Saturday, November 19, 2016

Now That The Election Is Over … (Part 2)

Last week I wrote: “During the campaign, while Hillary and her many messengers spoke TO fear and spoke ABOUT fear, Trump and his minions spoke the language OF fear, anger and hatred. That resonated in a visceral way with the “left-behind” that none of us comprehended. It solidified the promise of votes for him, regardless of his vitriolic campaign and message.” I have had several questions from subscribers asking, “What now?” or “What do I do now?” or Is there anything you can say to help me put this into the framework of my spiritual growth?” I will respond to these issues from the perspectives of AA wisdom, an understanding of history, as well as from A Course in Miracles (ACIM).
Let me state that in my opinion the issue is not simply Donald Trump. He is merely the newest (and most prominent?) face of the Alt-Right and Conservative movement over the past decade. He began in the Alt-Right atmosphere with his Birtherism conspiracies. He has maintained this affinity for these conspiracy-laden and truth-be-damned preachers to their millions of followers. Keep that in mind.
Let me paint a verbal image for you. Sometimes to treat a boil you have to lance it. Often, as well, you have to allow the boil to get large enough to lance. Maybe that’s where we are – waiting for Trump and the Republicans to complete their plans for America: a desire to repeat George W. Bush’s economic, tax, regulatory and military agendas based on valued conservative principles (which caused our financial meltdown in 2008); voter restriction laws; a roll-back of social policies (especially a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions in the area of reproductive biology); LGBTQ rights; draconian Gerrymandering to ensure election victories; and moving the philosophy of education from “teaching how to think” to “teaching what to think.”
All of this, including Trump, are the issues that bubbled up in this election.
To take AA seriously and truly desire to stop drinking, all of us have had to hit our bottoms. Epitomized in the description of the difference between religion and spirituality: “Religion is for those who are afraid of going to Hell. Spirituality is for those – like us – who have already been to Hell and don’t want to go back.” In short, we have to hit bottom before we can begin the climb back to sobriety and sanity. One of the promises that comes true when working AA’s Steps in total honesty is that we will become aware that, no matter how far down the scale we have fallen, we will discover that it allows us to share that experience and hope to help someone else.
So, perhaps, we are hitting bottom, we can lance the boil, and we can begin to heal. However and more specifically, what is it we can do and what must we watch out for? We must accept what is happening -  which means to be aware of what’s going on without fear; staying informed without fear; speaking out without fear.
In this vein, I received from a friend this missive from Dan Carter, Professor Emeritas, Educational Foundation, University of South Carolina, who writes opinion pieces for the NYT on-line publications: “Above all, Trump grasped the fundamental weaknesses of our current political culture. He has repeatedly bullied opponents and lied with the kind of brazen disregard for truthfulness, and for civilized norms of political debate, that would have left Joseph Goebbels gasping in admiration.  He may be totally ignorant of critical issues of public policy, the constraints of the constitution and the challenges of world leadership, but his years as a television salesman (of himself) allowed him to understand that most of the media—particularly the broadcasting and cable networks—would simply broadcast these lies in the name of journalistic objectivity, the more outrageous the better.   And in a political environment in which complex issues are reduced to 30 seconds of: “She’s a liar”/“No, she’s not”/ “She’s a crook,” “No she’s not,”/  democratic debate was reduced to the 140 characters of the tweets he used so effectively…. 
“In the coming weeks, the chattering classes will endlessly explain what has happened either by pointing to the weaknesses and miscalculations of the Clinton campaign or the grievances that Trump so successfully exploited.   Reporters and pundits will parse the exact meaning of his appointments.  Does naming GOP Party head Reince Priebus chief of staff indicate a conventionally right-wing course?  Or is the appointment of white supremacist Stephen Bannon as chief counselor the real key to understanding his coming administration? 
“Priebus and his like will become “steady hands” and Bannon will be transformed from an overt racist and anti-Semite into a “right wing media provocateur.”  We will all analyze Trump’s tweets and contradictory statements like Roman seers poring over the entrails of dead chickens, breathing a sigh of relief when he decides to deport only two million Latinos instead of eleven million and pushes through some flim-flam healthcare fig-leaf to justify the destruction of the Affordable Care Act.
“And step by step we will normalize Trumpism.
We cannot normalize this ugliness and hatred: The tweets; the misinformation; the use of the Alt-Right communication network (websites, papers, radio talk shows, etc.), and the continual disdain for all legitimate media. All these may become normalized – candidates for office will try to emulate what Trump did; more fake news sites, websites, and other forms of media will proliferate. This will cause the final blurring of the factual truth (who do you believe: Breitbart News and Rush Limbaugh or the Washington Post and Time magazine)?  By the time that happens our democracy, based on an educated populace, may be beyond redemption. Based on history this is how the gradual normalization of ugliness and fear will happen.
Another friend sent this to me from Colin Tipping: Radical Forgiveness – Finding Peace, Love and Acceptance; Institute for Radical Forgiveness Therapy & Coaching, Inc. – on how to deal with Trump and the Republican’s victory: “The trick is to be totally into doing what you feel is the right thing to do, while at the same time knowing that destiny is being fulfilled somehow and that our actions are all part of the karmic dance.… In other words, by all means, take action to do your best to be rid of Trump and all he stands for. However, if you do it, while at the same time, finding love in your heart for him for waking us all up from the dream of separation, your actions will have enormous power to raise the consciousness of the planet….
“This may well be the beginning of the great BREAKDOWN that we have known must necessarily precede the BREAK THROUGH into a new and higher consciousness. "Thank you, Donald Trump, for being the one to play that role.… This is our big chance to wake up, shift our perception and leave this false reality behind. Let's go for it!
We must be alert and aware to the normalization of ugliness and hatred. We must speak out.
I hope this helps.
As I’ve stated before, “I have to understand, on a visceral level, who the “Me” or “I” really is when I am speaking or thinking. The “I” that says to myself, “I really need a newer, more reliable car” is a different “I” than the one that says to Spirit, “I can’t do this anymore; help me perceive things the way You see them.”
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening to me and getting to know me – warts and all. As always, feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.

#3 Nov 2016
Copyright 2016

PS: I will be unavailable during the Thanksgiving week. There will be no message.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Now That The Election Is Over …

The unceasing message of Donald Trump was based on nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. It was designed to strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable, the weak, and, above all, the many varieties of Other whom he has so deeply insulted: The African-American Other; The Hispanic Other; The female Other; The Jewish and Muslim Other. This repeated mantra of fear, anger, hatred, separateness, and nativism, as well as the concerted effort to focus those dark energies on Obama then Clinton and all Democrats has worked.

There were – surprising to all of us (Republicans as well as Democrats) – half the voting population that were receptive to that message. Donald Trump was not surprising, when I look back on it. He was simply the media-savvy face of this repeated intolerant, angry mantra of the Conservative Right and the Alt-Right media. Christian ministers preached not from the words of Jesus, nor from the New Testament, but from the severe, pedantic legalities of the Old Testament priesthood. [I discuss this in my book, How the Bible became the Bible, Infinity Publishing, ISBN: 978-0-7414-2993-3 ] In doing so these ministers complemented the tone of the Alt-Right.

During the campaign, while Hillary and her many messengers spoke TO that fear and spoke ABOUT that fear, Trump and his minions spoke the language OF that fear, anger and hatred. That resonated in a visceral way with the “left-behind” that none of us comprehended. It solidified the promise of votes for him, regardless of his vitriolic campaign and message.

I am reminded of the words of European theologians in the 1930s that the way to allow dark, hateful energy to get a stranglehold on a nation is for men and women of good will to say and do nothing. That has seemed to be the position of moderate and responsible conservative politicians and leaders. It was also stated that the national longing and rise in authoritarian leadership was not because fascism was so strong, but because concepts of and participation in equality, dignity, civility and democracy were so weak.

I must remember, without glossing over the seriousness of the Republican rhetoric – epitomized by Trump – that I must strive for control over my response to my experience of the events that have happened – not for control over the events, themselves.

Yes, the election is over – and those of us who were appalled by Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, are saddened, frustrated, disheartened and feeling hopeless,

But now our job is to allow our light to shine. We must accept what has happened, understanding the real meaning of acceptance: Awareness without fear. We will not condone what Donald Trump has nurtured and unleashed for votes. We will not condone the silence of what Republican leadership has (or has not) done for the sake of winning. We are aware, but not from a position of fear and anger. For example, you can go to the Southern Poverty Law Center and sign the petition they are circulating, asking Mr. Trump to disavow all hate groups and promising not to assign any of his Alt-Right campaign advisors to positions in his administration: [Tell Donald Trump to honor his pledge to America by signing our petition today.
However, the danger we must all guard against is the truism that nothing will cover up and engulf our spiritual light more quickly and easily than flooding our Spirit with our own egoic anger and fear.
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening to me and getting to know me – warts and all. As always, feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.

