A headline in yesterday morning’s Sunday NY Times read, ‘A Nation in Turmoil Prepares to Deliver a Verdict on Trump.’ Tomorrow across the US, people will be voting, and as the headline indicates, many of us believe that a lot rides on this election. (President Obama has been quoted as saying that tomorrow’s vote is about nothing less than ‘the character of the nation.’)
How do we remain engaged, aware and connected to the significance of social and political actions without plunging into turmoil? How do we care about the consequences of political choices without stirring-up states of aversion and hatred matched only by the passions of fans at a UNC-Duke game in the midst of March Madness?
By developing the practice of extending compassion, we develop the capacity of our hearts and minds to remain present with good will in the face of even the most painful suffering.
In the discourse, ‘The Simile of the Saw,’ the Buddha offers the following guidance on how to deal with painful assaults.
Even if low-down bandits were to sever you limb from limb, anyone who had a malevolent thought on that account would not be following my instructions. If that happens, you should train like this: ‘Our minds will remain unaffected. We will blurt out no bad words. We will remain full of compassion, with a heart of love and no secret hate. We will meditate spreading a heart of love to that person. And with them as a basis, we will meditate spreading a heart full of love to everyone in the world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.’ That’s how you should train.
One way to practice spreading a heart of love to everyone in the world is to meditate on words that offer good wishes to all beings. ‘Maybe all beings be safe, well and happy.’ Repeating the words silently in the mind again and again over time causes the mind to incline towards states of benevolence. When we bring this mind/heart of good will to circumstances in which there is suffering (our own suffering or that of others) then the result is compassion.
Whatever happens tomorrow, we can do something to make the world a kinder more loving place today by practicing the cultivation of good will and of compassion. And hearts and minds that incline towards love in every circumstance are a source of strength that will be of great benefit no matter what the count comes down to on election eve.