There are few topics that can fire people up more than politics. Okay, there's religion, sex and money, but right now, here in the U.S., politics claims center stage. With each passing day the frenzied battle of opposing views and opinions grows. No, not those of the candidates. I'm talking about friends and family. I'm certainly not beyond having plenty of these myself, but hopefully they are gradually being tempered a bit through this practice. So as I observe the political debate as it intensifies among family, friends and so many of my fellow citizens, I'm also carefully watching my own reactions and impulses. What tends to fire me up? What cools me down? I’m finding this occasion to be a really wonderful opportunity to learn about myself, my views and those of others, the world around me…the Dhamma. Where do these views come from? How is it that on some issues I remain flexible, open to compromise or even neutral, yet when considering others my view remains rigid, inflexible? It seems Mara is working overtime here in the land of opportunity.
I saw a story on CNN recently about some researchers who believe that our political views are largely genetic. They came to this conclusion by interviewing many sets of identical twins. It seems that in addition to sharing the same DNA, they are also more likely to share views and opinions, including all things political. My husband is an identical twin and, if this research is correct, he and his brother are among the exceptions. While they are usually in agreement on such things as sporting events, and other trivial matters, they couldn't be more opposed in their political opinions. Not to dismiss this theory, or that family upbringing, social and regional conditioning, etc. play a role, sometimes our political inclinations simply do not seem to fit the standard profile. I believe that there is another key ingredient which is overlooked, and that is kamma.
Recently during a conversation with a dear friend, this sometimes touchy topic of political possibilities came up. She disclosed something that was, well, unexpected. There aren’t many things that surprise me anymore. But I’ve been close friends with this person for over 30 years and what surprised me was that I did not know her as well as I’d always believed. Racial prejudice was something I had never detected before, not even a hint. Over the years I've come to accept that it’s not at all unusual for me to have at least a slightly different perspective on a variety of things. I don't generally initiate discussion of politics, or other potentially volatile topics. But many people, especially now, are anxious to have such discussions. It's interesting that when folks begin a conversation, there is usually an assumption that others are of like mind. When they discover that this is not the case the tone suddenly shifts and an unseen but clearly present barrier appears. It seems unavoidable and is not at all comfortable.
It’s very easy to feel loving kindness and equanimity when I’m in that comfortable and steady groove of practice that I do sometimes manage to find. Settled on a cushion or under a tree. This other stuff is also practice, a challenging yet necessary part of it. It is a part of practice that can sting and tug at the heart. It is where I come face to face with my own shortcomings and delusions. When I read or hear, or even take part in this debate, am I doing so in accordance with the Dhamma? I’ve discovered that as I listen to others stating their position, no matter who they may be - candidates or otherwise, if I pay close attention to what arises in the mind it can be a lot like looking in a mirror. The same emotion, ego, attachment to a view, and that familiar urge to attack and defend begins to simmer within my own mind just as it does in those that I’m listening to. This is a place of learning.
5 weeks ago