#2 Nov 2016

Copyright 2016

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Election and Peacefulness

I received an email today from a very good friend about remaining peaceful and spiritual in the face of this election cycle. I am simply going to attach that article for your perusal. It is wonderfully stated and powerful. It is How You Can Find the Good in a Nasty Election Cycle by Kelly McGonigal, as published by Daily Good – News That Inspires.
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening to me and getting to know me – warts and all. As always, feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#1 Nov 2016
Copyright 2016

How You Can Find the Good in a Nasty Election Cycle by Kelly McGonigal
Do you believe that people are basically good?

For many of us, this election is making that a tougher question than it used to be. I teach and study compassion. I see the good in others for a living. In fact, you could say that both my professional niche and my greatest personal refuge is "finding the good.' And yet, this election is testing my capacity to trust in basic goodness.

I'm not alone in this struggle. It seems as though everyone I talk to has a story about a low point in this election cycle. Many of them are feeling moral distress--that potent combination of moral outrage, worrying about harm that may be done, and feeling powerless to do anything about it.

For some, the low point was watching one of the debates. For others, warnings of a rigged election. For me, it was a video from the New York Times called "Unfiltered Voices from Donald Trump's Crowds.' I watched fellow Americans shout [...] Each outburst [derogatory comments about minorities and the other candidate] seemed to be a euphoric release, as if the speaker were setting free some previously suppressed self to say, "Here's who I really am!'

People aren't just frustrated, irritated, or anxious about whether their candidate is going to win. More than anything else, this election is eroding social trust. As one of my colleagues put it, there's a "degradation of our collective sense of common humanity.' More than one person has told me that as offensive memes flooded their Facebook feeds, they were left unsure of who their "friends' really were. Even faith in our democratic system has collapsed. According to a Politico poll, thirty percent of voters are not confident that their vote will be counted. The loss of trust doesn't extend just to other Americans. I've heard from many students and friends who have lost trust in themselves, alarmed by the depths of their own rage, judgment, and disgust. The election has revealed a side of themselves they don't recognize, leaving their own basic goodness in doubt.

I can't help but wonder: Is it possible that this is who we really are?

Of course, you don't need me to tell you that this is a stressful election. According to a Harris poll conducted for the American Psychological Association, 52 percent of American adults say that the presidential election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress. For registered voters, that number is even higher--55 percent of registered Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans. No demographic seems to be spared, with all ages, genders, races, and ethnicities reporting high levels of election stress.

While I've seen these statistics cited by others, most commentaries treat election stress like ordinary, everyday stress. The American Psychological Association recommends turning off
on Netflix. The Washington Post pointed readers to emergency election meditations that will help you breathe through your angst if you get triggered by a Facebook post.

This kind of advice isn't bad if you're seeking temporary stress relief. But what if your goal is not just to feel better, but to keep your faith in humanity strong? What if your anxiety isn't just about you alone, but the well-being of everyone around you?

Because let's be clear: The stress we're feeling about this election can have profound effects on our individual and collective well-being. Psychologist Michael Poulin, director of the Stress, Coping, and Prosocial Engagement lab at the University at Buffalo, NY, has studied the effect of social trust and mistrust on physical and mental well-being. In one 2015 study of adults in 87 countries, agreeing with the statement "Most people can be trusted' was consistently linked to greater life satisfaction, happiness, and health. In contrast, mistrust was universally linked to distress and poor health.

UCLA stress researcher Steve Cole has found that social trust can even affect mental and physical health through changes in gene expression. People's responses to statements like "People are basically good' and "Our society is a good place, or is becoming a better place, for all people' are linked to genetic profiles that can either protect against, or increase the  risk of, everything from depression to heart disease. As social trust goes down, proinflammatory genes become upregulated, and risk goes up. This election may be changing us at a cellular level, creating what Cole calls a "molecular memory' of moral distress.

Moral distress is no ordinary stress, and preserving social trust requires more than just taking a bath, watching comedies, or even meditating. Rather than turn to the usual stress-reduction strategies of distraction and self-soothing, it's important to recognize what makes this election's stress so toxic--and what we can do to turn that poison into good medicine. For ourselves, and for others.

