Amazingly, my partner has been sitting on a zafu cushion in a rural Buddhist retreat center since September 20, and will remain there until November 28. This means that she is sitting out the six weeks before and the three weeks after the election. She occasionally mails out a red leaf, or a haiku on a post-it note, but she does not know the ins and the outs of our lives back here at the home base. And she has not watched debates, encountered news of real and manufactured crises, or otherwise tracked the coming elections. (Relax. She did vote absentee.) I am both envious and incredulous: Were I at the retreat center I suspect I would be preoccupied with, bordering on insane about, wondering what was going on in the world.
Yet I find the thought of her steadfastly sitting on that cushion to be oddly comforting as the election cycle continues to spin. I, and most everyone I know, can hardly live within our own skin at this point. We are nervous wrecks. Being more of what’s called a “Bookstore Buddhist” myself, I opened one of my favorite Buddhist books, Sharon Salzberg’s Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience, for help. I found these words profound and challenging:
To act with faith means not getting seduced by any of its ready replacements. One of the most subtle ways fear can find us, so quietly we hardly know to call it fear, is what the Buddhists call “fixated hope.” Fixated hope, like hope itself, resembles faith in that both sparkle with a sense of possibility. But fixated hope is conditional, circumscribing happiness to getting what we want…
Buddhism regards fixated hope and fear as two sides of the same coin. When we hope for a particular outcome to arise or a desire to be met, we invariably fear that it won’t happen. Thus we move from hope to fear to hope to fear to hope to fear in an endless loop. Fixated hope promises to break us free…only to lead us right back to [fear’s] narrow confines…
In these final days of a very long election cycle, I am struggling to move from fixated hope to a larger, deeper hope which is not looped into a fear cycle. Yes, I have very definite opinions about virtually every box I’ll check on my ballot. I take elections very seriously: my friends and I discuss obscure races at social gatherings. But I can’t tie my hope to the future on any of these convictions. The hope that endures is the hope Theodore Parker and Martin Luther King spoke of: “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.” I need to align myself with the life force in everyone around me, be they Democrat, Republican, Green Party or Independent. I need to find spiritual practices which sustain my deeper hope, along with political ones that allow me to exert my best influence towards outcomes I deeply prefer.
In these final days, may we take a moment to remember life beyond election outcomes, even as we work hard to impact elections. May we remember to tell our children that, however the election unfolds, we will create a future together with all of our neighbors. May we remember to breathe! May we sit on an invisible zafu cushion even as we door-knock, canvass, engage in get out the vote work, make phone calls, poll-watch, and ride out these last few pre-election days.
Rev. Meg Riley