Some thoughts before today’s US elections

November 7, 2016   |   9 Comments

One could say that many of the world’s ills are rooted in fear. This is a pretty ordinary observation. If you watch a scary movie at night, you hear the noises in your home as ominous. If you don’t, they aren’t. Fear changes the way we perceive the world around us.

On this day just prior to our election in the US, we have an unusually potent opportunity to work with fear because no matter who we support, we are all f*cking terrified. The more afraid we are, the more likely we are to scare each other. The more we scare each other, the greater the distance between us.

The real danger is not in the policies of those we oppose. It is in dividing humanity into us and them. Fear makes us demonize some and cling to others. Someone has to put a stop to this and because you are reading this, that someone is you. (I didn’t tell you that reading this post was equivalent to being tagged “it” in the cosmic game of terror tag. Well, now you know.)

Your job is to assume responsibility for your terror by feeling it because without doing so you offload it into the environment. You turn others into your personal punching bag (by blaming them for what you fear) or your personal snuggy bear (for agreeing with you and assuaging your fear). We become trapped in an endless cycle of reactivity.

In Buddhist thought, the cycle of unexamined thought and emotion could take one of three forms. These are called the “three poisons.”

The first poison is grasping. We become emotionally terrified and reach out to anyone, everyone, for reassurance that everything will be okay. We may confess our terrors on Facebook (thereby offloading our fear onto others), obsessively watch the news or talk to friends in a desperate search for good news, or collapse into hopelessness. Everything we encounter is either proof that what we fear is imminent or that it is not. Our mind shrinks into a very tiny knot. It is extremely claustrophobic. This does not help anyone, most of all yourself.

The second poison is aggression. Our reaction to fear is to become enraged, so enraged that everyone we meet — and everything we read, think, or overhear — is categorized as either for us or against us. We lash out, seek to punish, destroy, or demean those we perceive as enemies — which only serves to strengthen what we oppose, by the way. Just as with grasping, our mind shrinks into a very tiny knot. It is extremely claustrophobic. This does not help anyone, most of all yourself.

The third poison is numbness. We simply hide out. We reach for whatever we can to self-narcotize, whether it is videos, drink, exercise, incessant social media surfing, food, drugs, books, or whatever works to keep us asleep to what we feel. We freeze. We try not to move because any wrong step may bring us face-to-face with what we are trying to avoid. Numbness too shrinks our mind into a very tiny knot. It is extremely claustrophobic. This does not help anyone, most of all yourself.

There is a fourth option. I’m not going to lie, it is not easy. It is to meet your fear. To feel it. Instead of shrinking away, you open to include it. This is the only response that expands and softens your mind. You actually relax with what you feel rather than working to disprove, demolish, or hide from it. This creates a kind of space in which you are able to notice others as more than potential devices to be used for good or for ill. (Others tend to really appreciate this, I might add.) Then, perhaps, you could do something intelligently kind to help them with their own grasping, aggression, and numbness. This helps everyone, most of all yourself.

To accomplish this type of mind state, it is really, really good to have a meditation practice. By working with your mind on the cushion, you develop the capacity to work with it off the cushion. This is the entire point of the practice. It is not to be good at meditating (so what?) but to be good at your life. Now we know the truth. Meditation is not a self-help tactic or a way to be more productive. It is a path of warriorship that enables us to meet our world with steadiness and sanity. It is a way to be brave.

The first definition of a warrior is one who is not afraid of him and/or herself, so it is essential to acknowledge your own fear, not in an effort to banish, subjugate, or ignore it, but to feel it.

When you know how to stop, turn around, and look directly at yourself, you come into possession of a super power. It is called the ability to care. Rather than protecting yourself at every turn by clinging to, blaming, or ignoring others, you can actually be there for and with them.

This is one solution to our terrible divide. We could care about each other. It is not easy but it seems we have to do it anyway. This is not to be all nicey-nice — I most certainly am not — but to enable us to take on our problems together. Also, personally, I don’t want to live in a world where everyone is afraid of everyone else.

It is a strange karmic trick that at those times when we most want to harden our hearts and ignore others, what is called for is to soften, first to ourselves and then to everyone else.

At this moment, on this day, we have the perfect opportunity to practice this because there is no place to hide. You can do it. Fear makes you feel powerless, but generosity is a gesture of power. If you want to recover a sense of stability and dominion, open your heart.

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  • Posted by:  Vivienne Palmer

    I’ve used all three of the poisons in the last 45 minutes, and I don’t even live in the US. Way to go, me! I also just want the whole situation to go away, which is not exactly mindful (though maybe realising that that’s what I feel is useful). But yes, looking directly at my fear, rather than screwing my eyes up and putting my fingers in my ears – that’s worth trying, for sure. Things looked at head-on are much less scary than the shadows glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. Sending you love, American friends.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      We need that love and appreciate it! And thanks for being brave enough to step out of the shadow. xo S

  • Posted by:  Kathleen Willard

    One candidate puts everyone down, and especially blames the other. People full of hatred and contempt roar their approval, frothing at the mouth to get even. The other stands tall and proud, fearless and extremely experienced and insists on rising every single day to lift everyone, always inclusive and speaking of solutions yet is despised for having the audacity to believe SHE has a right to do so. Like you Susan she opens the door to face our fears and thrive.

    So yes, I am hoping the “other” becomes next President of the U.S.A. I am praying the collective can see the clear and obvious difference and votes for her.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I share your hope.

  • Posted by:  Charlene Brooks

    I have removed myself from FB for the next 7 days as I am in the fearful state you describe. You have consistently put words on how I feel. It is the day after the election.

    I look at my fear with you here. I keep my eyes open. I come back to my breath. I find myself less paralyzed and more hopeful that I – and we as a country – will live through this fear.

    Thank you Susan for being a beacon of wisdom and hope over the years.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Thank you for taking care of yourself, always job #1. Sending love and standing with you.

  • Posted by:  Michael

    Susan, it was great to hear you talk last night at IMCW in Washington DC, where you led a compassion and lovingkindness meditation. Very healing. Thank you!

    You also talked about this being a time of heartbreak, how really our hearts are broken today, and how we can heal – you talked about three characteristics of heartbreak – which are really the path of the warrier, the bhoddisatva: heightened emotions/sensitivity, clarity about what’s important and love and generosity (I thnk). It would be great if you could post something on your blog on this.

  • Posted by:  Mary McClain

    Thank you so much for this reminder and these insights! I am so glad I learned to meditate..I don’t know what I’d do without it! But I still need to be reminded and remember to love and practice compassion..I’ve definitely been caught up in anger, fear, aggression and numbing, but I don’t want to live that way..Once again, Thank you!

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