A Post-Election Assessment
“The Superior Man doesn’t waste energy fighting Evil. He makes energetic progress in the good.” – the I-Ching.
The recent election has a lot of people rattled – and perhaps it should – but I’d like to suggest that giving too much attention and fixating on the new President-elect robs us of the energy and focus we need to make the “energetic progress in the good” needed for a humane and dynamic society. For a long time I’ve studied the wisdom traditions of the world, and I want to share some tried-and-true perspectives that can help us come to center and lead us toward true north – the direction and purpose that will sustain us through difficult times.
#1: Starting with the passage from the I-Ching above, many people think that Donald Trump is misogynistic, bigoted, narcissistic and self-absorbed… or worse. This may be true, but the I-Ching tells us that the “superior” or wise person will not focus his or her energy on Donald Trump, on “fighting evil.”
“Energy flows where attention goes.” When we give an inordinate amount of attention to the President-elect – what he’s done or might do; what he’s said – we may feel self-righteous and convince ourselves we’re “fighting evil,” but placing the focus there takes it away from what needs to be done to make “energetic progress in the good.” It gives him all the power (or assumes he has it,) thus denying our challenge and responsibility to be adults, to not play victim, and to purposefully give our gifts, passion, and voice to “our people” and make a difference in our communities. ** (Scroll to the end for an example)
#2: Similarly — from AA and the 12-step tradition — we’re guided by the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change what I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.” The election results – for President, Senate, House of Representatives – cannot be changed, no matter how you feel about them. Nothing you say, do, or feel will change the facts of the political landscape nor the actions you did or didn’t take in the past.
The Serenity Prayer – like the I-Ching – directs us to find the wisdom and courage to change what we can. Changing what we can is where our focus needs to be, and that – changing ourselves and/or changing the world – takes effort, perseverance, and grit… real work. To determine, face, and not run away from that real and difficult work is how transformation will happen… and now’s the time.
#3: “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism, but hope w/o critical thinking is naivete.” — Maria Popova in Brain Pickings.
Looking at the facts is not enough. When we gaze up at the night sky, the facts – the actual stars – can be arranged in any pattern, whether that be the familiar constellations we know or something completely different. The facts of modern life – political alignments, military budgets, income, violent crime – are complex and copious enough to create a myriad of possible narratives and stories. Arranging those facts into stories that find fault, like “the rich have all the power” or “the system is rigged,” leads to hopelessness and resignation… to an excuse not to act, because “of course it won’t make a difference.”
But the opposite, hope without critical thinking – for example believing “everything will work out,” or “it’s the way it’s meant to be” also leads to passivity. Trusting everything will work out may be comforting, but it undermines any motivation to act. Hope elaborates a goal, a destination that’s not at the mercy of facts. In combination with critical thinking – a realistic assessment of the landscape or facts – it can motivate people to develop a game plan or map out a course of action.
#4: “The ordinary man or woman sees everything in life as a blessing or a curse. For a warrior, it’s all a challenge.” – Don Juan speaking to Carlos Castaneda.
The political landscape is filled with ups and downs. Sixty years of the Soviet state ends with the fall of the Berlin Wall… the fall of the Wall leads to Vladimir Putin. Eight years of Clinton leads to G. W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq… 8 years of Bush leads to economic meltdown and the election of Obama… 8 years of Obama and here is Trump. After 4 (or 8) years of Trump…?
The Middle Ages produced a series of paintings depicting the “Wheel of Fortune.” Imagine the wheel of a large wooden wagon. Spokes radiate out from the center to the perimeter, where a mass of human souls cling to the rim. Some are smiling — their place on the circumference moving up — while others weep and cry as the position they cling to descends and they are soon to be run over. Life is like that when you’re living on the periphery.
But Don Juan tells us, “For a warrior, it’s all the same, a challenge.” At the center of the wheel it’s all one movement, parts of the rim moving up, other parts rolling down. Trump is elected and some are cheering, while for others – most the people I know – it seems like a precipitous drop. But if we’re crying (or cheering) it means we are clinging or attached to a position that’s not at the center of our wheel. And it’s coming to that center that gives perspective and stability to everything.
#5: “Stay in the center of your purpose.” In the vision quest process, there’s a ritual called the Purpose Circle where one stays awake through the dark night within a circle about a dozen feet in diameter. It’s called a Purpose Circle because in constructing it – with a dozen or so rocks for example – one assembles the forces, represented by the stones, which support and nourish your life, keep you on track and focused on what you are here on Earth to do. These could be teachers or teachings, important commitments or relationships, practices like meditation or writing, etc.
As the night progresses, cold and discomfort, boredom, the urge to lie down and go to sleep will all visit, but the task is simple – to stay awake… to affirm, claim, and commit to what is important… to the core tasks you’re here to accomplish and the energies you’re here to express.
Most of modern life encourages us to fall asleep, to get distracted, to follow rules, roles, and agendas that are not connected to our hearts and deeper longings. But I believe we’re here to awaken, to flower, bear fruit, and stay awake. Giving our attention and life energy to Donald Trump – to Fear — the last episode of Survivor or the Bachelorette – to Distractions — or who our spouses, families, or others want us to be, does not bring us to center. These are all diversions from our hearts and true longings, and from the work we’ve come here to do.
Finding – and claiming – our path and the gift we’re here to do is not easy. But when and as we do, Donald Trump will have no power over us… and the power and energy we – multiplied by the millions — bring to life will wash over the land and bring a new dream into being. It’s time for all of us to do our parts.
Sparrow Hart, November 15, 2016
*** When the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama was forced to flee, and many were left behind during his arduous and dangerous journey to India. It would be easy to denounce the “evil” of this event, but in 57 years the Dalai Lama has not once condemned the people or government of China. Instead, he’s consistently focused on “the good,” on empathy, compassion, tolerance, mindfulness, and religious freedom. Can anyone say this practice of “energetic progress in the good” has not been effective?
If you’d like to give feedback on this post, I’d be glad to hear it… or if you’re interested in a follow-up post with different perspectives (I edited out over half of what I initially wrote) please let me know by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org