When a war is raged, no one escapes. Even if you’re not a soldier at the front, the battle easily moves to your heart.
The war raging now is for the Presidency and political and economic control of this country. One side sees Mr. Trump as an existential threat to their rights and liberty, to the constitution and remaining institutions of democracy. They feel their very sense of what being a human being is threatened, and they might be killed or imprisoned not only for their views but also for who they are.
The other side feels they finally have a leader who understands and speaks to them. They also feel their freedom threatened, but go on to claim they have been ignored and denigrated, and that their enemies pose an existential threat to their beliefs, history, power, even to their very God.
I have trouble describing this “other side.” Everything I know about how to think and feel tells me they have been duped, lied to, misled. Instead of questioning the lie, they have embraced it. They think even listening to opposing views is a weakness. Their acceptance of the lie eats at their heart, making them bitter, fearful, and angry.
As am I. Neither side can look at the other or listen to what they have to say without feeling a knife, or an automatic weapon pointed at their heart. Both sides, every side, suffers from this war, although only a few benefit greatly, or at least materially, from it.
How do you have compassion for other people’s suffering when those others are perceived as responsible for your suffering? Even worse, how do you find compassion for those who think of compassion itself as a weakness and a threat? How do you show compassion when it appears that doing so can be interpreted as aiding and giving comfort to the enemy? Traitor!
To fight a war, you need to create an enemy you oppose and on an unscalable wall between you. However, an I needs a you, an up needs a down, an inside needs an outside, a patriot a traitor. Buddha, Gandhi, and others teach us to focus on awareness of the immediate situation, on the thoughts, sensations, emotions, habits underlying our responses, not creating walls built of labels. Attack the deed, not the doer, the ignorance, not the life. Instead of dividing the nation into two warring sides with a wall or line of battle between them, find paths where you meet. Your skin is not only a border but a place to touch.
Only by thinking you benefit from a war can a war be created. Only if you notice how you and those you care for suffer from a war will the war end. But this will take some work—and it can upset your stomach.
Notice the upset. Simply sit, with your back straight but not rigid. Close your eyes and feel what you feel. Feel the sensations of breathing in—and out. Notice any tension around your eyes, then your mouth, and shoulders. Notice the incipient shell you want to grow on your back. Notice when, and how a sensation, or a breath, begins.
Notice any thoughts that arise. You might notice how these sensations are the children of your ideas of who these other people, and yourself, are. Notice the thoughts as you inhale, and as you exhale, let them go and return attention to the breath.
We are all suffering from this war.
Bring up in your mind an image of someone you know who disagrees with you politically, not a face on tv or in the news, but someone you can still talk to, a neighbor, schoolmate, co-worker or family member. Notice how this other person stands. Notice the tension in her face or hands or the shell of tension growing across her shoulders and down her back. Imagine his clenched stomach and how it might feel to be tight and constricted.
Now imagine you are standing in a place filled with welcoming sunlight, maybe by the ocean or a waterfall, some place you find beautiful and comforting. And you feel that light and comfort on your face and it spreads down your body. You feel your mouth relax and smile. Your shoulders relax, drop, and let go. Your whole body, down to your toes, relaxes, settles down, feels warm, and at ease.
Imagine sending this light and comfort to the other person. Send it any way you can. Maybe it goes down your feet, into the earth, to their feet, and up their body. Or maybe the light spreads out from your body to embrace and comfort theirs.
And notice how your body responds to such comfort and warmth. Just sit there for a moment feeling at ease, with yourself, and with others.
You can’t argue others free from their viewpoints but if you can find the strength to embrace your own values and humanity and, yet, recognize and feel for the suffering of those others, maybe they will recognize your own. If you can disagree with others without dehumanizing them, maybe they will begin to listen to what you need to say. Maybe. But certainly, you will grow stronger and learn how to speak more clearly from the effort. Compassion does not rob you of power but multiplies it.
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