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The Work We Need to Do

Change begins inside the mind.

Image by Goodideas, courtesy of

We're all still reeling from last week's attack on the Capitol. And I don't think there's anyone in this country (on either side) who doesn't think something fundamental must change. But I do think that the change we need goes much deeper than anything proposed by any political party.

After January 6th, I tried to get the ground back under my feet in a million ways. I glued myself to the news. I ate too much. I watched Friends bloopers (three whole seasons' worth). I drank a little. I pulled the covers up over my head and slept most of one day. I went for walks (my head down, doomscrolling the whole way).

All of this was a very human, understandable scramble for permanence. When we suddenly lose our job, or our spouse announces that it's over, or our loved one slips through our fingers into disease or dementia...we're triggered into that mad scramble for permanence, for firm footing on solid ground, for stability.

What bites, though, is that we will never find it. We find illusions of it, but they only last until the next hurricane, or MRI results, or political upheaval.

To cultivate a robust sense of peace, we must try to allow for groundlessness, to make a space for it, to acknowledge the instability, the impermanence of all things. If we can get more comfortable with this, resisting the impulse to control it, we can begin to feel some equanimity. If we can learn not to thrash around when we're in the midst of tumult, we can better navigate that tumult. If we can be still and listen, if we can check in with our body during a moment of reactivity, the positive impact this can make is astonishing. Our lives are affected, the lives of our loved ones as well, to say nothing of the actual situation in question.

Pema Chödrön once wrote, "Rather than being disheartened by the ambiguity, the uncertainty of life, what if we accepted it and relaxed into it? What if we said, 'Yes, this is the way it is; this is what it means to be human,' and decided to sit down and enjoy the ride?"

Okay, let's do that. Let's all just relax into impermanence. (Hold for laughter.) That phrase calls to mind clean hardwood floors, incense, meditation cushions, lit candles, and soft yoga music in the background. But when I get over myself, when I move past the snark and really ponder what the phrase might look like in my life--I come up with something like this:

During meditation, the images pop up--raving white men, armed to the teeth, bashing doors open with their flags, huge violent crowds advancing on a building I've held as almost holy all my life. Panic and anger arise, self-righteousness, impotent rage. I hold my seat. I stay put. I keep breathing. I let the fires rage in my memory, my imagination, and my emotions. I watch them erupt and subside.

When I feel too out of control to continue, I put my innate consciousness to work. (We all have this pure light consciousness within us.) I say to it, "Please take over for me. I can't right now." And then I enjoy the scenario: my consciousness, a vast compassionate space completely untouched by worldly events, witnessing the shitshow of my mind, watching the images float by on the river of mental activity. Over and over. One apocalyptic scenario after another. Arising and dissolving.

Eventually, my outlook shifts from "Holy moly! Look what they're doing out there!" to "Wow, there's a lot going on in here, and it's all I can do to just pay attention to this."

Honest self-reflection and discipline is hard work. It's hard because we have to push back against primitive instincts. We must refrain from kneejerk reactions. We must balance that refraining with the permission, even the mandate, to feel what is going on inside of us. This is the daunting job we have ahead of us. It's the hard work that a lot of people don't want to do.

But it's the hard work

When I first learned about the violence in the Capitol, I was triggered into a frantic sense of urgency. Into the very opposite of 'relaxing into it.' My brain ran around looking for what is it that I can do--me, right now? (Nothing.) And yet, something must be done! I will spare you the three-ring circus of fantasies, desires, mandates, emails, FaceBook posts, etc. that went through my mind. You can imagine.

But my years of training put a microphone in front of the still small voice of wisdom at the back of my heart. "All things are impermanent," it said. "The Capitol, too. You, even. Can you sit for maybe five minutes and just watch your thinking without the story? Without the judge?"

I did, and it was hard. I have my work cut out for me just to heal from my own addictions: to my comfort, my identity, my world. And, this is what I must keep doing for the long term.

This is all I can do for my country right now.

This is the best thing I can do for my country right now.

May all beings be blessed.

May all beings be free from suffering.

May all beings never be separate from joy that knows no sorrow.

May all beings dwell in equanimity, free from attachment and hatred.


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