Today, all I have are questions. Maybe writing about them will help me find my way into an answer the way a stream eventually meanders into a lake.
For the past few months, I’ve enjoyed demonizing Donald Trump. Don’t stop reading; it changes, trust me 😉 But come on, be honest, even if you’re in his camp, he’s easy to hate. He kinda gets off on that, doesn’t he? Part of his charm is the “I don’t give a f*%k if you don’t like me.” And that’s why, after a while, I expanded my demonizing to include his supporters. That’s a problem, because, in fact, I know quite a few Trump supporters who are good, kind, intelligent people. Some of them are my friends, many are family. Ouch. This is a mind bender for me. I see women, Christians, even people of color endorsing him and think: WTF, man???
No. REALLY. W.T.F.???
I hear otherwise good people endorsing Trump despite every outrageous, foul thing he says. When they defend him for one social violation after another, knowing he represents the very worst of us, and knowing he’s brought us to our lowest point possibly in the history of our union, I DON’T WANT TO BE FRIENDS WITH THEM. When I realize that the people I love actually hold racist, sexist and hateful attitudes towards Muslims and immigrants, or feel okay about endorsing a tyrannical bully with no apparent bent toward self-reflection, humility, or servant-leadership, I see these people in a different light. They are not the kind of people I want to associate with. They, themselves, may not be racists, misogynists, or whatever, but clearly they don’t mind electing one to lead our country. If you don’t mind other people suffering as a result of your vote, you’re deplorable by proxy. That’s enough of a line in the sand for me. These are not my people. I lose respect for them and draw clear lines between me and them. Their values deeply contradict mine, threaten our most deeply held principles and our way of life. They threaten to erode our culture beyond repair with anti-intellectualism, institutional racism and systemic bigotry. I’m no great fan of Hillary’s, and she’s made some bad mistakes, but she hasn’t built her entire platform on fear and hatred. When I discover that people I considered friends and family are actually supporting this demagogue, I can cut them off without a blink of an eye. And not lose a wink of sleep over it.
Here’s the problem: Hatred is nowhere to be found on my Vision Board. This isn’t who I aspire to be. I’m a healer. I can’t be a hater and a healer at the same time. Something’s got to give.
For those of us committed to awakening, walking a path of spirit and emotional wellness, this is the challenge of our times: How do we walk the line between aligning with our highest values, and not hide out in “peace and unity” while others suffer around us?
There is a HUGE fly in the ointment, which says, “It’s my responsibility to advocate for people you are hurting with your harmful values, and if I don’t do that I’m abdicating responsibility. THAT’S not spiritual. There is a privilege (associated with race and economic class) that allows spirit seekers to ignore the suffering around us in the name of “spirituality. While you’re busy “ohming” in yoga, people down the block are being oppressed—or worse. I don’t know the answer to this. I do know my own shadows are being called to the surface. I think this is the gift of the whole ugly thing.
I want to be better – kinder, more skilled, more compassionate—about communicating with people who hold different values. But as one Latina told me, when I expressed my dilemma about this, “We value our friends, but if they support him, we must ask the question: DO THEY REALLY VALUE ME?”
For people like me, who identify as spiritually inclined, the divisiveness that’s gripping our culture has become a mine field. It’s the Civil War 2.0., only instead of being divided by region, we’re fighting over values. At any moment, you’re in danger of stepping on somebody else’s mine. Watch you don’t blow off a foot!
For the spiritual person, anger is the nest of discomfort. We lean back on an aversion to controversy. Gurudev counseled, “Don’t let anyone steal your peace.” Anger & desire are pesky thorns in the shoe that become obstacles toward an idealized, bleached-out picture of enlightenment. Spiritually inclined people tend to lean toward non-duality: All is One. Fear, anger and even the concept of diversity have somehow been cast into the catch-bin of illusion (the enlightened ego loathes being accused of being stuck in illusion.) Sure, there’s that story about Jesus having a hissy-fit in the temple one day. But if you ever tried that in your yoga studio, you’d be working the cash register at Walmart the following week. Teaching career DONE. We spiritual types prefer to avoid messy emotional zones. You’ve got racists in your class, but you’ve got to pay those bills.
