I’ve been thinking a lot about the coming Thanksgiving holiday. For our family it will be the first we spend without my mother’s valorously compassionate presence and so a time of reckoning and remembrance. For all of us as Americans this too will be the first Thanksgiving we will spend wondering what
the changes in America will bring. I hope you can see this to the end. There's much to think about. We face a mourning not yet shared.
For some of us this coming holiday of Thanksgiving will be shared with family
and friends who, how shall we put it? Challenge our emotional boundaries?
Perhaps too our moral imaginations.
Is that too politically incorrect or merely
How do we wish upon our
gathering an irenic, even festive effervescence when our hearts are so deeply troubled---
not only by the prospects of regressive, mendacious policies targeting the most
vulnerable among us, but by having to explain to ourselves
how people we love can condone such ideas, values, and
This week the narrative of a coming Trump Administration began
to take shape in the form of policy makers and players whose menace is anything
but mere hackneyed politics.
We see it
It’s plain as day. The signs of
hatred and the acts of violence are emboldened and already manifest.
We gather the evidence before us and we must insist
the stories be told.
And to some we love, such changes inspire
We should come to
normalize the deliberate corruption of our shared American experiment?
People we adore and respect, who will sit with us for
dinner, who we have known for years or all our lives, people we just can’t
think of as racist or hateful, misogynist or blithely ignorant have cast their
ballot, their lot, and ours too
President that is, in addition to being all
of those odious things, wholly unqualified, unfit, and unserious.
We are not
prepared to bargain with our moral sensibilities to give Trump “a chance”
just because our loved ones or others making claim to some inequity are willing
to endanger the future of the republic by placing it in the hands of an arrant
Generations of progress
seem likely to be turned around with policies, appointments, and indifference
to the majority
We will not normalize a man
who fails so miserably every impartial test of decency.
If we cannot feel with
our complicit family and friends then how do
we feel for
them? And how do we feel
When I search the lexicon of yoga culture, particularly in
the sources composed in Sanskrit, the word karuna
most commonly conveys our inner sensibility of “compassion.”
we will need more compassion, but for whom and why?
describes an elemental
human feeling (the rasa
) that reaches
into our pathos and suggests also, as Buddhist sources commend, the realization
of the necessary virtue that extends consolation for our shared mutual
has it and everyone will
everyone will recognize it or evolve it.
and compassion comes to mind
In other words, we innately possess
as a primordial emotion and
it is also a complex process of offerings we make
in order to create value.
However we are
we can choose to learn more about it, cultivate and create ways to live more
deeply with it
from the inside out.
The issue at stake is not only how deeply we
are willing to go.
It is to recognize
that compassion is not one
kind of thing we experience.
Where it comes from is not the same as how it
How deeply are we willing
to go to further the examination of the source and to make more complex connections
singular must become compassion the plural if we are to integrate our yoga into
a more comprehensive sense of self.
We need not take on
feelings in order to suffuse ourselves with feeling that allows us to uncover
As we look carefully at traditional sources,
compassion comes from within by drawing upon resources that are so deeply imprinted
as to be part of our very nature--- but it is brought forth by our willingness
to capture such an essential and expand it into diverse forms and expressions.
There is no guarantee everyone will
take up these tasks, no matter how innate or elemental the
source of experience.
People can live
estranged from their essentials, from their heart’s resources, not because they
are “bad” or align with corruption but rather because this being human invites
us to be more than it takes to be merely good enough.
Just how do we succeed and fail in making
those choices that would demand more of
For that we will need to look even further.
Another comparable sense of compassion is in the word “krpā
,” which appears at the crucial
moment of the hero Arjuna’s breakdown at the opening of the Bhagavadgita’s
If you will bear with me, the original
Sanskrit can help us sense the direction of the Gita’s
conversation and what accompanies krpā,
usually translated by the word “pity.”
You can see the words even if you don’t know
taṁ tathā kṛipayāviṣhṭamaśhru pūrṇākulekṣhaṇam
viṣhīdantamidaṁ vākyam uvācha
So burdened (āvishtam
) with pity
eyes filled (pūrna
), his vision (īkshanam)
), stricken with grief (viṣhīdantam
), the Slayer of Demon Madhu,
Krishna, spoke to him these words…
We may well think of “pity” as some kind of feeling for
that is really quite different than compassion.
all, we don’t feel pity
for our loved
ones whose votes and values seem so compromised.
Or do we?
In Sanskrit the sense of both karuna
are grieving and mourning something lost or changed, that there is a real and
palpable lamentation. We feel at a loss
for just what to say or
Like Arjuna, the entire somatic experience may
be overwhelming because it is comprehensive ---eyes filled, vision blurred, the whole
body feeling being at one
of the damage done to conscience, memory, and relationship.
We might find ourselves genuinely filled with
) distress and
imploring within--- not only to reach more deeply inside but in asking how to make
some outward gesture to affirm our relationships.
However depleting these complex feelings are,
want to love when there’s frustration,
hurt, and anger.
And that still-wanting-to-love:
We haven’t merely
been let down, we’ve been brought
to further questions from within ourselves: Who
is this person I really love
say I know
and how then
could he or she have stood for this
Compassion doesn’t just provide answers, it asks the more difficult
questions more deliberately.
We know from the Bhagavadgita
conversation that Krishna gives his friend Arjuna no quarter when it comes
to arriving at the decisive moment of reckoning.
To be compassionate then is not to linger with
feelings but to act
How might we
The answer Krishna gives is to be
ourselves, to carry forward
person we have always been
Whatever more we will need to be, we will
need the person who has been present from
We’ll need especial forbearance and clarity, and a host of
other virtues that can only come from summoning within the very source of courage.
Remember: that source is nothing extrinsic to
you because we have been born with a rich and complex resource of
These fractures of feelings
are parts of our elemental self.
that self always has more from which to draw.
What we can grieve for and mourn in truth is that this
deed of choice and values has now been
done---we are in this together however fractured we are--- and karma will have
There will be
cause and effect, possibilities realized, abandoned, and
unheeded, and consequences for all
I am not suggesting we merely wait and see,
as if compassion were some passive acceptance of a tragic fact.
I am instead saying that we have before us a
process of recognition in which there will be facts, if only they can be told.
We will see
consequences of this new America. Its effects will be ubiquitous, even for
those abdicating participation.
who have believed this turn will bring the change they hope for will have quite
a time explaining how his plans didn’t go their way.
The effects of dystopic policies and
contorted values will speak volumes.
won’t have much time for schadenfreude as we pick up together our shattered pieces.
But that is why we will need the power of
Not because compassion will
somehow heal us but rather provide for us some of the pieces that can be
I am more than disinclined to suggest that karma will
own recompense or that some
supernal agency is at work to indemnify our efforts towards social progress.
I think, in fact, there is no such promise of
human progress like our innate feelings, like compassion.
As much as I want to believe President Obama’s
claim that great persons and events bend the arc of history towards justice, what
we have seen in evidence is just as much a case for ignoble atavism.
We can create
progress but there are no guarantees.
Still, karma will
tale and there is more to come
What we can say to satisfy ourselves of the mystery--- how our
own good people contributed to this debacle-- is that we learned from yoga more
about the meaning of compassion.
compassion will invite us to mourn together in the future the better America we
have not chosen and so re-invite
to choose again.
What we protest now
, his supporters may yet be compelled
to yield in time.
Karma always means that facts are pesky and real.
It means that our grief serves a purpose when
our actions speak to loss and
to forge a future with hope.
So, I say, there is no argument to be had at this
Thanksgiving table, save the common
American value that what we are free to protest with all our hearts is also yours
Our shared consequence
will be all too clear before too long.
then we will need an even greater sense of compassion.
The need to mourn, to feel that grief will be
a call to act in ways that will insist we join more wisely together.