A year after 9/11, I was sitting in a rundown building in Berkeley, CA beginning my Toltec shamanic apprenticeship with a group of strangers who would become some of my dearest friends. Our teacher was leading us in a partner exercise: “Look into the eyes of the person in front of you and imagine s/he is an Iraqi child whose family was just killed in the war” she guided, "and imagine opening your heart to them." “Now see your partner as a soldier fighting in the war and imagine opening your heart to them.” The exercise went on until we were guided to imagine opening our hearts to Saddam Hussein and former president, George Bush, as represented by our partner. I was finding the exercise very meaningful until those last two when I felt the door to my heart reactively slam shut. Wasn't it unwise to open my heart to people I perceived had caused so much suffering? What did George Bush and Saddam Hussein have to do with my spiritual growth anyway? The answer, which wouldn’t come until years later, was simple: I am only as free as my heart’s capacity to love.
At the time, I had just moved to Berkeley with my partner, my best friend and her husband and within months of arriving, all three of those relationships were falling apart. I didn't know anyone and I felt really alone. In addition, I had moved to California to go to grad school and days before we left, the university informed me of a mistake: the acceptance letter I received was supposed to have been a rejection letter. What?!? I didn't know it then, but my shamanic apprenticeship had already begun. In fact, the years leading up to this point were filled with relationships and experiences that flew in the face of how I thought things "should be." I had strong values and beliefs about myself and the world and didn't know how to be skillful when I or others fell short of my expectations. Having so much breaking down at once, created an opening for me to see there was something unworkable in my perspective, though it would take years and lots of work for me to see it - it was a blind spot.
Now, what does any of this have to do with Donald Trump? As I write, Mr. Trump is running a highly reactive campaign for President of the United States. Many Republicans and Democrats alike are concerned over his divisive rhetoric and scapegoating of Muslims and Mexican immigrants. At the same time, he's soaring in the primaries and, clearly, many Americans are finding something in his message. So, how do we make sense of this without becoming divisive ourselves? Because the moment we want Donald Trump to go away, we start to sound a lot like his notion to ban Muslims. It has to do with how humans are wired to react to fear. When we're afraid, it's human nature to want to make whatever is threatening us go away. And when it comes to physical safety, this is a good rule of thumb - don't stand around and wait for the bear to eat you; get bigger, make lots of noise and do what you can to make that bear go away! However, when we use this primitive part of our brains to approach our interpersonal relationships or our worldview, it gets very problematic. We become like I was: rigid, intolerant, and ineffectual at building or maintaining relationships with those different from ourselves.
So what can we do? We can start by looking at our own Shadow. Jung described our Shadow as the "dark side of our personality," the unclaimed or denied aspects of ourselves. Whatever I say I am, whatever I claim as me, the opposite lives in my Shadow - both negative and positive. What is it like to imagine the light-filled Shadows of Donald Trump supporters (or suicide bombers for that matter)? What is it like to imagine the racial justice supporter who is blind to their own Shadow full of white privilege? I can say, "I am Donald Trump" because I know within my psyche exists all the horrors (and the beauty) of the world. I am Donald Trump when I am unforgiving of a family member. I am Donald Trump when a flash of anger causes me to wish dead someone who's caused me harm. I am Donald Trump when I judge people who follow this candidate or that without actually sitting down and finding out what they're dealing with, who they love or how they're suffering. We spend a lot of energy as humans trying to keep hidden what lives in our Shadow, when if we could just welcome it to the table for tea, we'd discover not only peace, but more energy and wholeness.
Now, I don't personally know Donald Trump and can't say anything about how he actually conducts his life, but I'm fairly certain that Mr. Trump sees this campaign as nothing more than a business opportunity. He knows Americans are tired and afraid for themselves and their families and he's seizing the opportunity to use that fear for his own personal gain. And of course he would, because that's what we do as humans.
Can you begin to bring to the table the undesired parts of yourself, while also holding your beauty and value as a person? Can one not negate the other? When I see the crowds gathered at Donald Trump rallies, I connect with the Marianne Williamson quote: "It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us." When I feel the heat of embarrassment as another undesired aspect of myself is seen or noticed by another, I offer a quiet, "thank you" as I know I am more whole as a result.
How can we sit skillfully with discomfort and fear in these uncertain times? I invite you to do the following visualization. Start by closing your eyes and feel your spine resting on the surface you’re sitting on - the couch, the bed, a chair - providing you with support. Now let your attention move down to the floor and, again, feel the unconditional support of the floor. Imagine your attention going all the way down to the foundation of the building and then all the way to the earth, allowing yourself to connect with all the layers of support. How is it to imagine that someone made that couch just to hold you up? Someone you will never meet. Now imagine all the people who worked hard to create the building that's housing you just to keep you safe; you, a person who may or may not have shared their same religious or political views. And that the earth, our magnificent earth, is busy growing, regenerating and supporting all of us with little attention or acknowledgment. Doing this as a practice connects us with how generous we are as humans and how truly generous the world is - even with all the darkness.
Thich Naht Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist wrote one of my favorite poems, “Please Call Me By My True Names.” When describing where he was coming from when he wrote this poem, he said, "when someone points their finger at me and says, 'You are...' I know that whatever follows is something I have to say yes to," because within me exists the seeds for all of it.
Please Call Me By My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
Rainbow A. Marifrog