Trump Practice is accepting fear, rage, and uncertainty. Feel into it, sink into it, let it overwhelm and overtake you.By Dr. Jay Michaelson
MAR 30, 2017
This, the fictional rabbi in Fiddler on the Roof offered, was the Jewish blessing for an oppressive ruler who brought suffering upon the vulnerable. These days, is there a Buddhist equivalent for Donald Trump?
In fact, I’ve found “Trump Practice” to be of enormous help during these last few weeks, and I want to recommend it to you. There are several kinds of Trump Practice, but I’m going to focus on one in particular: Mindfulness of Trump. It derives from this line in the Satipatthana Sutta, which outlines the four foundations of mindfulness:
A [meditator] understands the consciousness with lust, as with lust; the consciousness without lust, as without lust; the consciousness with hate, as with hate; the consciousness without hate, as without hate; the consciousness with delusion, as with delusion; the consciousness without delusion, as without delusion.
In these deceptively simple instructions (which are then repeated for a number of other mind states), Gautama Buddha is offering a counterintuitive way of being in the world, one that runs directly against four billion years of evolution.
It can handle four years of Trump, too.
All animals, and most plants, move toward the pleasant and away from the unpleasant. This is how the living world works. And yet, as Mick Jagger Buddha noticed in 1964, it doesn’t work: you can’t always get what you want. Humans are intrinsically wired for dukkha [suffering], wanting the pleasant, not wanting the unpleasant, and yet unable to arrange the world accordingly.
Both Jagger and Gautama Buddha agree on the remedy: if you try sometimes (i.e., if you practice), you might find that you get what you need even if you can’t get what you want, and can’t avoid what you hate. In other words, you can notice the pleasant and the unpleasant with equanimity, and thus coexist with both. You don’t have to be pushed and pulled by the desires and aversions that have been with us since our paramecium ancestors wiggled out of the primordial ooze.
Notice the Buddha does not say the meditator runs away from, wallows in, banishes, denies, or extinguishes greed, hatred, or delusion. Of course, we want to cultivate the conditions that lessen these unwholesome states. But in the moment of mindfulness, there is only knowing and seeing—nothing more. This mindstate is present. Adding in awareness of vedana, or feeling-tone, one might add whether it’s pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. But no judgment, no avoidance, no denial.
So what about Mindfulness of Trump?
The feelings Trump evokes are often unpleasant, so it’s natural to make them want to go away. He says and does things that many of us find odious, and the more we contemplate them, the more the feelings multiply into mind states like anger, concern for our friends and neighbors, fear, uncertainty, rage. Indeed, these feelings are often quite appropriate and grounded in reality.
Of course, many people, particularly undocumented people, Muslims, people of color, Jews, trans folk, many women, and others, face not just mental threats but real physical ones as well. But let’s stay with the mental ones for a moment. They’re what the Satipatthana Sutta is talking about. They’re also doorways to liberation and to being better allies to those who are in danger.
When unpleasant Trump thoughts arise, we, in accordance with billions of years of evolution, want to make them go away. There are many tactics available. We might pretend they aren’t there (“I’m not feeling anger—I’m Buddhist.”) or channel them into political activism that may or may not be actually useful. (Helping refugees, useful; arguing on Facebook, not useful.) Or we might escape into television, meditation retreats, alcohol, sex, whatever—again, not bad in moderation, potentially destructive and irresponsible in excess.
Trump Practice, Satipatthana practice, what I call The Gate of Tears practice (that’s a plug for my book) is to do the exact opposite: to look inside, see what’s there, accept it, and act skillfully from a place of knowledge rather than ignorance. What those actions are is the subject of another article (like this one) and another practice. But the core of Trump Practice is accepting the fear, rage, uncertainty, and so on…