A Meditation on Politics

015abbeydharmaFirst, some background.

I moved to my current town when my wife and I married five years ago.  I wanted to be informed about local issues and had some spare time on my hands, so I started sitting in on the local Town Board work sessions.  One day, the town’s energy coordinator, who was also attending the sessions, invited me to become part of the town’s Climate Action Task Force, and I agreed.  I performed an energy audit of the town’s electric, gasoline, and natural gas consumption, and our task force came up with a number of recommendations for reducing the town’s greenhouse gas emissions.  One of them, changing the town’s lighting over to LED lighting, is happening right now.  In the process, I got to observe and interact with the town’s political figures from the  perspective of an environmental activist.

My wife and I also began attending meetings of our local neighborhood civic association as a way of my getting to know our neighbors better, and, to make a long story short, we ended up serving on the association’s board, my wife as president, and I as corresponding secretary.  We became advocates for the needs of our local community — a road needs repaving here, a water main needs replacing there —  and we got to interact with the town’s political figures over issues related to the town’s delivery of  services.

Our town supervisor is up for re-election this November.  We were appreciative of his availability, his willingness to listen, his integrity, and his genuine wish to be of service to all his constituents, so we let him know, via Facebook, that we supported his re-election bid.  We’ve also had the opportunity to observe his political opponent at town meetings, and were deeply concerned about his negative, divisive, and egotistical personality.  He’d opposed many of the initiatives we’d supported including funding the town’s energy coordinator and arts council positions, and enacting changes to the town code that required new construction to meet energy efficiency standards.

When our town supervisor asked us to get involved in his campaign, we were happy to assist him in getting the signatures he needed to get on the ballot.  Over a short period of time, however, we found ourselves becoming more involved in the campaign.  We wanted to be of assistance, and his campaign seemed to like our thoughts about his re-election bid, so we found ourselves being invited to more and more strategy sessions.  In some ways it wasn’t surprising: my wife was a public relations and communications consultant who had worked with a number of Fortune 500 companies; I love watching her in action.  The only thing I have to contribute is my Zen presence and my occasional two cents for what it’s worth.  As the readers of this blog are well aware, everyone is entitled to my opinion.

Which brings me to my main point.

The other week during zazenkai (a kind of six-hour mini-sesshin), my mind was filled with the buzz of the campaign.  As I tried to sit quietly with my breath and the early morning bird song, thoughts of campaign strategy zipped around my brain.  I’d let them go and return to quiet sitting, only to have them return with renewed energy.  Eventually, I gave up trying to not have them, and contented myself with trying to observe them without getting caught up or carried away.  Given their powerful energy, even that proved difficult, and I had to bring myself back to the present moment over and over.

Was this a bad sitting?  It wasn’t the one I’d wanted.  I’d wanted one of those sittings in which the mind was deliciously still and clear.  That was not to be.  Abandon all expectations, ye who enter here.

But it was the sitting I needed.  It was a wonderful lesson in how addictive political energies can be; how they can absorb us to the degree that we’re in danger of losing our quiet center; how we can easily become enamored with our own cleverness; how sooner or later, we can find ourselves devising strategies that are simply about winning, but which fail to reflect the purity of our original intention to be of service to the community. It was a wake-up call about needing to be careful and discerning; about being suspicious of my own thought processes; about keeping my recommendations in accord with my best intentions and not mere expediency.  It reminded me that elections aren’t about the candidates we support, but about our highest aspirations to benefit all beings.

Zazenkai ended with a new appreciation of the balancing act that’s required if we’re to maintain our integrity while participating in the rough and tumble of politics.

The next time you have a sitting that’s not the one you wanted, be grateful.

It’s a gift.

Not just to yourself, but to all beings.


The image at the top of this post is reprinted with permission from Tricycle Magazine.  

3 Replies to “A Meditation on Politics”

  1. I think I’ve found my new favorite blog sir… sorry, I can’t remember your name as it’s not in front of me.
    The first post I read here was the one on non-theistic Buddhism. I’d like to let you know it came up first when googling those words and I found that post to be a perfect one. I read every comment there and had a rare feeling: that I would not be able to add to the quality of this post & comments. So I did not comment. David is a great sounding board or devil’s advocate—whatever—for you here. They say a relationship (even one online) should have 70% similarities and 30% differences. You have things to discuss.

    I’ve been coming into a phase of life that I’d call more spiritual. I’ve been meditating every night and my pursuits are toward the spiritual suppositions of this world. I had to get away from the political ponderings. In that arena so much is based purely on fear that it lead me to understand that what’s missing here is faith or basic spiritual foundations. This is the age we live in. I believe that spirituality is simply connecting or feeling that which is bigger than myself. My definitions are always as broad as possible.

    So conversations I’ve had recently have been with religious people, one from the tradition of Christianity and one, a Buddhist. I looked back to realize that they were insinuating the same thing: I shouldn’t call myself a Buddhist if I don’t believe in/pray to (or fear) the pantheon of deities and demons that exist in certain lineages of Buddhism. It struck me like a moment of inspiration to see that these two people seem to have a similar taste for deities which I’ve never had a need for. I do, however, enjoy the beauty in such.

    Exactly the same sets of desire inhabit and populate the political throngs. Some put all faith in particular leaders and others revere particular ideologies, but it seems the rare breed that looks to the day-to-day base existence of what lies before him and what can be seen with the eyes and to erase labels.

    I used to call myself Agnostic and in politics Independent. Lately I’ve been saying I’m Buddhist and Libertarian. It came to seem easier to label myself when discussing views with others. I’m guessing this human predilection has to do with the duality of this maya, this “reality” that we embrace.

    So often the labels simply get in the way as others have certain ideas about the nomenclature that I’ve chosen for myself. Logic would point to the fact that they don’t embrace the label as deeply as I do, otherwise they would choose the same label as I. I don’t wanna’ feel pessimistic about this catch 22. Do you have any thoughts to share with me on the subject?

    I LOVE to hear that your Roshi is also a Jesuit. That’s incredibly intriguing to me. I can’t imagine the depth of his views on the “supernatural”. I’m sure there’s the repeated quizzical suggestions from others that he’s spiritually schizophrenic. This repeated question, alone, must have given him much to ponder and digest for others’ subsequent consumption. I have more to say about these two particular religious traditions and their similarities (from my own observations) but will save that for another time. Maybe a blog post of my own. http://www.Fishbowler.wordpress.com (HAHA! In this novella of a comment I got to work in a plug!)

    We’re such a bountiful and varied species that it seems there is no particular unified human perception but rather an unlimited spectrum of glorious perspectives. It could be suggested that God’s creation is really here to look at its own self and see the universe within mind of humanity.

    1. @Chadsorg — I have no special thoughts about the labels we choose to give ourselves. They are more or less useful depending on situations and circumstances, and we sort things out for ourselves over time as discover how others apprehend or misapprehend them and how comfortably we wear them. Cheers!

  2. I was really struck by a remark Krishnamurti made, in another context I believe, but his intention was its universal applicability and so I’m often reminded of it with respect to politics: choices exist only where there is confusion. And can a confused mind make the best choices?

    No, he answers; a confused mind will only sow further confusion. And being struck by it, I’ve been lucky not to have been infected with “the political bug.” I’ve always been a bit shy about leadership roles but certainly now my aversion has morphed into a kind of resigned disinterest, knowing full well the scatter-brained effect (however powerful the illusion of single-minded focus) that would result.

    Doesn’t prevent me from indulging in it as sport, however — which is, honestly, what the overwhelming vast majority of political people are really doing!

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