Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Equanimity and the election

The Buddha’s First Noble Truth – dukkha – says that suffering exists, that we experience discomfort, that life feels like a bumpy ride at times.
The Second Noble Truth says that the cause of that discomfort, that dissatisfaction or sense of unease, is that we think things have to be a certain way in order to be happy. We need to have a drink or a piece of chocolate or electricity or our teddy bear to feel OK. 
Today, Election Day, that might translate to the feeling that we – and maybe the whole world – cannot function, let alone be happy, unless a certain person is elected president.
Are you feeling that?
And are you feeling the suffering – the anxiety, the discomfort – that comes from that?
We have strong feelings about this election. Maybe passionate ones – and passion is one of the three poisons that the Buddha identified, right? As Buddhists aren't we’re supposed to be above the storm? And the other two --aggression and ignorance—well, they’re out there in abundance too in this election cycle. 

Here’s the thing:
The Buddha doesn’t ask us not to have preferences, not to feel strongly, not to analyze and make wise decisions. The path is about liberation, not lobotomy. It’s about discovering and recognizing your innate wisdom and using that to discern the wise course of action. 
It suggests – and provides practices – to help us see what is true, to feel compassion rather the defensiveness toward those who take opposite positions (which allows us to have dialogue rather than arguments), and to work for the result that will be of the most benefit for all beings.
And then … to learn the result and to start over again in a new moment.
That doesn’t mean the result is “all good,” that’s we’re complacent about whatever happens. It doesn’t mean that we don’t rejoice or despair at the outcome, that we don’t shed tears of joy or sorrow. We do all that, and we’re present with it.
We see our response to the result – whatever it is – anger, gratitude, elation, astonishment, indifference – as a response, as a cloud that blocks the sun or a break in the clouds. We feel it fully, in our physical bodies, in our emotional and spirit bodies. But we know that it doesn’t alter the fundamental nature of what is.
And we know that tonight’s result, whatever it is, isn’t the end.
That’s equanimity – being able to stay grounded in your own wisdom and experience your emotions without getting swept away into giddy elation or deep discouragement that prevents you from acting. It’s knowing that this is a moment, which will be followed by myriad other moments, and in each one we need to respond to what’s there. Thicht Nhat Hahn describes equanimity as climbing to the top of the mountain and getting the panoramic view.
That’s what lets us keep moving forward.
This is a quote from bell hooks:

In my work, I am constantly grappling with ways to end dominator culture. I am constantly face to face with the suffering caused by the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, describing and critiquing liberatory possibilities. Thinking outside the box of dualism and living a practice of equanimity gives my life balance. But more than that, spiritual practice is the circle surrounding this work, the force empowering me to open my heart, to be Buddha, to have a practice of compassion that joins rather than separates, that takes the broken bits and pieces of our damaged self and world, bringing them together. (Italics mine.)

To life in this way requires an understanding of impermanence and interdependence. Living from interdependence – the interconnected web of life – transforms us and therefor the world.

Seeing reality in this way, we are able to hold one another accountable for the positions we occupy in dominator culture without evoking a politics of blame or victimhood. An authentic middle way allows us to recognize multiple intentionalities. We can easily move past either/or notions to both/and. To me, the middle way is the space of radical openness, the space that invites true communication.
(bell hooks again)

What is true communication? 
To me, it’s the recognition that we’re all in this together, it’s bringing our genuine selves – our wise selves – to the table, not our constructed, defensive selves. It’s possible – look at President Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a few days ago, coming together from opposite sides of the political realm to work on hurricane relief efforts.
This gives me hope that it’s possible to build a culture that values kindness and compassion, that sees beyond individual politics to societal benefit. Obviously, there’s a long way to go. There’s work to be done, no matter who gets elected.
In the short term – tonight – enjoy the ride. I’m guessing there’ll be a roller-coaster of thrills and scares as results roll in, with feelings changing from second to second. Roar your terrible roars, gnash your terrible teeth, whoop for joy. Be fully there in each moment.
And tomorrow – or whenever you recover – roll up your sleeves and get back to work. Equanimity is what lets you do that, with wisdom and kindness toward all.

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