Could you see yourself like your dog sees you? This is a question Tara Brach poses to a client in her book Radical Acceptance. The understanding that our pets, always see the goodness inside of us, even if we forget. It’s a profound question when you are battling judgement of yourself. As I was listening to the audio book while driving earlier this week I thought perhaps the most appropriate question now is not about me. But those that are on a different side of the aisle from me in this post-election era. I wondered, can I see them as their dog sees them? As their child sees them? As their beloved partner sees them? Can I see the goodness past all the filters that fight to get in the way? The ego that tries to block it out. Mine, theirs...both?
As I’ve taught yoga and meditation classes over the last week, led a women’s brainstorming session in my apartment, and a community workshop and potluck, I’ve seen my share of tears. I’ve seen fear looking back at me. I’ve seen heart constriction, tension, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, confusion. I’ve seen despair stare me straight in the eyes. Regardless of which side you are on, most of us are feeling the weight of this post-election era. We’re feeling waves of emotions, watching emotional reactions, and struggling to find our internal compass.
Last week I committed to a practice of loving kindness. This has been my life raft in a stormy sea. It has helped me keep my heart open when it wants to close off. As I kept returning to my intention to stay open, to soften edges that were starting to harden, I was inspired to find people who voted differently than me to share their perspectives and to...listen. Something told me deep inside that I didn’t understand the multitude of perspectives because I had written them off at different points along the way as whole heartedly “wrong.”
After posting an open invitation for dialogue, I exchanged messages with a former high school classmate. I spoke with some family members who voted differently. And yesterday I met up in person with a friend to brainstorm what can be done to build some positive multi partisan collective action to move issues people on both sides of the aisle value forward. To build a bright future for this country.
As I sat down for the conversation, I wasn’t prepared for the miracle that happened next. For several hours my friend opened up their heart and spoke openly about how they believe we became such a divided country, their feeling of isolation, and the number of relationships they lost over their choice. Half of the people they had debates with over the past 500 + days stopped being friends with them. This is the saddest part of our new reality. The human connections, relationships, friendships, partnerships, family members maintained for years that have been severed. And as the days have ticked on, this reality has become very apparent to me as I watched friends post on Facebook that they will defriend anyone who did not vote the same way as them. I felt a sharp pain in my chest and throat as I watched tears pour down my friend’s face and released my own.
My heart softened as I released my own pain and embraced my friends pain. And there it was. I was facing the inconvenient truth that there are no winners when everyone is trying so desperately to be “right” at the expense of the humanity on the other side. In the end, we all lose.
When we lose sight of the goodness in others, we disconnect from our own.
Our egos love to be right. Love to create a concrete, simple story. A black and white picture where there is a clear victor and a clear defeat. Where there is puritanical right and wrong. Where there is the high road and the low road.
I’ve had moments of disconnecting from my own goodness over the last 500 + days when I couldn’t recognize the goodness in others. I’ve emotionally texted, called, and posted on social media messages and articles that I know created more division. Moments of angrily standing on my soap box to feel right so you could feel wrong. Moments of justifying judgemental perceptions for the “greater good.” I know, this will get us nowhere. So I dedicated myself to a different path forward as I found my heart soften.
As I listened to my friend share their perspectives on the current situation I understood clearly, that if we all take up hard-lined positions, we will get nowhere. This is hard to reconcile when you feel emotionally charged about a situation. It may even feel like “selling out” if you don’t hit back hard enough. The truth is the only result of a conflict where each side hits each other straight in the face is pain and suffering. One of my clients on a call last week described it perfectly. She said “I feel like we are two sides pushing hard against a brick wall...and nothing’s moving.”
So here’s where I am. I still care about the issues I care about. Safety for minorities being targeted right now. I was a religious minority for years when I wore a Muslim headscarf. And just this morning one of my oldest and dearest Muslim friends posted on Facebook that she woke up to find her car vandalized. I am passionate about women’s reproductive rights. Greater equality for all people regardless of background and identity embedded at the social and structural levels. Equal pay. And a foreign policy that leads with an olive branch and cooperative mindset. But I also believe in the inherent goodness of others and the need to recognize that more than ever before.
I saw this beautiful quote shared from Bhante Gunaratana yesterday, a lovely Sri Lankan Buddhist monk:
“The greatest impact we can have on the world is to face every circumstance with a mind of clarity, compassion, and love.”
Reading this quote brought me back to time spent with Bhante in West Virginia where for years he faced hate many times. While sitting on retreat with him he shared stories about how neighbors in the area used to harass himself and the other monks for years. Despite a daily onslaught of hateful acts, he remained steadfast and dedicated to being a living example of metta...loving kindness. He never gave up his work, his practice, his beliefs, his vision to grow the meditation center in the face of countless acts of hate. He held the courage to pursue what he felt was right while holding the goodness of even those that harassed him for years. Years later, a man showed up at the monastery to offer his support and to apologize. The young man was in fact a neighbor that had previously dedicated himself to hateful acts against the monks for years while growing up as a young man. Bhante’s compassion, love, and kindness softened his heart.
For this week’s Joy Tip Wednesday I’m dedicated to seeing the goodness in others as I act in support of what I think is True.
Here’s what I’ll be up to and invite you to join:
Notice when you feel yourself closing off from another person. Labels, anger, a sense of you are right and they are wrong, can all be clues that this is happening. Note to yourself that you are starting to close off.
Have the imaginary uncensored conversation you often dream up in your head with yourself. You know the one where you think of all these clever come backs and counter points to the person you want to close off from? That conversation. I suggest you write this out. Like a letter. Let all the emotions pour out. Dear so and so, you suck because…. You get the point. This letter is not to be shared with anyone. It is simply a container to receive your emotional energy to see what else is in your being after some emotional charge is allowed to be expressed. Maybe this feels pretty raw and this is the step of the practice that you hang out in for a while. That is perfectly ok. Give this step it’s weight to get clarity in yourself before starting to direct your attention outside.
Then ask yourself, what if my heart was large enough to see the goodness in this person, their humanity, while pursuing what I believe is True in my heart? While allowing myself to feel the pain, anger, frustration, despair, depression. Could my heart stretch large enough to allow space for both? This could be through a moment of pause with this stream of inquiry. With a journal. In a meditation. In a conversation with someone I feel can hold a safe receiving container for my sharing.
Imagine you are this person’s pet, child, partner. Someone or something who loves them very dearly. What might you see in them from this new point of view? What good qualities shine through? And what if the good was there along with the shadow? Just like your own state of being. Dark and light dancing in the depths of every soul.
Write a letter to this person acknowledging how they may be feeling at this moment. I suggest this exercise for yourself, but if you feel moved to send something of what you reflect on to the other person, I leave that up to you. What may they fear right now? What relationships may be lost? What do they hope for most in the future?
I’ll leave us with this beautiful quote from Marianne Williamson:
“The more room you give yourself to express your true thoughts and feelings, the more room there is for your wisdom to emerge.”