With the direction of our country, and indeed the world, seemingly hanging on this Presidential election, it can be difficult for many to avoid being fearful or cynical about the future. A Christian friend who shares my concerns told me he is at the point where he is unable to sleep at night over the uncertainty of this election. How does one avoid falling victim to such understandable worry and anger during these very unsettled times?
I just came across a very helpful commentary in the Fall 2008 issue of Buddhadharma by Jack Kornfield addressing this very issue, entitled Buddhism’s Call to Action [excerpt online].
Many Buddhist practitioners question how to respond to these globally difficult times…The illusion of separation that fuels global consumerism and greed, fear, and ignorance needs to be transformed by the realization of interdependence, by the illumination of wisdom and compassion. Each of us must find our own way to contribute to this with the wisdom of our practice and our own unique capacities.
Meditation is one important answer. And while I believe that yogis who practice compassion in their Himalayan caves offer an essential gift to us all, these days I find myself wedding the meditation retreats I teach with engaged action in the world. For me, they are a complement, not a conflict.
Jack offers an Engaged Buddhist prescription for overcoming fear and anxiety over the direction of our communities, our country, our world. The ‘Buddhist’ part ‘Engaged Buddhism’ comes first, namely, one’s own meditation practice, which leads to a calmness enabling one to sense of how to then best ‘Engage’ with society — here is a small sample from Jack’s commentary:
As dharma practitioners, the first task is to make your own heart a zone of peace…find a way to quiet your mind and open your heart…You can get swept up in a frightened, barricaded society, or you can respond calmly…As you sit quietly, you will see what is needed to bring benefit to the world.
I encourage anyone feeling the same anxiety as my friend to pick up a copy of the Fall 2008 Buddhadharma and take Jack’s entire commentary to heart.
I can relate to my friend’s anguish — I definitely have been there, insomnia and all. But I also realized that that was me some years ago. Today, despite my equally strong concerns, I am a little surprised to note that this does not stop me from sleeping well, fully enjoying family time, breathing deeply with gratitude and focusing on action instead of idle worry. I would like to think this is thanks to meditation practice over a period of time.
I hope your meditation practice gives you a similar — even stronger — sense of solace, from which you can act to make things better with a sense of courage and confidence, no matter what.