As I reflect on the conspiracy nuts, racists, imbeciles, and out-of-touch elitists that Trump is inflicting on our republic, I’m caught in an old dilemma. How do you both care about the state of your country and yet not be constantly distraught?
This is a key element of Buddhist practice. People often hear Buddhist teachings on equanimity and take it to mean that Buddhists should be indifferent to the suffering of others. This is completely incorrect. Indifference is called the near enemy of equanimity, it is an imposter. Buddhists are instead taught to be compassionate and work for the well-being of all people. A Buddhist can and should be indifferent to worldly things like wealth or status, but not to living beings.
On the other hand, it’s easy to think that being compassionate means that we mustn’t be happy or peaceful in the face of suffering, that we should instead feel that same suffering ourselves. This is also completely incorrect. Being distraught doesn’t help anyone, including yourself. It just adds to the suffering of those around you. In practical terms, when your world is falling apart who do you want beside you? Do you want someone also weakened and distracted by emotional distress, or do you want someone who can remain calm, kind, and balanced — someone who has the steadiness and strength to help you?
There is no easy way to do this, but there is a way. You must practice cultivating goodwill (metta), compassion, joy, and equanimity within yourself every day. You must practice being generous and kind, being ethical, and purifying the mind. There is no shortcut.
It is quite possible to care about the world and to work toward the betterment of the world without being crushed by the world. It is possible to both care for others and to be peaceful and full of joy. It’s not just possible, it is our sacred task.
If you’re interested, here is a guided metta meditation by Sharon Salzberg:
Here’s something I wrote about loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, the four immeasurables: