Marriage is so hard. No one really tells you how hard it’s going to be.
They tell you that it takes work, but they don’t tel you that it takes SOUL work.
If you want a happy marriage, then you have to be ready to dig into your soul and pull out the weeds.
America is like a marriage. We have 2 major political parties, and you may have noticed that they don’t really get along.
It’s a rocky marriage.
This is an especially crazy election season. Emotions are high. America is having daily marital fights.
It might seem like this marriage is doomed to fail, but it isn’t.
Remember that, in the history of the world, America is one of the best marriages ever. There’s hope.
It will take work. It will take soul work.
But Americans are gritty. We know how to dig deep. We’re not afraid of getting our hands dirty while pulling out some weeds.
If you feel like you’re going batshit crazy during this election cycle, then you’re not alone.
The Zen tradition has some useful tips to help you get through this election, and also to help us all work towards a healthier America.
1. The One Breath Method
You’re not helping anyone by holding your breath.
You’re not helping your cause, you’re not helping your health, and you’re not helping America.
When you stifle your breathing, you can’t think clearly, your blood flow is restricted, and your qi (or vital energy) stagnates.
In the Zen tradition, there’s a teaching that this breath — the one you are taking right now — could be the one that finally leads to your awakening.
If one breath can potentially enlighten you, then it can probably help with something more mundane, like calming your election crazies.
I call this the One Breath Method.
Try it now. Take one, complete, full breath. Breathe in gently and fully through the nose. Hold it for 1 second. And then release the breath completely through your mouth.
Release until there’s hardly any air left in your lungs. All the way out.
That’s it. Good.
You can — and indeed probably should — do this while scrolling through Facebook, while reading the newspaper, or while watching TV news.
Do it now. Do it often. Just one, complete breath. Even if it doesn’t enlighten you, it will help you get through this crazy election season.
2. Find the Frigging Goodness
Great Compassion is one of the twin pillars of Zen. (The other is Great Wisdom, which I’ll talk about later.)
In order to have Great Compassion, you must train it.
An efficient way to train compassion is to look for the goodness in people.
Everyone has goodness in them. Even Darth Vader. Look for it, and look hard.
This question will make it easier to find:
What good result is this person trying to achieve? What good do they think they are doing?
Remember what I said about marriage being hard work? Well, it’s frigging hard finding the goodness in people.
For example, if you’re pro gun control, and you have a friend who is the opposite, then ask yourself the following question:
What good result is my pro-gun-rights friend trying to achieve? What good do they think they’re doing?
For example, I know a young woman who was raped as a teenager. She is pro gun rights because she believes strongly in protecting herself. She’s determined to never let something like that happen again. Ever.
That’s why she carries a concealed handgun on her hip at all times (legally, of course).
Whether or not you think that her solution is effective — isn’t there something good that she’s trying to accomplish?
Underneath it all, isn’t she just trying to protect herself from being harmed? And isn’t that, fundamentally, a good thing?
Of course, we can flip it the other way too.
For example, I have a college friend who is passionate about gun control. He works in a crime-ridden area of a major city where kids are frequently killed by illegal guns.
My friend actively promotes gun control as a solution to the inner city violence.
Whether or not you think his solution is effective — isn’t it a good thing to try to protect innocent children?
Maybe you think that less gun control is the solution, but underneath that disagreement, don’t both of you just want to stop kids from getting killed?
What’s the goodness that the other person is trying to achieve? Look for it.
3. Don’t Be Highly Illogical.
Only the facts matter! Charisma doesn’t matter. Spin doesn’t matter! Facts are everything in an election!
It’s a nice notion. It’s a logical notion. Spock would approve.
But Spock would also be the first to point out the fact that humans are highly illogical.
The fact that you haven’t accepted this fact proves that you are human.
It’s okay. It happens to the best of us.
Even Spock wrestled with his emotions.
If Spock, who was 50% more Vulcan than you, had such a hard time controlling his emotions, is it any wonder that you do too?
Maybe an analogy will help.
