This is not an easy time to be a yogi, an American, or a human being.
As a biology teacher, I have long suspected that we humans are irrational animals, no different from wildebeests or hummingbirds or porcupines. We do our best to survive and pass on genes, we are as nice or nasty as circumstances dictate, and we justify selfish behavior with our big fancy brains. But as a yogi, I wanted to believe the alternate narrative: that as self-aware conscious beings we are special, we are the exception, we are maybe just a little bit better.
And then Election season 2016 happened.
Like many who lean left, my reaction to the political events of the last year went something like this: Seriously? You’ve got to be kidding. No way. Jesus Christ. Holy Shit. Oh my God. HOLY SHIT!
It strikes me that my reaction is a lot like the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I’m definitely in the depression stage right now, which leaves me with one more, the scariest one of all: acceptance.
Ok, maybe not scrap-the-constitution-start-World-War-III-bring-back-Jim-Crow-make-all-fertile-women-wear-red-dresses scary. Florida went light blue a few days ago, praise God. But it is pretty freaking scary to come to terms with the fact that a hefty chunk of the electorate are totally cool with an immature racist misogynist inexperienced classless hot-headed liar-liar-pants-on-fire bully for a president.
How do I even begin to accept this?
I turn to Yoga Sutra 1.33 which says:
“Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference to the wicked.”
That part about indifference to the wicked? I am talking to you, Donald.
When I dislike or have a conflict with someone, I ask: how I can cultivate compassion for this person? I force myself to look for things that we have in common.
Forget handstand. Forget pinca mayurasana. Do you want the ultimate yoga challenge? Cultivate compassion for Donald J. Trump. Can you do it? (And if so, can you teach me how?)
So I took a deep breath and asked myself: what do That Man and I have in common?
I am short-tempered, vain, impulsive, impatient, judgmental, and foul-mouthed. I sometimes have delusions of grandeur. I have been known to start projects for which I am not prepared. I have an authoritarian parenting style. I say stupid things that I later regret. (Ok, we don’t know if he regrets anything.) I interrupt. I am easily distracted. I am very confident. In fact I think this article is going to be YUGE! I abstain from alcohol. I am up at 3 AM. When I get angry there is no gap. I have heard many a Buddhist teacher and psychologist talk about this mythical gap between a thought and a reaction. But people, I am telling you, in my world, there is literally NO GAP! If you know me and disagree with anything in this paragraph, then you don’t know me well enough. Ask my sister. Ask my boyfriend. Ask my kids.
While Hillary is the candidate I support, I have to admit, in the personality arena, I am actually more similar to That Man. Did you see her performance at the first debate? Did you notice how she did not scream, yell, or try to strangle him? I don’t know if Hillary has a meditation or yoga practice, but that was as fine an act of yoga as Dharma Mittra balancing on the crown of his head.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that That Man and I are long-lost soul mates. God no. Unlike him, I have the presence of mind to know that my temperament would make me a sucky-ass president. Unlike him, I reserve my harshest judgments about women’s bodies for my own. But searching for commonalities is a powerful way to attempt to dismantle the walls that we like to build between “us” and “them.” We don’t like the wall he wants to build but we’re okay with building our own?
Which brings me to the next group, Trump supporters. I will not go so far as to put them in the “wicked” category. Not yet, anyway.
It is so very, very tempting at times like these to decide that we are right and they are wrong. We know better and they are stupid. If only they went to college. If only they weren’t so religious. If only they weren’t so racist. If only they admitted their racism! If only they didn’t watch Fox news. If only. It is easy to forget that the 42% of Americans who support him are not caricatures who can be lumped into one category. Each one of them is a unique individual with a complicated history who, for whatever reason, mystifying as it may be to rest of us, believes That Man is America’s best hope.
God almighty did I mention that this is hard?
The anthropologists tell us that we evolved as small-group primates, living in clans of 50 people or so. We did not trust that other group that lived on the other side of the hills. In other words, a tendency towards prejudice and groupthink is hard-wired into our DNA. The Trump supporters have this evolutionary heritage. And so do we.
Our life histories and circumstances predict our political preferences amazingly well. The people with whom we choose to surround ourselves tend to share the same views. When I look at the polls, by every measure, I am supporting who the data predicts I will support. Urban, unmarried woman, postgraduate, female 18-49, no religion, female, not religious, 30-49, middle Atlantic, have children under 18, college graduate, widowed, have children (all ages), white female.
So I have to ask myself: Am I right or am I a product of my environment? If I had been born in rural America, if my life had played out differently than it has, would I still be supporting Hillary Clinton? Who is to say I would not be sporting a cute pink Trumpette t-shirt? I’d like to indulge in the fantasy that I would somehow know better, but to be perfectly honest, I’m not going to give myself that much credit.
I spent some time registering people to vote. I’m letting the Clinton campaign use my house for phone banks and as a staging area for get-out-the-vote efforts. I gave the local Democratic organizer a key to my house. As a single mom with a full-time job that I would prefer to keep, there’s not much more I can do. I could spend hours on the internet, firing off angry comments, nurturing rage, but at the end of the day, what is the point? What good does it do? Whose mind does it change?
At times like these, I am left with my yoga practice, and more specifically, kirtan music. Kirtan is the last shred of proof I have that humans are not complete assholes. When the e-cocaine that is fivethirtyeight.com sends my blood pressure soaring, I play Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band. Krishna Das is the reason I am not getting up in third-party voters’ faces and yelling, “Do ya like the constitution?” David Newman is the reason I am not standing on a street corner screaming “Your vote is not supposed to make you feel good! This is not a Tony Robbins seminar! This is a big fat messy democracy!”
So if you see me walking down Baltimore Ave singing “Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram,” now you know why. If you see me in Leidy Labs singing “Om Nama Shivayah” please forgive me, it’s all I can do to stay sane.
This is a yoga blog, but I’m gonna let Matthew 7:1-3 have the last word. From the King James version:
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”