Friday, July 28, 2017
No matter what...
As most of us know, our political landscape has turned bizarre, surrealistic, and deeply unnerving since the malignant rise of Donald Trump, that personification of Adharma, and of all that is selfish, greedy, childish, short-sighted, willfully ignorant, and mean-spirited in the collective psyche of America. His destructive, malevolent craziness continues and accelerates, unabated, day by day, yet our politicians (especially Republicans) daily give new meaning to the familiar couplet from Yeats' "The Second Coming:"
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full/Of passionate intensity."
How do we cope with this "rough beast" that has slouched his way into the White House?
At such unnerving moments, I often turn to two simple injunctions that succinctly summarize the wisdom traditions of both West and East. By "West" I refer to the Abrahamic religions as a whole--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Even though I do not subscribe to the ideological litmus tests of any of these, I have long believed that every wisdom tradition on the planet--East, West, North, and South--is an admixture of Dharma and Identity Politics. The latter--Identity Politics--takes the form of creeds, and of claims of either primacy or exclusive divine sanction by any of these traditions; Dharma inheres in the perennial wisdom at the core of most of them. As the great Indian guru Nanak once put it, "I do not accept creeds. Truth remains truth. It is the colored lenses of the self that reflect it in various colors."
But back to the two injunctions, here they are:
1. The wisdom of the West, in a nutshell: No matter what, trust God.
This slogan, which started cropping up on lawn signs and bumper stickers here in Hampton, and perhaps elsewhere, nicely encapsulates the essential wisdom shared by all Abrahamic traditions. And it is very good advice, regardless of whether or not one "believes" in God (whatever THAT may mean). One need not adhere to a tradition-sanctioned ideological definition of God, whether by the Torah, the Bible, or the Qu'ran, in order to "trust God." If we understand the concept of "God" as a personification of the Sacred, even if we choose not to commit ourselves to any further definition, the advice is still sound, and in fact, indispensable to a healthy attitude toward life: to accept that that is, and let go of the subjunctive--especially the past subjunctive--altogether. This attitude of trust is nicely summed up in the mantra that Jesus gives us as the centerpiece of his recommended prayer: "Thy will be done."
2. The wisdom of the East, in a nutshell: No matter what, breathe, observe, and let go.
If "trusting God" is the essence of a healthy spiritual attitude, then the above injunction encapsulates the essential practice of all the Dharmic religions of the Far East ( including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, etc). It refers to the best, time-tested way to translate a healthy attitude (i.e. trusting God) into actual daily practice--the way we live our lives, moment to moment. It is helpful to remember that the Latin word "spirit" is rooted in the verb spiro, spirare which means "to breathe." So everything we might call "spiritual" is rooted in the simple act of returning to our breath, that ongoing flow of oxygen in, CO2 out, that sustains our lives and mediates our interactions with all other life on our planet.
So the simple practice of breathing, observing and letting go, infused by an abiding attitude of trust in God (or whatever you call the Sacred) is something we can all do to preserve or restore sanity, and thereby become agents of healing (be well, do good work, keep in touch) and regeneration (learn, teach, heal, and create) even if, or as, our social and political order spirals downward into chaos and madness.
No matter what....