Everyone knows that sex sells, especially the advertising companies.
Pretending that elections are all about facts is like pretending that people are immune to subliminal advertising. The facts say otherwise, my friend!
Meditation is the only way out of this mess. It is the only thing that gives you the superhuman ability to control your emotions and your thoughts.
If you want to be more in control of your emotions, if you want to be more like Spock, then meditate daily.
If you already meditate and you want to help others to control their emotions — then do what I did and quit your job to become a meditation teacher.
4. Wield the Sword of Manjusri
In the Zen tradition, there is a beautiful story about Manjusri, an enlightened being who wields a flaming sword that cuts through ignorance.
Earlier, I mentioned the twin pillars of Zen — Great Compassion and Great Wisdom. Manjusri’s sword represents Great Wisdom.
And we can all learn to wield it.
Let’s take the issue of sexual abuse.
“What Mr. Trump said on that recording was wrong,” I said to a friend. “It’s wrong to objectify women. It’s wrong to joke about grabbing a woman’s pussy. It’s wrong to touch a woman without consent. Don’t you agree?”
But my friend didn’t answer the question. Instead, he skipped straight to an argument about the sordid past of the Clintons.
This is where we need to learn to wield the sword.
Think of the sword as a wise debate moderator who cuts through all arguments that don’t DIRECTLY relate to the discussion at hand.
Wielding the sword of Manjusri against my friend, I said:
“Can we please focus on one issue at a time? The issue of abuse is really important to me. I want to know whether or not you agree that what Mr. Trump said about women was wrong? Yes or no? Afterward, please feel free to ask a yes or no question about the Clintons.”
The sword cuts through the clutter. It focuses the discussion on one thing at a time. And that’s Zen.
But remember that the sword can — and should — be used against you as well. In fact, it’s a good idea to pass the sword right to your friend after you use it. If you look carefully, that’s exactly what I did in my comment above.
5. Practice Forgiveness Fu
What if your friend doesn’t agree that what Mr. Trump said was wrong? What if they don’t think that abuse is a problem?
They they are wrong. It’s really that simple.
You know that you’re right, right?
Do you need to win an argument with your friend to validate what you already know to be true?
For example, I know that racism is wrong. I don’t need to win an argument with a racist to know that I’m right.
And yet, you’re probably having silent arguments in your head all the time — even when you already know that you’re right.
You probably feel a little crazy at times?
Forgiveness is the solution to that feeling of craziness. When you practice forgiveness diligently, it’s like a magical potion that sets you free from those endless mental arguments.
It is critical to understand that forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you condone what they did. That’s not what forgiveness means. We can forgive someone and still hold them responsible.
In fact, if they weren’t responsible, you probably wouldn’t need to forgive them in the first place.
And that’s why it’s so hard.
Remember, to err is human. To forgive is divine.
Practicing forgiveness is hard. In many ways, it’s harder than learning kung fu. Even if it’s the hardest thing you ever do, it’s worth it.
6. Practice Metta Meditation
If you don’t know how to practice forgiveness, then start with Metta Meditation.
Metta meditation is an ancient Zen practice, and it can change your life.
Of course, it’s not just from the Zen tradition. Jesus taught similar ideas, but used different words.
Metta translates to “loving kindness” or “compassionate kindness”.
The way that I teach metta involves 4 stages:
- Stage 1: Send loving kindness to someone you love (pets count).
- Stage 2: Send loving kindness to a neutral person, like a Starbucks barista.
- Stage 3: Send loving kindness to someone you dislike (one or both of the presidential candidates, for example).
- Stage 4: Send loving kindness to yourself.
Here’s a 10-minute guided audio where I lead you through all 4 stages. It’s free.
If you practice this meditation, and find it difficult – congratulations! You are human! It’s hard work.
But it’s good work. It’s important work. It’s soul work.
And it’s patriotic work.
This is how we begin to heal our political marriage. This is how we work towards a better America. This is how Zen can help us in the 21st century. Mindfully yours, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen and a board member for the National Qigong Association, I'm fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.