Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Use the Oxygen Mask First

As a follow up to my previous post about non-hatred - about opposing Trump and Trumpism with everything we can, but not by being motivated by hatred and anger toward them - and in response to the many many people who are reacting to the election results with fear and a sense of helplessness, I would like to posit what I think is the very first thing we should do as we develop our strategies and commitments for the future.

And that very first thing, our very first response to Trump and the disastrous results of the elections is: work on your spirituality.  

Let me tell you a little story. For some years I've been a registered lobbyist in the Kansas State Legislator (I often say, my client is God, which makes people think I'm crazy which is also not such a bad thing) and in the 2015 session we lost everything we had been working for over the past several years. Us, and a lot of other progressive advocates besides. The Conservative supermajority used their power to stuff everything down our throats that they could, often using questionable parliamentary maneuvers that would not have stood up to an ethical rules committee (which, of course, we didn't have). Anyway, the session was a disaster; a complete rout. 

I came home and basically spent two weeks in bed, and I wasn't the only one. As the fog lifted I came to realize that I was feeling real, visceral hatred for the people in the state legislature, who I felt (and still feel) were using their personal religiosity as cover for some seriously misguided if not downright cruel policies. I consider this a violation of the commandment against taking God's name in vain, and I have a lot of trouble with it. 

So what was I to do? If I stayed in that place of detestation, maybe I could gin up enough energy to get through another session - though maybe not - but how effective would I be? How could I stay close enough to my center to be able to access the intuition and energy and creativity that are required to do my job effectively? How would I be able to speak at a church and say anything other than, "Everything sucks"? 

So I spent that summer working assiduously on my spirituality - meditating, reading spiritual books, reading books about mindfulness in politics -- even therapy -- and doing things I enjoyed with my kids. I went to a Jewish Renewal retreat that summer too. 

Tending to that spiritual core is stoking the furnace that powers all the actions we take the rest of the time. Without it, we're running on fumes. Without it, we lose our connection to what makes us want to do this activism work in the first place. Without it, we burn out with neither a trace, nor an effect. It's hard to overemphasize the effect pursuing a spiritual life has on the ability to maintain an lifetime of activism in the face of, let's face it, some pretty long odds. 

At the beginning of the next session, when we met for lunch with some of the other advocates, I asked them to check in. They started off grumbling about the legislature, and I stopped them and said, no, tell me about your grandchildren. Key into that place of spiritual sustenance before you start getting into how awful the politics are. And it seemed to work.  

The (rather shopworn) airplane metaphor is that when the oxygen mask comes down you must use it on yourself before you share it with others. That's what we as spiritual activists need to do as well - take care of our own source, our own being, before we will have the energy to deliver for others, to do our work.*

*In America of course the person who has the mask will keep it until the other person dies (capitalism metaphor) but let's put to that to the side for now. 

What I'm talking about is prioritizing staying consistent with your spiritual practice, every day, making it the very ground-of-being that strengthens you, enabling you to do the good work you are called to do in the world. And that's the first thing we must do as we turn to this uncertain and frightening time, the very first thing we must do in opposing Donald Trump in all that he stands for: cultivate our spiritual lives. That's what will enable us to do all the rest of the work that needs to be done.  


  1. I totally agree with keeping our spiritual practice as the first thing to do each day.