I yelled at my wife. I never yell at my wife. I wasn’t nasty. I was just bombastic for 10 long seconds. She didn’t mind. She knew what was going on. I was struggling, unsuccessfully, to manage the grief that we as a world community almost seem to be drowning in. It was a humbling reminder: Trump, and the soulless assaults on human dignity his presidency incites, are not responsible for single thing I think or feel.
No person or event has ever made us angry or happy or anything else. It just seems that way. I like to call it the Sun Rises in the East Syndrome. It appears that’s what’s happening, but, as we know, science confirms that our perception is false: it’s the earth that’s moving, not the sun. Similarly, we say so-and-so or such-and-such made us feel blah-blah-blah––like we didn’t have a choice in the matter––when, indeed, we did (and didn’t know it, or remember it). While our judgment may be “triggered” by some external event, it’s not “caused” by it. The cause is how we have defined reality. I was barely a teenager when I heard an uncle say he would never watch any movie Elizabeth Taylor was in because she was an adulterer. It’s fun to imagine him learning on his death bed that it wasn’t Liz who had prevented him from enjoying some pretty good films all those years.
Of course, operating under the belief that the sun rises in the east has no undue consequences that I’m aware of, whereas believing that someone, some group, or some circumstance is responsible for our feelings has filled the centuries with devastation.
This lesson is particularly significant for those of us committed to resist as effectively as we can the bonfire of ignorance sparked by Trump’s election. Who, we might ask ourselves, do we intend to bring to the Resistance party? If the answer is something like “the most thoughtful, persistent, resilient, creative, effective, fearless, and kind-hearted warrior I can possibly be,” choosing to see the world through the eyes of blame, hate, resentment and being a victim isn’t helpful. In fact, it is the opposite of all those qualities of power and pizzaz that reflect our heart’s deepest commitment to life.
Winston Churchill said, “I like a man who smiles when he fights.” I take that to mean a person who combines a fiery will and a peaceful heart.
That’s who we were born to be. Warriors of the heart. And it’s who we are called to be. Not only to resist Trump, but also to reach out, whether literally or in energy, to all those harmed by the immaturity that characterizes so much of the human family’s behavior. Our capacity for hatred isn’t on terrifying display because we’re so grown up.
Trump is so beside the point. We’re the point, as individuals, and as a community. Trump, and every other event of our life, including our death, is simply the stage upon which we explore those questions that continually reveal to us the beauty and sacredness of our relationship with all of existence:
- Who will I be or die trying?
- How would I know it if I saw it?
- What’s the healthiest action I can take in this moment?
The never-ending awakening of being taught by these and questions like them can lead us to a rather useful approach to life:
- one that recognizes that pursuing peace with anger only generates more conflict;
- one that finds the embrace of grief essential to health;
- one that knows, from experience, that addiction to beliefs is the single biggest cause of human misery––and that our most pernicious belief is that others are responsible for our state of mind;
- one that will prevail over whatever darkness Trump inflicts on the world (even though it may not happen in our lifetime);
- and one articulated most eloquently by the poet W.H. Auden:
Stagger onward rejoicing.