Active Contemplation in Response to Socio-political Upheaval

by Phileena Heuertz

Our recent presidential election has exposed and emphasized a great rift in the people who make up our nation. Political, economic, social, and religious ideologies may not have ever been more at odds with one another.

Our new millennia has brought with it so much change. It’s as if our world has been advancing at a faster rate than ever before, and it’s hard for us all to keep up. So some of us are nostalgic, looking backward to bygone days when America seemed simpler and safer. While others are dreaming, look forward to what America can be. What’s critical is that we examine what America is, right here, right now.

That’s what the current socio-political climate is giving us a chance to do. And it’s clear that we as a people are severely divided in our experiences and our perspectives. But I gather when it comes to our values, we all hold a lot more in common than it appears; values that our Declaration of Independence upholds as inalienable rights:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And so rather than demonize one political party or another, or one person or group of people or another, let us find ways to see and hear how one another desires these rights, as a people, as a society, as an American family.

We belong to one another. Let us find ways to see our self in the other. For ultimately we are not battling each other, but illusory ideologies that threaten our common humanity.

Many of us have felt very overwhelmed by the president’s first thirteen days in office and the upheaval his executive orders have caused. Being overwhelmed can lead to apathy and disempowerment. So let us resist such paralytic responses by taking a big deep breath. Then, in addition to fortifying a daily contemplative practice, consider the following commitments related to constructive ACTION that you can take:

Be (A)lert.

These times require we not sit idly by. Recognize that if you feel relatively unthreatened by the current administration that that is a luxury for you. Recognize the populations of people who are genuinely afraid (women, LGBTQIA persons, blue collar workers, the disabled, immigrants and refugees) and stay accurately informed about how Trump’s executive orders and administration may impact their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Imagine what you would hope from others if it were your life that felt threatened.

Be (C)ourageous.

Be willing to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable members of our society regardless of political party, race, ethnicity, class, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Be (T)houghtful.

Before you react to the socio-political climate, practice a little restraint and think. Let thoughtful observation of your own biases and compulsions inform the way you interact with others.

Be (I)nquisitive.

Stay curious. It’s easy to dehumanize the “other” when we don’t personally know her or him. Get to know people who look different, think different, and behave differently from you.

Be (O)pen.

When we feel threatened, our basic physiological reflex is to self-protect. But we are more than our physiology. We have consciousness and inherent power to transcend our impulses. Rather than close up and withdraw or close up and attack, let’s dare to remain open, knowing that the greatest threat we face is betraying our highest potential to love our enemies, forgive those who hurt us, and co-create a peaceable society.

Be (N)ourishing.

During trying times on a personal or collective scale, men and women committed to contemplative activism will practice restraint from their impulses to fight or flight and choose the more challenging way of nourishing that which is hurting. Our society is hurting. Our neighbors are hurting. Members of our family are tired and afraid. Consider what you can do to nourish the people around you and the spheres of influence you inhabit.

And if these commitments are difficult for you, as they surely will be at one time or another, remember that contemplative practice makes such embodied commitments possible. Now more than ever perhaps, we must adopt regular contemplative practice. For spiritual practice like contemplative prayer and meditation open the mind and the heart, releasing our best selves to co-create Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness for all.

*header photo credit: Christian Battaglia