The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Mindful Politics

Jim sent me an email yesterday about the current issue of Shambhala Sun — which I subscribed to for a year or so, back when I had time to read magazines and I was intrigued by the focus on mindful politics. I might just pick up this issue tomorrow, in order to read the full articles, because something jumped out at me from the excerpt of John Tarrant’s article “Return to the (Political) World”. Towards the end of last week I wrote that it was rather funny that someone as conflict averse/avoidant as I am would end up a political blogger, much less in the middle of a conflict like the one that broke out that week.

Then I read this.

Politics belongs in the general realm of imperfection, self-deception, desperate hope, and congenial affection we call civilization. That’s where the bodhisattva, who is interested in the fate of others, hangs out. Also, if you indulge in politics, certain personal implications accompany you; you don’t get away without being transformed by the material you are working with.

To consider politics is to open yourself—your mind and body, your naked and apparently unoffending skin, your naive hopefulness, and your joy in human company—to a tsunami of lies, humbug, drivel, false promises, masquerade, hypocritical piety, prejudice, greed, murder, and fattening food. To consider politics is to dive into this Hokusai wave of inauthenticity and to say, “Hmmm, this seems like a situation I can work with.”

Now, I don’t define consider myself a bodhisattva (it’s a lot to live up to). But it does help me make sense of an otherwise unlikely and crazy decision to engage in something that invariably leaves me tense and tied in knots. (Not that I haven’t given some thought to just starting a blog about vegetarian cooking, and just call it a day.)

But even if that brief excerpt. Tarrant’s article was right about something else; that you can’t help being transformed by it, and sometimes brought back to what you already knew.

One of the positives that came out of last week for me is that it reminded me that the blogosphere is much larger than the corner I’d focused on, and I’ve started reintroducing myself to other areas. I spent some time adding some new blogs to my RSS reader, and among them were some Buddhist blogs (I realized I was only reading a couple), one of which was Woodmoor Village, where I found a post on blaming and suffering that would have come in handy before all hell broke out last week.

Browsing through a “self-help,” interpersonal communication book at the library I stumbled upon what is the best line about blaming I’ve encountered in some time:

“Blaming supports the illusion that you have identified the cause of your suffering.”

Yesterday at the park I saw a boy of about 7, try to dismount his bike, only to get his foot caught and unfortunately, drop the bike. His statement to the world: “Stupid bike!” With that he picked up the bike, responsibility having been shed, and went on his merry way. We do this scapegoating (psychological displacement, not to be confused with ritual scapegoating) easily. It facilitates our purging ourselves through transference of responsibility.

One of the benefits, I think, that came out of the discussion over diversity in the progressive blogosphere for me was that it caused me to stop and think about my own arguments after listening to others. I realized that there could valid points on both sides (or all sides, since there were many), without any invalidating the others. I also remembered something that first drew me to Buddhism.

When I first encountered it, I was going through a rough patch professionally and personally, and I found that just the little I’d learned about Buddhism helped me put what was going on into a context, to look compassionately at my role in it, and learn something from it. The notion of having compassion for myself, rather than blaming or seeing myself as “bad” or “evil,” made a big difference at the time. Extending it to others is something I continue to work on with varying degrees of success, and I still have trouble with it when it comes to politics and extending the same to people I see as being on “the other side” because of a lingering tendency to see things in black-and-white, through a lens still clouded with a kind fundamentalism. But, like I said above, I keep returning to the practice and I hope I continue to grow in it, if only incrementally.

I think I went back to that during the discussion last week, and it occurred to me that one way to move forward was to focus on what I and others with similar concerns could do to address the issues discussed, rather than focus on what anyone else was or wasn’t doing. Not that the issues discussed weren’t valid, but something I keep returning to is that waiting or depending or someone else to change what they do is less likely to yield progress than changing what I do in order to move in a particular direction, because I can only change what I do. Where others are concerned, I can argue, plead, persuade, exhort, cajole, etc., but what they do or don’t do is entirely up to them.

So, that was part of the spirit behind my proposal last week; a desire for those of us who expressed concerns to focus on what we can do to address them, regardless of what anyone else does or doesn’t.

I’ve stayed off the subject most of this week to let the embers die down a bit more, in hopes that we can move forward more effectively once the smoke clears. But I do intend to return to it. Soon.

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