Breathe. Detach. Here’s how to stay centered spiritually now that the election is over.
Q.: Dear Lama Surya Das, I’m so stressed out about the election and attached to its outcome, I can’t think. We are a nation so deeply divided that my heart aches. What can I do?
A.: Whoever you voted for, whatever you think, feel, believe, celebrate, or worry about–Buddha says, first of all, breathe. One deep liberating breath can begin to alleviate the stress of a long, divisive political season.
To loosen my own attachment to opinions, I remind myself that if I really knew everything there was to know–past, present, and future–about any particular person, subject, or situation, my opinions and feelings about them would be quite different. Since I don’t know that much, I have gradually learned to not to be so judgmental and invested in my own views, although I certainly do have them.
The Buddhist teaching on the dreamlike nature of reality comes in handy here. The Buddha said, “Everything is like a dream, a fantasy, a mirage, rainbows in the sky, and a magician’s illusion.” Therefore it makes sense to be less attached to and invested in our momentary perceptions, interpretations, and projections.
The old nursery rhyme tells us: “Row, row, row your boat…Life is but a dream.” We have to keep doing what we can–rowing our boats, working for what we believe in–all the while realizing we ride on a moving stream we don’t control. We flow, we float, we paddle, steer, and redirect. But we can’t get back upstream however hard we may try. There is little use in always going against the current, resisting, fighting the flow, which can be just another form of clinging and attachment. You may feel “out” of the great flow, but it always flows right through the middle of your life, and through you, too. You may feel far from “It,” but rest assured that it is never apart from you.
Times of highly charged emotion like this election season are exactly when the Dream Mantra can help. By contemplating at first hand the illusory nature of things, then the “Oh, this-is-like-a-dream” realization can come to one’s assistance– for all is ultimately fleeting, temporary, insubstantial, mysterious, and not exactly what we think it is. This leaves me more room to breathe and to be, and helps bring more clarity as well, which contributes to intelligent thought and skillful action in present circumstances.
But if—as these teachings propose–life has a dreamlike nature, why should we care at all?
Because it makes sense to work towards making a good dream as opposed to a nightmare.
Since we’re all together on this planet, we all need to care about unity. There aren’t just Democrats and Republicans. There’s only an us–humanity–and we’re all together. United we sit, divided we fall, as a meditator might say.
We live in volatile, dangerous times. Yet I believe there is a middle ground to be found here, amidst the welter of information, events, and opinions. Buddha himself called it the Middle Way, beyond extreme views and overweaning attachments to one’s own opinion, and he exhorted us to find it and cleave to it, if we would find peace, harmony, and wise living.
We must, I think, heal ourselves in body and spirit, individually and collectively, if we hope to have any hope of healing the world. Transforming ourselves in order to transform the world has got to be our first order of business. Broken people cannot contribute very much to a healed and restored, renewed and whole world.
Awareness is curative, says Doctor Dharma. For example, if we feel–as I do–that religious intolerance and extreme partisanship are the bane of our existence at this exact moment in time, our first step must be to scrutinize ourselves for any vestiges of such dogmatism and fanaticism in our own hearts and minds, our own homes and churches. Wishing it to go away just won’t do it, neither will blaming others; our first job is to dispel such prejudices and narrow-minded, anachronistic, superior thinking in ourselves.
My advice to people is to recognize the interwovenness of us all (and not just we humans), become better informed, and get engaged. There is just no sitting back. Even if the person you don’t want to win becomes president, temporarily, you can’t sit back and let the world take a course you disagree with. We are the ancestors of the generations to come; it is up to us what they shall inherit, and we must do our damnedest not to make the future harder for them through our blindness and selfishness.
At the same time, Tibetan Dream Yoga helps us remember that there will be more elections, national, local, and international, and we need to keep the long term and bigger picture in mind even as we attend to the business at hand.
I think we would all do well to reflect on what we are doing to inculcate enlightened leadership and unselfish wisdom in the younger generations now. For who in their right mind among the best and brightest of our youth would dedicate decades of his or her life to this kind of rude political process? How can we expect to get better candidates and leaders in the future if we don’t reform our political system–and refine and further develop and evolve our internal personal process?
It is important and helpful to develop a greater, long-term relationship to life than we usually begin with, and to more deeply appreciate our part in the whole. We are definitely connected, but it is not all about us–me, myself, and I: the fake three jewels we so often take refuge in.
Therefore as a spiritual activist I always teach and advocate enhancing our own spiritual literacy and furthering a more universal and authentic higher education–becoming the leaders we want to see in the world, by inculcating in ourselves and each other the six principles of enlightened living: generosity, moral self-disciple, patient forbearance, energetic effort and perseverance, reflection and introspection, and the wisdom of unselfish love, recognizing our universal responsibility and “inter-beingness.”
Then I do my best to work within the dream-like nature of reality to help deliver all dream-like beings beyond the dream-like suffering and confusion of dream-like worldly existence to the dream-like state of perfect freedom, peace, and enlightenment.
On this journey, merriment is helpful. Lightness will help us get where we’re going, without capsizing and sinking. Travel light, and you will soon arrive.