The first few weeks of Trump’s presidency have left many people feeling raw and angry. He has been brash, crude, totally un-statesman-like in his approach to anything outside his own rather narrow world–and often within that world as well. As the police-woman said, “I’ll dress like a lady when he acts like a president.”
But if we look at it logically, Trump is not to blame for who he is, and is perhaps more deserving of compassion and understanding than of hatred. I do not mean that his actions should be condoned and that there should be no legal battle against his ludicrous bans. Rather, there should perhaps be a shift in the slightly hysterical way in which people and the media have portrayed and lampooned him–a portrayal and lampooning that allows him to recreate himself afresh, perhaps against his will.
Trump is a megalomaniac, out of touch with global realities. Is this his fault? No, if we go with Sam Harris’ arguments that I had presented some posts ago. Trump is profoundly unlucky to have the genes of a megalomaniac, to therefore have the mind of a megalomaniac, to have been in environments that nourished and did not question this tendency. He is profoundly unlucky to be unable to empathize, to look only at the short term and not at the long term. He therefore deserves our sympathy. Unfortunately he is the most powerful man in the world and can cause immense damage. But there is no “Trump” in there, any more than for anyone else. There are neurons firing and emotional patterns swirling, just like for the rest of us. What a pity he is so powerful.
So–what do we do? Just let him continue on the rampage? Absolutely not: that would be to confuse, as Sam Harris puts it, choicelessness with fatalism. He should be confronted in the strongest possible terms. But: he should be confronted with understanding, and with an understanding of all the people who voted him into power (and they didn’t have any “choice” about the matter too, by the way). He cannot be confronted on his own terms–brash and megalomaniacal and hysterical. That would be merely adding fuel to the flames.
I feel the traditions of non-duality have much to teach us and our institutions–the media, political structures. Of course they must primarily shine a light into our own minds. That is the only valid beginning.
Isn’t it wonderful that you have never made a choice in your life? There is nothing to regret, nothing to feel guilty about. Nothing could ever have been any different, nothing could ever have been any other way. Isn’t that a relief? Nothing matters. There is nowhere to go. There is nothing that has to be done. There is no meaning and no morality.
There is no help and no hope. You can let it all go, you can release all the tension. You can begin to enjoy the wonder of hopelessness and the gift of meaninglessness. You can begin to enjoy your complete helplessness.
In liberation it is seen that nothing has any meaning, it is simply what it is. The story does not stop. The story continues but now it is seen that it is just a story. All the passions of your apparent life are just stuff happening. The conflicts, the loves, the struggles for control and power, the victories and defeats are simply phenomena arising in one-
ness and falling away again with no meaning at all.
BY W. S. MERWIN
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is
None of us would argue that “we” were responsible for the structure of our skeletal system. “We” are not pumping blood around our body and “we” are not digesting the food in our system.
Similarly, as “we” are not responsible for the chemical composition of our blood and for the neural states of our brain, “we” cannot be held responsible for the nature of our thoughts and emotions.
Consider a huge thunderstorm bearing down on a city. Our neural networks are analogous to that storm. There is no entity inside the storm pattern that is guiding the storm, and yet it obeys rather complex laws that produce quite unpredictable behaviour. There is an analogy here to human behaviour.
If “I” decide to kill someone and I am sentenced to life imprisonment, the jury that sentences me has no more free will than “I” do.
The argument against free will is not an argument for immorality. “We”must still move to wards states of being, both individual and collective, that are oriented to empathy and compassion, simply because these states make complete, ultimate sense.
The most common misconception about liberation is that it is something an individual can gain. But liberation is a loss—the loss of the sense that there ever was a separate individual who could choose to do something to bring about liberation.
When it is seen that there is no separation, the sense of vulnerability and fear that attaches to the individual falls away and what is left is the wonder of life just happening. Instead of meaning there is a squirrel motionless on a grey tree trunk, legs splayed, head up, looking straight at you. Instead of purpose there is the astonishing texture of cat’s
fur or the incredible way an ant crawls over a twig. The loss of hope is no loss when it is replaced by the moorhens bobbing on the lake.
When the sensation that I am in control of my life and must make it happen ends, then life is simply lived and relaxation takes place. There is a sense of ease with whatever is the case and an end to grasping for what might be.
As Sam Harris puts it, the illusion of free will is itself an illusion.
When we observe our thoughts, we see that they float up and pop up into our consciousness. We are not creating our thoughts. In fact, we cannot know what our next thought and emotion might be.
The present is a deep mystery.
This is what the great masters of non-duality were struggling to convey: that there is no central controller organising itself and the world. Stuff happens, and “we” lay a layer over it and make ourselves the protagonists of our narratives.
A truly liberating insight.
Our minds are so eternally busy constructing schemes for self-improvement, happiness, enlightenment, that we fail to notice the ever present moment and the reality that shines behind it.
We cannot try to be more aware, to grasp the present better. When we try to do so, we fall into the same trap of improving the self.
We could instead notice that there is no one in here who could possibly become better in any way.