Meditating in a warm, inviting room is so peaceful. Can you picture yourself in a yoga studio? You are on a comfortable mat. You close your eyes, feeling entirely safe. Others of like mind are near you and you may even know some of them by name. They all know the rules of the space. As a cohesive unit, you sit cross-legged, breathing deeply. You await the sound of a single bell from the front of the room. The smell of sage touches your senses as the bell sounds, deeply resonant. During meditation, your mind wanders. No worries - you simply bring it home without consequence. You’ve long since given up chastising yourself for your active mind. It’s a part of you, as uncontrollable as a Labrador puppy. You do this again and again and a feeling of peace and personal acceptance pervades. The bell sounds again. You press your hands together in the universal sign of peace and whisper “Namaste” to your neighbors. Life…breathe in… is good. Breathe out. Smile.
That’s one way to meditate, in an inviting space. But how did you do on Tuesday night?
If you’re like me, you were incredulous. You sent out WTF texts. A bunch of them. You tossed and turned. You considered moving to Canada or somewhere very remote within the US. You shook your head, and then your fist. You considered never paying taxes again. You unfriended people. And then you sent out more texts.
Welcome to real meditation.
Real meditation is not like yoga studio meditation. The latter is useful. It’s ok to feel safe, to be wrapped in a cocoon made of warmth and friendship. But to say, “this is meditation, and outside of the studio is something else” is to miss the point of the practice. We practice in a studio or sacred space much like a basketball team practices outside of scheduled games. We have to learn the basics in a controlled environment before we are good at using them in a competition. If we don’t, when it comes to game time, it’s pandemonium. I know… I coached grade and middle school basketball and refereed all levels from grade school through high school. At lower skill levels, when a ball handler gets double teamed, she is either going to get fouled or she’ll double dribble or travel. Every time. However, give her a few years of experience and she will have learned to pivot out of trouble, make a pass to a teammate, draw a foul or take a shot. This isn’t automatic. It’s the result of practice and of minutes playing against other teams.
Tuesday was game time for those of us who have a meditation or spiritual practice. And, with this new President-elect, we are at game one of a four-year season. There will be plenty of times between now and Election Day 2020 where we feel as we did on Tuesday; pressured, overwhelmed, incredulous, angry and confused. To continue the basketball metaphor, on Tuesday night I double dribbled my ass off.
How will I do next time?
Here is my prayer for myself and anyone else who was similarly affected: I pray that the next time we are triggered, the next time our minds wander to all kinds of self-made solutions in response to some external stimuli (political or not), that we will do what we do in practice: Bring the mind back. Breathe. Smile at the charade within and without. Know that on some level, it is all theater and let judgement pass without it getting such a foothold on us.
I am not advocating non-action. Quite the opposite. I am advocating conscious action. For me, this means not getting caught up emotionally in the moment. Because only outside of emotion, which is largely the property of ego, can we feel the most useful course of action in the situation at hand. This may mean joining a grass roots organization or performing any number of actions from a place of equanimity. What it doesn’t involve is running amok. Trashing things. Taking our ball and running off the court.
Regarding this election, we can be thankful that we know where we are as a Nation because it’s only a certain kind of electorate that would elect Donald J. Trump to the Presidency. It’s where we are. As painful as it is to see this, I’d rather know the truth than walk away saying, ”wow, we almost elected that guy” and go through another four years of thinking things are not at the level they apparently are. Let’s face it: on Monday most of us didn’t think he had a chance.
It’s informative to realize that there is no verb for “meditating” in Sanskrit. One is either in a state of meditation or they are not. (“The Path Is The Goal: A Basic Handbook of Basic Buddhist Meditation” by Chogyam Trungpa) That’s because true meditation does not end. Like us, it simply is. We are always either in a meditative, conscious state or we are not, 100% of the time. When we go to the yoga studio, it’s easy and there are limited consequences for a lapse in conscious attention. But on a Tuesday afternoon when we get a glimpse of FoxNews… that’s when game-time begins.
My friends, now is the time for us to show up - outside the studio. Now is the time to go to our breath and let the love we feel for our fellow meditators spread to those who are also angry, hurt and fearful but who exhibit it in different ways from us; by, for instance, voting for Trump. May we take the practices out of the studio – now – and use them in our day to day lives. May we breathe. May we exercise compassion. May we put the outcome in the hands of Creator, even as we work for more tenable solutions than the ones in front of us. Because if there’s one thing I know, it’s this:
Game two is coming up soon.