I am years, or lifetimes, away from being the man I want to be. This is less an indicator of ambition than the weighty feeling of responsibility for people and causes I care for, and the accompanying sense of shame that I have failed to do enough, to be enough, to help prevent the catastrophe now facing us all. A sense of failure, collective, but also deeply personal, afflicts me. I’ve felt so deeply devalued, that my values and the values of my communities have been insulted and thrown underfoot. We’ve known political defeat before, resigned ourselves to long struggles, but this is different. The 2017 election ripped off whatever bandage we’d placed on our wounds, seemed to reveal something dark and distressing about our fellow citizens, marked the defeat of hope and progress which so lifted us, for at least much of the last eight years. It was a bitter awakening.
All the more appropriate that it’s now the Year of the Rooster. It’s a year we will all have to Stay Woke. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s also the 35th CAAMFest. The Buddha “woke up” during his 35th year as well. May this year be the year of our mutual, symbiotic, communal Enlightenment. May we forge a path beyond greed, hatred and self-centeredness. May we learn to understand and consider viewpoints that differ from our own, while maintaining a commitment to our deepest human principles. May this City of Hearts be a beacon of peace and love. This is, after all, also the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Thich Nhat Hanh predicted that the next Buddha, the Buddha of our age, would be the community, or Sangha. We wake each other up with our presence and commitment to our shared values and vision. CAAM has been a leader in promoting the vision of inclusion, knowledge of history, and shared future for many years. I look forward to celebrating the many successes of our vision, despite the dark days.
Not everyone would agree that the days are dark. I certainly feel awakened to their grievances and opinions, from J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy to Americans like Sue and Eddie Hawa, Palestinian Muslim immigrants and proprietors of the Trump Café in Bellville, Texas. Waking up has to mean transcending all our dualities and divisions, not simply giving the bird to everything we disagree with. How else does pluribus become unum?
I am remembering William Carlos Williams’ chickens in this Lunar New Year. So much depends… Williams knew that the whole mise en scène mattered. It all matters. We all matter. So much depends on every one of us, all our reality, our substance and our presence. When our opinions become more important than our humanity or the humanity of those on the other side, we are in dangerous territory. We are more than our opinions. That being said, I sure hope the network that hatched Big Bird doesn’t go down in the Year of the Rooster. Maybe we can uphold those opinions that support humanity, and limit our more aggressive impulses. That would be a start.
To feather that nest, I’ve felt the need to deepen my own commitment to compassion these last few months. I’ve been taking continuing education in self-compassion and compassion cultivation, and hope to start offering workshops on these topics within the next year. One question that came up in a post-election self-care workshop I recently co-led with therapist Nicole Hsiang was “can we, or should we, have compassion for President Trump?” It’s hard to feel safe having compassion for those people we regard as perpetrators or abusers. I would never ask someone to try. We feel what we need to feel. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind) says we’re wired to feel empathy for those who share our moral matrix. But taking steps towards compassion, I think, helps us. Deepens our understanding of “difficult people” and those whose moral matrices are difficult to understand. Perhaps can transform this “adversarial dance” in which we find ourselves. “Compassion for Trump?” was the result of perhaps six months, or maybe a lifetime, of meditation. When I read this essay to a group of fellow activists, I prefaced it by saying that I hoped no one would throw tomatoes. When I posted it online, I feared my Psychology Today editors would un-publish it, or that I’d start getting hate mail, so strong are the passions and vitriol against the President. Instead, my editors were gracious enough to promote it to an Essential Read in Spirituality, and the BBC decided to interview me about it. (I’m on for the first 12 minutes – tell me what you think!)
There are so many crowing roosters, and one, shall we say, cock (China Warmly Welcomes a Giant Rooster With Trumpian Characteristics, The New York Times, December 29, 2016). But we all have to choose which bird we listen to. Foghorn Leghorn, Daffy Duck or Woodstock.
Birds with compassion’s feathers must flock, fly or march together.
Compassion-doodle-do, anyone? For the vulnerable amongst us? For the vulnerable places within each of us? If we are to do “unto the least of these,” I think we have to include our own insecurity, frailty, and fear. This is the least within us, the least acknowledged, the most uncertain. Our tender hearts and souls.
I think our survival depends on it.
We are years, or lifetimes, away from being the world we want to be. We must wake our intentions, to set our feet on the right path.
See you at CAAMFest.
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Ravi Chandra, M.D. is a psychiatrist and writer in San Francisco. You can find more MOSF posts here. You can sign up for an occasional newsletter for his writing and events at www.RaviChandraMD.com. This blog post represents the opinion of the writer, and not the views of the Center for Asian American Media.