Trump: A Catalyst for Spiritual Transormation?
Never in my 30 plus years of conducting psychotherapy in my role as a private practice clinical psychologist have I witnessed such a direct impact of current political events on my clients’ day to day mental status. This is most especially true for women who have been subjected to abuse or maltreatment at the hands of a male in a position of power…clergy, father, husband, boss etc. Even if overt maltreatment was not present, Trump’s bullying tactics, divisive speech, treatment of immigrants, attacks on a free press, assualt on democratic institutions, climate change denying, buddying with tyrants around the world and other actions and policies have created great distress. Male clients have also not been spared feelings of anger, despair, helplessness, hopelessness and so on. Even clients who are of a more conservative ideological leaning are also distraught by the divisions within the country which may even impact their own social relationships. They also perceive an undermining of conservative principles whether it be fiscal discipline, international engagement, opposition to dictators and so on. Thus, in short, no one seems spared of some form of emotional turmoil.
Powerful emotions such as fear, rage, helplessness, hopelessness, despair may be aroused by such affairs and can lead to cycles of emotional reactivity if not regarded with mindful attention. . That can take the form of rage and vilification of Trump and his supporters, preoccupation with news and media, increased substance use and other distractions such as eating, social withdrawal, isolation, binge shopping, etc. etc.
The great Korean Zen Master Sung Sa Soen Sa upon touring Norway once made the following observation. He stated in his broken Korean-English. “Norway has very good situation. Everybody very healthy, has good job, good food, good car, nice house, good economy. Very good situation! Good situation —-Bad Situation! Everybody happy…why meditate? But then when your body disappears….not wonderful, not wonderful. Then what can you do?”
The Buddha had a good situation. He lived in a beautiful palace, had a beautiful wife, beautiful children, and all his needs and desires were met. And yet, he was unfulfilled and couldn’t answer the basic question of why we come into this world and why we suffer. And so he left his good situation to become a forest ascetic and then sat under the bodhi tree for six years before realizing enlightenment.
And so the point I suppose is that while we currently find ourselves in a difficult time, perhaps this is exactly what is needed to create an opportunity for transformative growth. The tragedy of 9/11 didn’t do it, the 2008 recession wasn’t sufficient. And yet, it is possible that the pain and turmoil created by Mr. Trump is the necessary ingredient to promote a wave of progressive activism fueled by compassion, and a more urgent understanding of the co-arising dependency of all peoples, and organisms that co-habit our delicate little blue/green ball and our thin little sea of air. So, just perhaps, Bad situation becomes Good situation! While we understandably all seek comfort, security and prosperity, such conditions seldom give rise to growth. Pronounced challenges along a variety of dimensions are typically required to promote positive transformation, healing, and growth.
Spiritual leaders have pointed out that despite the forces of “spritual gravity”, the overarching trend across the millennia is for the gradual expansion of light and the evolution of consciousness. But the responsibility for this transformative process resides within each of us. Despite global declines in organized religion, more people site themselves as “spiritual” and engage in any number of transformational practices including yoga, meditation, psychotherapy, prayer, shamanic practices, visualization and so on. And yet the “lighter” manifestations of consciousness will always find opposition by the more “dense” or “heavy” vibrational frequencies. But according to the enlightened masters, the overarching process is an unstoppable path towards higher consciousness. However, each individual has a responsibility to maximize that occurrence. For our own species, nothing is guaranteed. The universe is nothing personal, it is “strictly business”. Our survival and condition is up to us.
It is always a temptation to wring our hands in despair or become overcome with sadness and rage when such times as these occur. Of course, we cannot pretend that these emotions don’t exist, but rather than being mired and identified by and with them, we can mindfully acknowledge them and watch as they come and go. And if we can maintain this equanimity, we can engage in awakened activism and we can more effectively engage in resistance and work for change. But if we bring reactivity to bear, then we will just be contributing to the karmic cycle and usher in the same conditions as before. So meditate, practice mindful attention, practice compassion…. and, oh yeah… vote!