Love In the Time of Chaos is a five-part series featuring the collective advice of the Be Here Now Network’s teachers on dealing with the chaos of the current political climate with love, compassion, and equanimity.
So far we’ve talked quite a bit about anger and reactivity, but we haven’t really addressed anger’s twisted cousin: fear. In some ways, anger is just a manifestation of our fear. Anger is our fear masquerading as a tough guy. And in this sea of political chaos, fear seems to be the order of the day.
Dealing with Fear and Anxiety
There’s really no escaping fear, you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. So how do we live with that fear? How do we process it? Jack Kornfield, host of the Heart Wisdom Podcast, has a pretty radical solution. He suggests we acknowledge our fear, and perhaps even become friends with it:
The first thing to understand is that we don’t want to take the anxiety of the culture, the terror and fear that the political world is fermenting, into our hearts. Part of the way that politics works is to scare the populace so that they will vote for you. The kind of messages of fear and terror that are out there, on all sides, can easily colonize our nervous system and take over our heart.
The first thing is not to listen to too much news, because it’s easy to get overrun and overwhelmed. The second is to remember what Thich Nhat Hanh talked about, that when the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained centered and calm, it was enough; it showed the way for everyone to survive. So we can become that person on the boat in the stormy seas or with the pirates.
Now to do this internally it can help to find a meditative safe place, to sit quietly. First, take some breaths and acknowledge or bow to the anxiety or fear that is present. You can’t just push it away, because that’s just fear of the fear. You acknowledge that it’s trying to protect you.
You can say, “Thank you, I’m okay for now. Thank you. This is fear, this is anxiety.” And then as you breathe a little bit, having mindfully acknowledged it, find the place in your body that feels safest connected to the earth, your buttocks in the chair or your feet on the floor. Or remember a time when you felt the most safety in your life, and let that fill your body. Remember that there is trust in humanity that you can carry. Feel the safety and the confidence, and from that place you can observe, or witness with loving awareness, the political situation without taking it so seriously. It allows your body to relax and come back to a place of center.
And that feeling of being centered, of balance, is very important to the next concept…
Equanimity, for me, is that capacity to maintain balance in the midst of any condition, and to hold all beings in equal regard. The value of equanimity is to be really grounded, open, inclusive, appreciative, curious, and able to sustain a lot of difficulties, able to be really resilient. I think it’s really important to understand that equanimity is not being flat or stiff, it’s that capacity to be fundamentally resilient, and to have the courage and strength to uphold yourself.
There is no one practice for this; it’s a combination of things. One of those is to develop a balanced attention. To be able to bring your attention to a place of stability, and have it be very grounded and inclusive. That is one kind of mind training. Another is the cultivation of Bodhicitta – the cultivation of a loving heart – of really seeing how much suffering there is in the world. And then have the desire to help, to end suffering, and to serve. To have that sensibility constantly arising: Is this really going to serve here? Will this end suffering? And then the other really has to do with engaging in actions: working with poor people, dying people, homeless people, working with the prison system, running medical clinics. Putting yourself in the way of harm, and allowing harm to really leaven your character.
Ram Dass puts a picture of political figures he has strong feelings towards on his puja table to help him work through those emotions. I suggest doing the same, as this can help cultivate a little more inner balance and equanimity. Then you can choose how to respond skillfully and wisely, rather than just blindly reacting to the habitual stimuli of somebody who’s totally on the other side of the fence on almost every issue you believe in. This has worked for me in the face of Trump’s fear-inducing policies, especially the Wall. So walls are not the idea, building walls around our heart is definitely not the idea in the long run. Maharajji said, “Never throw anyone out of your heart.” That’s one thing I try to apply across the board.
May we all come to peace with our fear, and keep it from building a wall around our hearts.
Written by Noah Markus on behalf of Love Serve Remember Foundation
If you’re interested in the other parts of the Love in the Time of Chaos series please read below: