Finding Loving Kindness in a Divided Country

“Like a caring mother
holding and guarding the life
of her only child,
so with a boundless heart
of lovingkindness,
hold yourself and all beings
as your beloved children.”
Gautama Buddha

This has been a very emotional week for many of us, myself included.  The election results were a huge shock and those of us who supported Hillary Clinton were unprepared for how to cope.  As I talked with friends and family, I heard variations on the following:

“How could this happen?”

“I’m frightened.  What’s going to happen to my health insurance?”

“My son is crying.  He says his best friend will have to leave the country.”

“What do I say to my patient who has a child with a disability?”

“I’m embarrassed to be an American.  How could half the country be so stupid?”

“I’m so angry.  People will forget about it in a few days like they always do.”

I don’t have the solutions to these issues – that’s for the political scientists and therapists.  But I do know that now is the time to be loving and kind to ourselves and to others. I don’t want to be angry or bitter toward anyone – that doesn’t help me or anyone else.  So, I have spent a lot of time over the last few days trying to get my arms around what has caused us to be so divided in this country.  Perhaps, if I can better understand the needs and thinking of those who voted for Mr. Trump, I’ll be better able to show empathy and compassion.

  1.   Disenfranchisement.  Van Jones, of CNN, called it whitelash.  Another commentator termed it the collapse of the white identity.  As the demographics in the US march steadily toward whites becoming the minority, many white people are fearful of how that will change their status as “owners” of their communities and their cultures.  We need to dialogue about the differences between our often irrational fears and the facts.
  2. Economic anxiety. Many people, especially those without the skills needed in an information society, have been struggling to survive.  They feel the American dream has vanished and that they have been left behind.  They resent that a lifetime of hard work has not earned them a secure future.  Rising costs of health care insurance and housing increase the resentment and anger.  We need to work to save the middle class.
  3. Sexism and racism. Different definitions of what these terms mean and how important they are is the basis for much conflict.  Trump’s “locker room rant” is a deal-breaker for many women while others can overlook his indiscretion if he can restore jobs and prosperity.  It’s a matter of different priorities.  Attitudes toward immigrants, both Latino and Muslim, are less about bigotry than about loss of security.  Let’s talk about how we can ensure security and still maintain our traditional values of welcoming immigrants.  It’s about what we can agree upon rather than what we disagree about.

Practicing mindfulness means accepting ourselves – our thoughts and our feelings.  Blaming ourselves or others isn’t healthy or productive.  One way to do this is to practice lovingkindness meditation.  Most meditation is about noticing the breath.  Metta or lovingkindness meditation involves silently reciting a set of phrases in order to resolve unhealthy states of mind.

According to Toni Bernhard, metta meditation came about when a group of monks went into a remote forest to engage in mindfulness meditation. When they got there, they heard strange noises, smelled terrible odors, and saw scary spirits. They fled the forest and sought the Buddha’s help.  The Buddha taught them lovingkindness meditation and told them to go back to the forest and cultivate lovingkindness for the scary spirits. The monks returned to the forest and began to practice lovingkindness meditation. Soon the spirits became as benevolent and friendly to the monks as the monks were being to the spirits. The monks stayed a long time in the forest, in harmony with the spirits.  (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/turning-straw-gold/201202/lovingkindness-practice)

As we begin the mindful healing process following this election, metta should begin with ourselves.  Here are some phrases that I silently recite, over and over:

May I feel calm.

May I be at peace.

May I have a sense of well-being.

May I feel compassion toward others.

And be free.

You don’t have to use these particular phrases.  Try out some phrases that are uniquely yours.  Settle on three or four that express most deeply your intention to cultivate lovingkindness toward yourself and others. Repeat the phrases silently in conjunction with your in- and out-breaths.  The practice may feel unnatural at first – it will feel more comfortable and genuine the more you do it.

I hope the next four years brings us all lovingkindness – and hope.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

                  –by Emily Dickinson

Hope’ is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

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