This requires more than mindfulness. It calls for heartfulness--the courage to stay engaged, with an open heart and a determination to hold onto your faith in what connects us. In this spirit, I offer three strategies for transforming moral distress into moral courage, moral elevation, and compassion.

1.  Do something

·       More on Stress & Politics
·       Joshua Greene explains how to close the gap between "us" and "them." Find out how to talk with your kids about Donald Trump.
·       Learn about what research into power tells us about Hillary Clinton.
·       Jeremy Adam Smith explains how science helps us find the good in ourselves and humanity. Kelly McGonigal reveals how stress can bring people together.

Think about what matters most to you in this election. Then, if you are eligible, vote. Vote whether  you  think  your  individual  vote  matters  or  not.  Vote  strategically,  vote       your _______ Do not fall prey to what compassion researchers call "psuedoinefficacy'--the sense that because you can't do everything by yourself, that nothing you do matters. Nobody's individual vote matters. That's not how voting works. Your vote matters as part of a collective. Ask yourself, "What if nobody like me, who cares about what I care about, voted  in this election?' If you don't like the answer to that question, vote. If you aren't eligible to vote, volunteer.

Now extend this mindset of collective participation to any action you can take that is in line with your deeply held values. You don't have to do it all. As you take committed action, look around. Notice that you are not alone. This is bigger than you. And also, it needs you. This is how you practice moral courage.

2.  Look for the good

Are there destructive forces as well as virtue in all of us? Yes, of course. That's the complexity of human nature. But this election has obscured the latter while highlighting the former. For your mental health, you need to restore some balance. One antidote to moral distress is moral elevation: witnessing the good in others.

How do you find the good? One resource I've turned to is NPR's Storycorps. Since the summer, they've  been  sharing  a  weekly  series  of  audio  and  video  stories  called #WhoWeAre. As Storycorps describes it, #WhoWeAre is "a series of real-life stories told by everyday Americans that speak to our best selves. Stories that amplify love over hate and empathy over fear. Stories that build bridges of understanding between people and help us recognize our shared humanity.'

Research shows that stories like this don't just make us feel better--they also help us feel awe, gratitude, and self-transcendence. One 2015 study found that watching a video that inspired moral elevation increased feelings of common humanity and connection to others, including members of so-called "out groups.' Another study found that for people suffering from depression, moral elevation increased their hope and reduced their sadness, anxiety, and loneliness.

How else can you give yourself the good medicine of moral elevation? In everyday life, look for, notice, and appreciate acts of virtue. Make it a goal to witness compassion, character, and courage. When you do, savor the feeling of being uplifted. Be present for the experience. Let it soak into your cells and remind your DNA that there is good in the world. Tell the story to someone else, so that it might inspire them.

3.  Be the good

·       Practices for Compassion
·       Learn loving-kindness meditation.
·       Try letting go of anger through compassion. Discover how to cultivate a sense of shared identity.
·       Look for ways to make an immediate difference in your community. Be the source point of themselves. Your impact may be far greater than you imagine.

I'm currently teaching a Science of Compassion course, and last week's assignment was to share a story of a time you received or witnessed compassion. One thing that struck me, as I read story after story, is how much opportunity there is in everyday life to change someone else's experience with relatively little investment. Doing so can hold meaning for that person far beyond what we would imagine when we made the gesture.

Some of my students shared stories from decades ago. The acts of kindness were so small, they might barely have registered in the do-gooder's consciousness. One such story  involved nothing more than letting a young woman skip the line for a restroom. Another example was a driver who slowed down to ask a stranger if she was OK after falling on the sidewalk. One student described having an upsetting cell phone conversation while waiting for a train. After he hung up, a stranger boarding the train said to him, "I really hope your day gets better.' Students wrote about how they would recall experiences like these when they wanted to restore their faith in humanity, or feel renewed by strength and hope.

I'm also in the middle of teaching an eight-week compassion meditation course at Stanford Hospital, and next week's lesson is on common humanity. The meditation practice we'll be learning is simple: Contemplate the human being or group who is triggering your judgment, disgust, anger, fear, or contempt, and remind yourself, "Just like me, this person wishes to be happy and free from suffering. In this way, we are no different.'

If you've been distressed by this election, remember that you aren't alone. There are countless others who also feel that despair. When you remember this, decide to be the antidote to someone else's moral distress. In ways you may never know, your small acts of kindness could reverberate in the lives of others long past this election cycle.