(I know that not everyone in the Still Water community shares my political views. I am writing from my own personal experience. If you are not agitated by Donald Trump, please substitute below the name of a politician that does disconcert you.)
As I attempt to write this, I alternately feel my heart swell with the compassion and equanimity of a bodhisattva, and then, at times, feel weak and fearful. “Who am I,” I wonder, “to dare suggest that we cultivate love for Donald Trump?”
Why do I even try to write a love letter to Trump?
As a flawed individual, I struggle with my own pettiness and judgement. I have a particularly unhelpful proclivity toward self-righteous indignation. Often, after reading the news of the day, I can jump to the seductively simplistic conclusion that someone’s action or idea that I’ve just learned of is “terrible” and “will certainly make the world a worse place to live in.” But when this familiar reaction overtakes me, I realize that it is impossible to direct rage only outward. No, I feel the toxic effect of bile simmering inside of me, scalding my insides and threatening to seep out and harm my loved ones if I continue to stoke the flames of anger and blame.
Why it can be so hard to be loving?
When we are fearful, it is hard to be open. It is easy to think, “If I love my enemy and draw them closer in an attempt to understand, doesn’t that make me vulnerable to getting hurt.” I wouldn’t hug a bear, or pet a snake. I want to safe. But brave activists like Martin Luther King and Thich Nhat Hanh have helped me to understand that being loving is not synonymous with weakness and victimization. King was unequivocal in his belief of the political strength and power of love:
“…love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity.” (Strength to Love, 1963)
How do I cultivate compassion?
The intent to be loving, however, is not enough to transform the alluring, yet depleting, forces of anger and indignation. For me, I have found that practicing a loving-kindness meditation directed at the president elect has been a powerful way to water the seeds of compassion and cool the flames of fear and fury.
May he/she be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit.
May he/she be safe and free from injury.
May he/she be free from anger, afflictions, fear and anxiety.
(Teachings on Love, Thich Nhat Hanh 2002)
As I say these words, I imagine looking into the eyes of Mr. Trump. I imagine touching his hand. This may not be easy or comfortable, but for me it feels necessary. I long to calm my righteous indignation. I believe that a stance of hyper-vigilance does not serve me well. It does not help me see things clearly or devise practical next steps. I also know that loving Trump does not diminish my desire to support a healthy environment and a just pluralistic society. There is plenty of love to go around.
This Thursday evening after our meditation we with practice loving-kindness meditation and share our experiences with offering compassion to those disconcert us.
I hope you can join us.
“A Love Letter to Your Congressman,” an excerpt from Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, is below.
A Love Letter to Your Congressman
From Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
In the peace movement there is a lot of anger, frustration, and misunderstanding. People in the peace movement can write very good protest letters, but they are not so skilled at writing love letters. We need to learn to write letters to the Congress and the President that they will want to read, and not just throw away. The way we speak, the kind of understanding, the kind of language we use should not turn people off. The President is a person like any of us.
Can the peace movement talk in loving speech, showing the way for peace? I think that will depend on whether the people in the peace movement can “be peace.” Because without being peace, we cannot do anything for peace. If we cannot smile, we cannot help other people smile. If we are not peaceful, then we cannot contribute to the peace movement.
I hope we can offer a new dimension to the peace movement. The peace movement often is filled with anger and hatred and does not fulfill the role we expect of it. A fresh way of being peace, of making peace is needed. That is why it is so important for us to practice mindfulness, to acquire the capacity to look, to see, and to understand. It would be wonderful if we could bring to the peace movement our non-dualistic way of looking at things. That alone would diminish hatred and aggression. Peace work means, first of all, being peace. We rely on each other. Our children are relying on us in order for them to have a future.
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