Is Donald Trump to blame for who he is?

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.

As refreshing as a mug of beer :-)

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.

Richard Sylvester

The illusion of the illusion of free will

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.

Energy

I am sure you are all familiar with the slump of energy during the day, when nothing seems to make sense, when the whole purpose of meditation and awareness seems utterly pointless.

I am beginning to feel these are very valuable and interesting moments.

I used to meet these times with a greater resolve, a stiffened spine, returning to some old passage or book to find a new inspiration to “move ahead.” But now I realise the rather simple truth: these ebbs and flows of energy are the nature of a rather mechanical thought-emotion-body network. Meeting them with “resolve” is merely another mechanical conditioned response.

Nothing needs to be done about these psychological moments. All we need to do is to remain aware of their transitory nature as a part of the complex webs woven by the mind. Sooner or later, the “high,” that other conditioned mechanical response, will re-emerge and the game will go on.

Detachment

When I began my spiritual journey, I would blithely think (and speak) of “detachment” in daily life. If a friend or colleague was going through a difficult patch, my immediate response would be: well, s/he needs to be more detached from the situation.

But I now see the depth of my attachment to the simplest things in daily life. Routines, simple objects, thought-and-emotion patterns, relationships, bodily desires and reactions. I am amazed at the tenacity with which the mind and body become attached to, and identified with, the most most microscopic aspects in living.

Our investigation and experimentation thus have to begin at the deepest emotional levels of attachment, the visceral core of our very being. The skill of looking at attachment without judgement or violence towards oneself and others is an extremely subtle one, and it probably defines the beginning of our spiritual journeys.

Bus journey

So I’m sitting in a bus, watching the traffic pass by and noticing the patterns of shade thrown by the trees on the road. It’s sunny but there are big fat clouds in the sky, blocking the sunlight when they drift across and cooling everything right down. A little boy is sitting right opposite me. Big grin, gaps in his teeth. I’m feeling peaceful and happy watching him play his video game and occasionally stop and gaze out at the world floating by him at the pace of a crawling bus. Happier still at the play of light and shade and cloud and sun, a thermos of coffee in my hand.

Then I notice this guy get on the bus, with a kind of angry energy around him. He is almost clean shaven, with a red mark on his forehead. He locks his gaze with mine from the moment he gets in. My brain patterns instantly change. I can sense my body tensing and my mind throwing up angry defensive thoughts. He walks very slowly down the aisle and then sits opposite me. Stares at me, challenging, and stares away again.

In an minute, for no obvious reason, he switches seats and sits right beside me. I can smell the alcohol on him. He presses into me and I press back , fighting for control over seat space. All my self-possessed peaceful energy of a few minutes ago has evaporated. We are silently pushing at each other, mentally and physically, and for no reason at all I’m suddenly exhausted.

He stops trying to dominate the space. I sneak a glance over at him. He’s fallen asleep and looks curiously defenceless. A doubt enters my mind: was he pushing me or was I imagining it? His head lolls over to my shoulder. I feel spasms of irritation and compassion flood my system. I want to get off the bus as fast as possible.

Whole universes rising and falling within our minds and bodies in the space of minutes.

Relentless awareness. The dissolving of all the boundaries and the tricks of the self.

Feelings

 

In the modern world where there are so many problems, one is apt to lose great feeling. I mean by that word feeling, not sentiment, not emotionalism, not mere excitement, but that quality of perception, the quality of hearing, listening, the quality of feeling, a bird singing on a tree, the movement of a leaf in the sun. To feel things greatly, deeply, penetratingly, is very difficult for most of us because we have so many problems. Whatever we seem to touch turns into a problem. And, apparently, there is no end to man’s problems, and he seems utterly incapable of resolving them because the more the problems exist, the less the feelings become. Krishnamurti

Our days are full of feelings. In fact many of us would say that good feelings are the point of living. The greater, the subtler and the more ecstatic our feelings, the better our quality of life.

There are two points I would like to make on the quality of our feelings, based on my own experience and upon conversations with others.

Feelings seem to be mainly about me. It is very rare that I am carried away “outside” myself in the flow of feeling. It does happen, fleetingly: a haunting piece of music, a dark cloud in a clear sky, the sound of a bird on a still and quiet morning. But otherwise, everyday feelings are oriented towards myself.

I don’t think this is the quality of deep feeling that Krishnamurti is suggesting above. Rather, he points to the possibility of feeling that is primarily other oriented. Whether the other is an animal or another person or a tree or a sunset, the capacity that is being posited is that feelings need not carry us within the construct of the self but rather can help us float out of it. Usually, my problems entrap me within myself, and so the quality of feeling too becomes entrapped in me. Can I move beyond this entrapment and sustain for myself the question of freedom from daily psychological problems?

Secondly, feelings are mainly about the past. I reconstruct past events in memory, lavish them with elaborate detail and recreate a feeling of pleasure. In contrast, I think the quality of feeling suggested in the quotation is about present feelings and the ability to live and act through those, in an alive and aware manner.

Many mystics through the ages insist that it is only by moving away from feeling that we can become free or “enlightened.” I find this quotation so powerful because it suggests that the quality of authentic feeling is vital to a well-lived life.