This started as a simple introspective travel story. Was it really only a month ago I was enjoying the kindness and beauty of a predominantly Muslim village on a Thai island?
I was going to publish this last week, then crazy things happened in the collective every day, then the airport detentions began, and I found myself dizzy and reeling in the twilight zone. Were we really just a week into our new presidency?
I understand that all people, not just Americans, want to be safe. I sure want to be safe. I want everyone in the world to be safe. If I had the power to deport everyone that is related by race, ethnicity, or gender to anyone who has ever engaged in acts of mass or singular murder, who would be left, and where would they go?
This is not to say we don’t need reasonable policies, and don’t need to put human intelligence to work on how to move towards a just, safe, and sustainable global future. Unfortunately, Trump’s presidency seems rife with personal agendas on the part of white men I’d be tempted to detain for safety’s sake. But this is democracy, with multiple points of view as to who is causing harm and who isn’t.
America is called a Christian country. Jesus famously asked, “What does it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul?” We could ask the same about a country.
Christmas day 2016: Charles and I were in Thailand, gently double kayaking in a mangrove lagoon, quite idyllic, under some branches, and something grabbed my shirt, on my bicep. I thought it was just a bit of branch, but couldn’t unsnag it.
As the kayak drifted forward, something was pulling backwards into me. I was confused; there was an urgency, as if I was seeing it before I saw it, my animal sense shouting out an SOS to my conscious mind — and then I saw it was a fish hook, entering my flesh, the forward movement of the kayak taking my flesh right into the barb that was facing back. I took every bit of slack out of the line to keep it out while communicating to Charles to stop the kayak, which of course took a forever kind of few seconds.
I can still feel the visceral imprint of that thing almost tearing deeply into my arm, the situation almost turning very ugly. Feeling that combination of relief and fear in relation to the close call. (hospital, tetanus shot, wound cleaning followed, and the loss of the rest of the day’s kayaking, but no big deal overall.)
It’s stayed with me, that visceral sense of the danger of the fish hook, designed to pierce and destroy. Pema Chodren has an audio teaching called “Don’t Bite The Hook” about the teachings of Shantideva on the wisdom of nonaggression / nonviolence / patience and the danger of anger. I used to own it, years ago, but never listened to it. Probably bought it on a bad day, and then let it slide when I got comfortable again. This fish hook event made all that much more real — an awareness of how I live in a world full of fish hooks, how I let my mind be full of fish hooks, how often I live asleep to all that, or at least drowsy.
Clearly I’m not the only one thinking that way. Lion’s Roar features an article entitled “5 Ways Not To Bite the Trump Hook.”
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, wrote in his book “For the Benefit of All Beings”
In general it is the very notion of enemies that is the main obstacle to bodhichitta. If we can transform an enemy into someone for whom we feel respect and gratitude, then our practice will naturally progress, like water following a channel cut in the earth.
To be patient means not to get angry with those who harm us and instead to have compassion for them. That is not to say that we should let them do what they like. We Tibetans, for example, have undergone great difficulties at the hands of others. But if we get angry with them, we can only be the losers. This is why we are practicing patience. But we are not going to let injustice and oppression go unnoticed.
I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to stand up for justice without being aggressive. I’ve toggled between being overly accommodating and acquiescing in some idea that that’s the “spiritual” thing to do, and when I couldn’t stand it anymore, I’d spew and rage. Acquiescence never did much good, nor did feisty confrontation, so this practice of standing up without aggression fascinates me. There’s something honest and dignified about it.
During the presidential campaign, I became a lot more aware of fear in me. I’d feel it at night when I went to bed, like a snake curled up in my guts, a fear that went deeper than politics, circumstances, a primordial panic that lives in some deep place of me as an organism.
In Buddhism, it’s said we all have that fear, an underlying anxiety we work to keep at bay, and it comes from a sense of separation from the ground of being, aka the Great Mother. It is said that fear is the expression of ignorance, the environment of Samsara, the delusional hall of mirrors world that most of us live in.
Many people turn to some ideology, cult, religious or political leader when they are unable to distract themselves from that fear, and want to be saved from it.The most impactful aspect of the Trump inauguration for me was a video of an argument between a Trump protester and Trump supporter. She says, “he can grab my pussy all day long, as long as he keeps me from getting my throat cut.”
This is where I can connect with Trump supporters. We could argue about who is and who isn’t delusional, who is right and who is wrong all day and never get anywhere, but I do understand people being scared, regardless of what action that fear inspires.
Some people like the proposed illegal ‘Muslim ban” that detained people with visas, green cards, etc. this past weekend. They feel safer and don’t inquire further into why some countries are targeted and others aren’t. They don’t inquire as to why Trump would ban Iraqis with visas while casually suggesting we should have taken Iraq’s oil, and maybe we’ll get another chance. Will talking about the theft of another country’s resources make us safe? In our current age of globalization, can America be safe while other countries are not? Respectful diplomacy must be part of moving towards a just, ethical, and sustainable global future.
I wonder these days if the amount of fear and violence in the Book of Revelation is an encoded account of the primal, existential fear that we need to stop running from and start stepping into and through, in order to wake up. Is another definition of apocalypse a time when fear is impossible to avoid, and is the pressure of that fear also fuel for our awakening? That being said, I look at my cat cozy and napping on the couch, and I know that part of me sure prefers sleeping to waking.
Playing further with the symbol of the fish hook, in relation to an impossible vow that say, in part, “delusions are inexhaustible; I train in to transform them,” I thought, that version of the hook has me playing the role of the fish. If I take the role of fisherwoman, I’m using a hook to transform a fish into food. So the other side of not biting the hook, regardless of the seductive and tasty bait put on it, is hooking that which I seek to transform. For my part, what I seek to transform has to do with delusion, the freedom or lack of freedom in our minds, the filters of our senses and beliefs, gaslighting, mind control, ‘alternative facts’ and all that — on the one hand, scary and oppressive, on the other hand, an invitation to wake up.
And of course, if you are keeping track of what’s going on in America, I invite you to, compassionately and non-aggressively, not let anyone off the hook.