Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Politics of Like, Don't Like, and Neutral

It's election day here in the U.S. I went to vote, and had a short discussion with a couple of friends about some of the candidates. That said, electoral politics here in the United States are in a pretty sorry state, with two corrupted parties that are tossed in and out of office every few election cycles by an increasingly sound-byte influenced public. Yesterday, I thought about writing some scathing stuff about all of this, and end it by calling for more grassroots action that transcends party lines. But I've done that before, and will probably do so again. Today, though, I'm not going there.

Here are three posts about voting from other members of the Buddhoblogsphere. This one I like. This one I don't like. And this one I'm fairly neutral about.

Like. Don't like. Neutral. These are the three base-level feelings we experience about everything in our lives. Peel off the skin of any emotional response and you'll find these at work.

If we learn to let these three just come and go, a lot of trouble can be avoided. A simple example from my own life might help illustrate this. As a lifelong bicyclist in a city, I have had my struggles with cars and traffic. Even when things are well marked for different kinds of vehicles, it's still the case that bicycling in the city isn't terribly easy, and planning and design work almost always privileges motorized vehicles over bikes and pedestrians - at least here in the U.S. For many years, I biked with a deep resentment towards motorized vehicles, regardless of what they were actually doing in any given moment. Someone might offer me a chance to cross ahead of them, and I'd think they were trying to shoo me through quickly, so that they could drive on. All of this stemmed from an initial "don't like" that came up again and again around motorized vehicles, and urban road planning.

About three years ago, I began cutting through the thoughts and emotional reactions that developed in response to this don't like by chanting the Jizo Bodhisattva chant while riding. Jizo is kind of an archetypal Buddhist figure that is said to protect travelers, children, the dead, and vows among other things. Chozen Bays Roshi of Great Vow Monastery wrote a fabulous book about Jizo several years ago that I was fortunate to study soon after it was published. As soon as I learned about it, I knew Jizo would be a companion on my spiritual journey.

Biking with Jizo has become a norm for me. In fact, I've noticed that the practice has become so settled within that anytime a bit of upset comes up while I'm riding, the chant just appears to support me. There's a different tenor to the experience as well. I experience the like, don't like, and neutral more clearly. Stinky alley. Don't like. Fall leaves. Like. Dog in a yard. Neutral. The coming and going of such don't spin out of control as they used to, especially the "don't like" experiences.

Do I still get pissed and reactive towards motorized vehicles at times? Sure. However, such experiences sometimes colored my entire day in the past, and now usually burn off within minutes. And when I think about it, it really comes back to this point of being able to see, and experience, these three base-level feeling tones without getting lost in emotional and thought elaborations.

Seems to me that this teaching is very useful when it comes to electoral politics. Some will like the outcome of today's vote. Some won't like it. And some, including many people outside of the U.S., will probably be neutral.

Can you see your base-level feeling here? The beauty of having a diverse set of practices to draw upon, from sitting meditation to chanting to bowing, just to name a few, is that any of these can be called upon to help cut through intense reactions that stem from the three base-level feeling tones. So, I offer you this story on election day here in the U.S. May all beings be liberated.


Algernon said...

On election day, I had an interesting job, serving as a non-partisan election observer. This authorized me to hang out in the polling place, pay attention to the process, and be prepared to address problems and/or report a situation. This is different than the job performed by the challengers, who work for political parties and have shall we say a partial interest in the process.

In explaining why I was there and carrying out the job, I had to detach myself from any interest in the outcome and focus on the process itself.

This was surprisingly easy to do, when tested; and quite refreshing.

Nathan said...

Must have been totally interesting.

When I went in to vote, I looked around at all the people working there, and thought about how all of this comes together every year. Even though there are a lot of problems needing to be addressed, it's pretty amazing that the actual voting process happens without too much trouble year after year.

W. said...

Thanks for your calming words on the election and its results. Again the world didn't end.