Some deep breathing in the Donald Trump era, now officially under way, may keep us all from burning out under the constant barrage of horrible news in our social media feeds.
If there’s a gift in Trump’s victory, it’s the new generation of activists across a swelling cross-section of communities united in common cause against hate – yes, even saffron-robed monks. Zen types are pushing back against the presumption that places like Buddhist temples, yoga studios and mindfulness centres should be apolitical.
Yoga-heads, mindfulness junkies and Buddhists continent-wide, many of whom got off their meditation cushions to join the Women’s March on Washington and marches across the U.S., have been grappling with how best to overcome all-consuming Trump-induced fear and despair.
Sending love is a biggie. Practising “loving kindness” for all living beings – including those politicians and voters in your own and other countries you disagree with – is a basic tenet of not only Buddhism, but most religions.
Still, even spiritual types may find it tough to put Trump in that "universal compassion" circle of love. He suffers from the pretty common delusions of greed and ignorance. But while he’s taking those ills to new heights, Zen philosophy teaches us to see their seeds in our own lives.
When Rob Ford was our mayor, I sat in on meditations on compassion guided by a Buddhist teacher, where we learned to wish happiness to all those we “hated.” That triggered some wacky dreams about hanging out at the movies eating popcorn with Ford, and afterwards I couldn’t casually say I hated the guy any more. I just didn’t agree with his politics.
Finding compassion for those we’d otherwise dismiss as crazy or evil may be the key to overcoming the political polarization that’s fuelled the Trump phenomenon, writes Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.
Zen priest Angel Kyodo Williams does a lot of work supporting activists by training them in meditation and mindfulness practices. She explains that, “In social justice work the only option is loving everyone. Otherwise there is no path to real change.
“Whether we’re leaning toward the spiritual community or the activist community,” she says, “what we need is the combination of a mind that wants to change the world and a mind that is steady, clear-seeing and seeks change from a place of love rather than from a place of anger.”
In the global Buddhist playbook, there’s been a range of responses to political turmoil, from basic meditating for world peace all the way through to self-immolation. There’s got to be something in the middle for everyone.
As monk-scholar Bhikkhu Bodhi urges, we all need to become “more visible advocates for peace, basic sanity and social justice.” I’d tack onto that the planet.
Karma will level things out for Trump. If Buddha were tweeting today, he’d no doubt try to remind us all that #Lovewins, right?