I did laundry during the State of the Union address last week. Occasionally, I’d pass by the television and catch another whiff. Brave people were lauded midst a toxic soup of fabricated crises and hypocrisy.
I keep wondering how to respond. On the one hand, my heart is troubled; my anger boils over. I cannot stand idly by while the climate crisis is ignored, children are caged, and racism is normalized.
On the other hand, if I spew more venom, demonize those I disagree with, and stoke resentment, I create more of the toxic consciousness that I am opposing.
My heart has been percolating on this, making space for another way to hold and respond to what is happening.
I start with prayer. I pray for Donald Trump, and Mike Pence, and Mitch McConnell.
And it’s not just them. Locally, I pray for the wealthy, entitled folks whose lack of self-reflection blinds them to their inordinate influence. Rich lawyers and real estate moguls use their power to maintain every drop of their privilege at the expense of the vulnerable.
I pray for their peace of heart. I pray for them to wake up. I pray for their transformation, that they may recognize and seek healing for the wounded places within that lead them to behave as they do. And yes, I admit that I pray for their early retirement.
For a moment I’m free. Bitterness melts. Self-righteous judgment releases.
Then I check the news. I hurt again.
I wonder: what If I never check the news again? What if I just pray, eat, sleep, work, and let the world tend to its self-perpetuating drama? Tempting…
I return to the laundry. I remember Marie Kondo, the luminous guru of “tidying up”. On her Netflix show, she demonstrates how to fold laundry properly. She folds each piece of clothing with a blessing of love and gratitude.
What if I do that? What if laundry evolves from a chore into a practice of creating more love and wholeness in the world? It’s the same activity, but a totally different energetic response to the dirty laundry.
And what if this is my response to our political “dirty laundry”? What If I still show up to city council meetings, still speak out on behalf of the marginalized, still advocate for our planet’s healing, still hold office holders accountable for their words and actions, yet I do so without resentment, without rabid “againstness”? Same actions, yet a totally different energetic response.
What if I respond to the news from a place of love? Not love as syrupy sentiment, but love as the strongest and only transformational agent? Love, not only for those being hurt by current policies, but love also for those creating and supporting the policies, for their healing and freedom. What if, in my own small way, my work is to subvert and disrupt the status quo with unapologetic, irrepressible, unconditional, indefatigable love?
To do so will require much more prayer, prayers of compassion that include myself. And prayers for those whose actions I oppose. I practice empathy and wonder what is going on within those powerful people whose behavior I find so vile. I sense that they are living in constant fear…fear of change, of losing privilege, of facing their own demons…and that fear rules their hearts and actions.
I know what it’s like to live from fear. I know what it’s like to be unkind, self-absorbed, and inflexible when fear descends on me like a thick fog, suffocating creativity and generosity.
Our Buddhist friends have a practice called Tonglen in which negativity is imagined as a black cloud that is inhaled into the heart, where it is transformed and exhaled as compassion and light for the world’s healing.
Tonglen means “sending and receiving”. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said:
“The more negativity we take in with a sense of openness and compassion, the more goodness there is to breathe out. So there is nothing to lose.”
It’s a spiritual practice of cleaning our own and the world’s dirty laundry.
How might you practice your own version of Tonglen? Rather than run from pain or react by creating more pain, how might you take in the pain, transmute it within, and exhale compassion for yourself and others, especially those who behavior disturbs you the most?
The Bible says: “Perfect love casts out fear.” The Core Love of our Existence can breathe in pain, transform it, and exhale relief. Rather than react out of fear or resentment or rage, Love metabolizes all of those human experiences, and exhales that energy as bold acts of creativity, solidarity, compassion, and hope.
When the state of the union within is clean and clear, then, and only then, am I free and empowered to address the disunity all around me. As Marie Kondo says: “To quietly work away at disposing of your own excess is actually the best way of dealing with a family that doesn’t tidy.”
For me, this will be a process. That’s why I’ll call it a practice…not a perfection. Whether it’s laundry or politics, I commit to receive what is and send back out blessing in my thoughts, words, and actions. This way of “tidying up” promotes wholeness in myself and thus, also, everywhere I go. It’s my way of becoming the change I long for.
How will you become the change you desire?