Dear President Trump,
For about the last year I’ve closed my walking lovingkindness meditation with the following:
May we all have the courage and the resolve to be peace and kindness.
May we all have the resolve and courage to accept kindness and peace.
Maybe I’ve told you about this before – I’m not sure – but I added these two lines because I believe we need lots more peace and lots more kindness in the world and that it takes courage and resolve for us to enact more of these ways of being and it requires resolve and courage for us to accept these gifts.
I hope you can see the distinction here – it’s important.
Assuming you can, I’ll move on and tell you what I realized yesterday morning about all this. I’d finished up my LKM recitation and was saying the two tag-on lines when it occurred to me that in addition to resolve and courage, we need certain skills to pull these things off. Right then I was passing by a house that has maybe seven long strings of Tibetan prayer flags strung every which way across the yard and I heard voices chanting ‘om mani padme hum’ (fittingly, a chant associated with the bodhisattva of compassion). I don’t know whether they were live voices or a recording, but they nudged me to realize that in addition to courage, resolve, and skills in order to make good on peace and kindness, we also need support – we need one another.
All of this was swishing around in my head over the course of the last mile of my walk when I realized how it clicks in with two things I’d read the night before. The first was an article from Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings blog about Erich Fromm wherein she unpacks Fromm’s ideas on how we can set ourselves free by letting go of our selfishness, embracing solidarity and altruism, and rejecting the cultural brainwashing that says our worth is predicated on what we have as opposed to what we do.
The second thing was the introduction to Pema Chodron’s book “No Time To Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva” and lo and behold, she was saying essentially the same thing as Fromm – that our suffering is perpetuated by our inability to see that we’re all connected and our desperate grasping at more and more stuff. I think these ideas feed on each other in that when we’re busy accruing stuff for ourselves (give or take blood relatives) we see ourselves in competition for said stuff with other beings, who we other to better justify hoarding the stuff in a “mine, mine, mine” sort of way (please read “mine, mine, mine” insistently and loudly to mimic the seagulls in “Finding Nemo”).
Weaving these strands together, here are some of the skills I think we need to make headway in being peace and kindness, accepting kindness and peace, and challenging the deep-seated notion that to be happy we must be bootstrappy individuals who accumulate lots of stuff: 1) enough mental and emotional clarity to avoid being stuck in all/none, us/them mindsets; 2) the ability to question our assumptions; 3) the capacity to weather emotional storms (like anger, jealousy, resentment, doubt, fear) without being pulled under, and 4) humbleness, which isn’t typically thought of as a skill, but which I think we can practice and get better at. There are no doubt other skills that would be useful that I’m not thinking of right now, but I’ll close (finally, I know…..) with the idea that we need help from each other to realize we need these skills, to learn them, practice them, remember to use them, and to help us get back on track when we mess up.
May we be safe as we muddle through to enlightenment.
May we be willing to push ourselves to see beyond our own selves.
May we see that accumulating lots of material stuff is neither a sign of strength nor of health.
May we be peace and kindness and may we accept kindness and peace.