For years I was committed to keeping my FB wall a safe zone where everybody felt comfortable: NO politics. Then something happened: I grew a conscience. It occurred to me what a privilege it is to hide from discomfort. As a white person, it’s easy to hide out in soft, spiritual circles where differences aren’t really acknowledged because, hey, “all is one.” The spiritual ideal is the peaceful religious leader who never loses his temper, and loves everybody. So, when people (repeatedly) get killed over some racial hatred or whatever, folks gather around the campfire, hold hands, and sing Kumbaya. The families of murdered children are traumatized, and come out talking about love and forgiveness. We all love that because it’s just so….so…. Jesus-like. There’s no more room for anger, outrage over injustice, or social activism in spirituality anymore. Because of this, I was not challenging my white friends who were showing up in spiritual circles with me. One moment, we’re talking about expanding consciousness, and in the next, they’re advocating for a man who’s waging a reign of hateful terror on our national psyche. And because I didn’t want make anyone uncomfortable, I remained quiet. I was afraid to lose friends. Afraid to lose business. I became complicit. I realized that, by staying quite and avoiding discomfort, I was perpetuating injustice in our community. I wasn’t willing to challenge white friends and family members to examine their attitudes about race relations, immigrants, Muslims, etc. I avoided challenging my friends who were endorsing an overt racist and divisive candidate just to keep things comfortable. I enjoyed that space by allowing other people to pay the price for my comfort. Suddenly I don’t feel so spiritual anymore. Om Namah Shivaya, yo.
Maybe we need to be willing to expand our notion of spirituality, to come out from behind the comfortable hiding place of a passive love. Kerri Kelly said, “Often yogis would prefer to ‘stay in the light,’ but yoga actually encourages going into the dark, uncomfortable places. We need to turn towards the things that are broken or dysfunctional and be active participants in transforming them.”
In Occupy Spirituality, Adam Bucko says, “The new spirituality is about doing something to help the world in a way that requires sacrifice rather than spoon-fed, easy answers. It’s about discovering your true calling….and offering that as an active prayer in service of compassion and justice.”
This brings us to Trump. There’s no denying that his language, ideas and behavior are divisive, aggressive,and contrary to the fundamental values of our nation. Other than militant fundamentalists, he’s completely incongruent with any religion or spiritual tradition. He is a relentlessly hateful divider. But when the leak of his admission of sexual assault came out, followed by his ungraceful un-apology, something shifted in me. I felt compelled to ask myself: IN WHAT WAYS AM I LIKE THAT? What do I see in him that can inform me about ME?
Its uncomfortable for me to look at the aspect of myself that is ignorant about women or others. I ask myself: “How have I exploited others or treated them without dignity, respect, or empathy?” It feels lousy to witness how often I’ve chosen not to prepare or take responsibility for my own success and failures.
This is the gift of Donald Trump today. I get to look at him and see who I COULD BE 20 years from now. If I’m not careful.
He forces us to examine what kind of men we want to be. What kind of culture do we want to leave our grandchildren? What kind of partners do we want to be to our neighbors in this world?
He also forces us to EXPAND our notions of what it means to be spiritual, to bring spirituality out INTO the world where our anger is needed to bring about a more just and equitable society. Can I have my anger, and express it with vigor and still be spiritual?
Trump offers me the opportunity to embrace my anger without identifying with it. I have not always been skillful with this. I get to practice giving a voice to my anger without becoming my anger, without losing dignity, or denying another person’s dignity. So, here I go now, having to make peace with my anger. Damn!
Beyond that, more than any other time, he challenges us to consider a new way of valuing others. Can I fiercely oppose even a Hitler, and maintain my dignity and self-respect? Can I stand up to tyranny in a gracious manner? Can I make space for the paradox where good intelligent people can still hold contradictory values and support a hateful demagogue?
Trump forces us to be better by challenging us to examine the worst of ourselves. We get to choose whether or not we’re willing to get uncomfortable as we reach for our highest selves.
Trump’s truest power lies in his capacity to invite projection. He serves as a lightning rod for immature masculine archetypes: the Tyrant King; the overindulgent Shadow Lover; the Dark Trickster; the Savage Warrior. He calls out our shadows. Even for his most ardent supporters, he serves as a passionate vehicle for expressing their own repressed darkness. In some ways, he is the ideal carrier for our cultural shadows in that he’s wealthy enough to be able to say whatever he wants without consequence. In many ways, he has volunteered to be the sacrificial lamb of our culture.
Of course, this is naïve. There are profound consequences for him, but what about this: there are even more profound consequences for us to allow him to carry our shadow. I cannot transform my own biases if I am tasking somebody else with it. If somebody else is paying the price for it. I get to continue denying it within me, forever believing it is external. And I will be driven by it. I will be its prisoner. Perhaps Trump’s most important gift of all is the opportunity for me to own my shadow. To come face-to-face with everything within that prevents me from being the best man I can be.
A final note: if you are a Trump supporter, or an anti-Hillary person, the same thing could be said on that side as well. Perhaps we need to be willing to get a little uncomfortable, to challenge each other to rise to greater heights and to challenge ourselves to embody our own highest. This is the New Spirituality.
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