This Election And After, A Choice And A Practice

When I was preparing for Yom Kippur services this year and sitting with the teachings of our tradition that call us to examine our hearts, I was taken aback by what I found, by the feelings of hatred I discovered filling my heart and soul.

"Hatred" is a very strong word and I tried to duck from it, to soften it. But to be brutally honest with myself, I need to face the hatred and anger that has grown in my heart, directed toward people I don't even know, but with whom I deeply disagree politically.

The hatred and anger is for politicians seeking elected office and, to be honest again, toward many of the people who will vote for them.

I feel ashamed by this hatred and I seek to understand it, so I am not consumed by it, so I don't become it.

In September, I was coming home from leading a Mindfulness retreat that was focused on preparing for the New Year, where we had shared many practices designed to soften our hearts, cultivate compassion and deepen our sense of connection to each other.

The retreat was in upstate Pennsylvania, a beautiful, green area just a couple hours north of my neighborhood in Philadelphia, which politically is a deep blue. As I was driving home, I passed a lot of houses with lawn signs supporting candidates, especially one in particular, that I really do not want to see elected.

As I was passing the signs, I became filled with rage -- a visceral, shaking rage -- toward the people who lived in those houses. I began arguing with them in my head -- not really arguing, more like ranting and raving:

How could you possibility agree with this man? Don't you see how hateful he is? What's wrong with you?

I was just coming back from this beautiful experience of love and connection and, in less than an hour, here were these experiences of rage and yes, hatred.

I was so shocked at the fury I was feeling that I pulled the car over to the side of the road to try to reach for another way to respond. What I noticed as I sat there was a voice inside saying: I am so right and they are so wrong. And my rightness justifies this anger and hatred toward people I don't even know.

As I continued to sit, I told myself that I should be open, interested, possibly even compassionate. I, who worry about how we in this country so often create an "other" to demonize, could not quiet the voice that was raging, blaming and creating "the other."

I was just so right.

Starting the car again, I thought: only a short time before the Days of Awe and I had a lot of work to do.

I feel passionately about what is happening in our country -- and to our country -- and very passionately about who should be our leaders. The national discourse has become so hateful and ugly and the divisions between us have grown so strong and wide. Blaming, shaming and demonizing is the mode of the day.

I have absorbed these reactions, allowing them to seed hatred in my heart. And I have nourished this hatred with my own sense of righteousness. There must be another way to hold strong opinions and live and act with passion and determination. Allowing myself to hate only fuels the alienation and disconnection that has created these wide divides.

It does matter what we think. It does matter what perspectives we cultivate and what attitudes we nourish and lay upon our hearts.

Our thoughts, attitudes and perspectives drive our actions. They shape the ways we treat ourselves and each other. When I pay attention, I can feel what rage and hatred does in my body. It causes a tightening and constricting and closes the heart space.

I can see how allowing these angry thoughts toward people whom I feel rightfully deserve them has seeped into and infected other parts of my life. Just allowing these thoughts room to grow in my mind has caused me to be harsher and more quick to anger in general. It has created a readiness in me to fight. I notice how I am more apt to look for and create contention in everyday situations. As anger and hatred become habitual reactions, it becomes harder to respond to daily encounters with patience, understanding and compassion.

And yet what do I do? What do we do?

It is imperative to have values, principles and work for them, strive for them, live into them. How to do this without demonizing others, without seeding anger that keeps us from seeing each others' humanity, especially when there is so much at stake, now and after the election?

I can find no easy answer of how to respond with compassion instead of rage, how to seek common ground instead of demonizing or blaming.

I was at a family wedding in California a few months ago and at the party I gravitated toward folks from the other side of the family whom I didn't know but seemed to be having a great time.

We started talking and having fun together. In the midst of the conversation, one of the members of the family said to me proudly, "We are very politically conservative." We began to engage just a bit in political debate, but the drinks were plentiful and the band was good, so mostly we danced and lifted our glasses together, blessing the bride and groom, each other and the joys of the moment.

When I was leaving, I went up to the grandmother of the family to wish her well and tell her what a joy it was to be with her and her sons and grandkids and she took my hand warmly. "So nice to meet you, too," she said. And then, still with my hand in hers, she told me how happy she was that we could agree on the importance of having the Ten Commandments hung outside every courtroom in the country. As her remarks went on toward the discussion of the court system in general and the importance of who our justices are, I had a choice to make.

I took a deep breath, looked at her and her really beautiful, loving children and grandchildren and just gave her a hug and said. "May God bless us all."

In this precarious time for our country, and for our souls, how do I ease the hatred, the rage that grows in my heart? It is a constant choice and a constant practice.

I need to choose and practice seeing the humanity in others. I need to practice seeing the divine light in everyone I encounter. As we all know, with some it is so easy. With others, it is so much more difficult. To see the humanity in others while not validating their bigotry or rage, I need to take the widest view possible. I have to practice remembering that all our attitudes and values are shaped by our life experiences. Instead of dismissing someone's values and experiences, I need to seek to be curious, to be interested. I need to reach for common ground.

I need to choose and practice softening my self-righteousness. This is not easy to let go of: This sense of rightness feels as if it defines me.

I also need to look underneath the feelings of hatred and rage because, just below their surface, is such sadness, pain and deep longing for the well-being of our country, our planet, our world. Underneath the rage and the hatred is what I love, what I care most about.

So it is a practice to feel the pain and sadness and to allow these feelings to encourage compassion and let the compassion be what guides my thoughts and actions.

At the same time, I must choose and make it a practice to join with others to work for the world I so deeply long for, to make phone calls, knock on doors, and stand together.

Taking action and connecting with others softens the heart and lifts the spirit. Taking action and connecting with others moves everything forward. And it opens the wells of hope, possibility and love.

I don't want hatred and contention to rule. I don't want to nurture or encourage these reactions. So I ask for help to expand my heart and mind so I can see the light in each and every person and I can let my deep love for our country, for our planet, for our world guide my steps.

This is a choice and a practice I seek to return to again and again and again.