Along with my progressive, liberal, Clinton-voting friends and acquaintances, I've been struggling to come to grips with the bizarre reality of a President Trump.
(Yikes, just writing those last two words brought about a feeling of impending doom.)
Today I came across a Vox post, "An ancient Buddhist strategy for overcoming paralyzing fear," that contains some good advice. Here's some passages from the short piece that I particularly resonated with.
In the days since November 9, an oppressive cloak of fear and dread has descended upon a great many Americans.
...This fear is not trivial and it may not be easily subdued. Fear is a biological response we’ve evolved to protect ourselves from threat, and it originates in the limbic system of the brain, the primitive reptile inside us.
Neuroscience tells us that uncertainty inflates our estimates of threat. So it’s not surprising that the uncertainty of what will come to pass in a Trump administration is leading many people to flirt with all-consuming, paralyzing panic.
...We’ve got 62 days until Trump takes office, so it seems like a good time to seek out the world’s oldest psychological teachings on transforming oppressive fear into something more productive.
...One of the most fundamental Buddhist teachings is mindfulness — the act of bringing awareness to the present moment. I spoke to Brother Phap Dung, a senior monk and teacher at Plum Village, the Buddhist community founded by the Zen master and author Thich Nhat Hanh, about bringing mindfulness to bear on fear.
“We see the mind like a house, so if your house is on fire, you need to take care of the fire, not to go look for the person that made the fire,” Dung says. “Take care of those emotions first, because anything that comes from a place of fear and anxiety and anger will only make the fire worse. Come back and find a place of calm and peace to cool the flame of emotion down.”
The simplest way to calm the mind is with the basic meditation practice of sitting quietly, focusing on the breath.
...“Unskillful fear … has got such a good argument: which is, anything can happen in the next moment.” A President Trump raises a multitude of deeply troubling possibilities of harm in the future, and while “that seems like a really convincing argument to keep on worrying and being afraid,” it’s actually not a good reason to remain gripped by fear in the present. We can’t know the future, and so allowing fear to hold us prisoner in the present is ultimately unskillful.
Skillful fear is watching it, getting really close to it, and uncovering the purer feelings, like love, underneath it. We can use fear skillfully by redirecting its energy and our attention toward more wholesome virtues, like courage and kindness, Lesage explains. “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the floods of fear,” Martin Luther King Jr. said.
On a more practical level, Brother Phap Dung recommends that people stop reading the news if it feeds fear. “Go take refuge in nature, and find a cause where your heart doesn’t feel inactive and in despair,” he says. “This is the medicine.”
As wise as this advice is, everybody will have a different way of dealing with negative emotions stirred up by the presidential election.
Personally, I find a lot of comfort in reminding myself that "I" don't really exist -- at least, not in the way most of us feel ourselves to be. Namely, an independent free-willing self who continually faces choices about what to do, and is responsible for the actions that we either decide to undertake or forego.
This feeling places a huge unnecessary burden on us. Unnecessary, because both ancient Buddhism/Taoism and modern neuroscience say that the self is an illusion.
Five days before the November 8 election, I pointed to this understanding in "A Taoist approach to coping with the presidential election (and everything)."
Most people believe in free will, even though 21st century neuroscience strongly argues against its existence. We feel like there is a "me," a "self," that floats around independently inside our head, somehow disconnected from the goings-on of the physical brain and able to make decisions unaffected by prior experiences or external influences.
...People today still struggle with the same question: if I'm part of the world, why does the world so often seem to be at odds with me?
...Something is making everything be what is is, and do what it does. That something can't be separate from nature, unless we embrace some sort of nonsensical dualism. So why not call it the Way?
...The human mind can experience the world more clearly, or less clearly. We all know this to be true. Some days our mind seems to be in such frantic motion that it can't discern what is happening in the ever-moving outside world. Becoming calmer, more centered, helps us gain a clearer perspective. If I read or watch too much political news, I get information overload. Relaxing, I realize that there isn't any sort of objective presidential election reality. How things appear in our pre-election day perspective depends on what enters our minds, and how we look upon it.
...When I'm impelled to be politically active, to care about the presidential election, to help a chosen candidate, I need to realize that it is the World, the Way, that's bringing this about. Sure, I may feel like I'm making choices to donate money, vote a certain way, and such, but this is illusion. I, along with everybody else, am just a small cog in the Great Machinery of the Cosmos. My doing ultimately doesn't come from me, it comes from everything.
...Almost certainly, either Trump or Clinton is going to be elected president in a few days, an Electoral College tie being very unlikely. To deny the November 9 result is to deny reality. To believe "this wasn't supposed to happen" is to embrace an utterly crazy worldview, one which posits a schism between the what should be mind of the believer and the what is of existence.
I, like you, am part of the Way, the Tao, that also can be called Nature or the Laws of Nature. There isn't us and the world, or us and the presidential election. We're all in this together. We're all producing this together. We're all responsible for what happens together.