? It seems perhaps the need for (and power of) love is in proportion to the antics. So I have this odd split feeling about this phenomenon of a person. It’s naked craving and pain and need to be loved. Have I not felt that on psychic levels that might come close, even if I never acted it out that way? If I can’t have any compassion for that, how could I ever have compassion for myself? I also feel though that anger and outrage have a place that must be honored. So the flip side is that we need to respect the arising of those energies. To me, the word “justice” implies a sacred balance between compassion and the productive channeling of appropriate anger, grief and even rage. For me, the spiritual path involves this delicate search for the “middle way” between outrage and forgiveness, embodied in the concept of justice — not the vengeful stream of “justice must be served”, but the unswerving respect that intrepidly stands up for the dignity of self and others, serving in that capacity.

  3. This election cycle reminds me of being inside a carnival fun house where everywhere you turn are distorted images of YOU. If we buy into the Oneness philosophy that we are all connected, then even The Donald is somehow a distorted image of myself. On a national level we’re seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly of our inner selves. So, I guess it’s time for healthy introspection and making some decisions of who we really want to be as we go into the future. Taking some time out for meditation appears entirely in order.

  4. Great reflection. It is important to remember that forgiveness is not a light switch you can facilely turn on an off. Rather it is a process you have to live into, again and again, hopefully with ever-deepening success. We do not forget the wrongs that we initiate or experience, but learn to redirect our energy into areas of compassion for ourselves and others.


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