Having been an atheist for much of my adult life, I used to have a hard time understanding how people took solace from their religion in times of despair. So it is to my great surprise that I find myself drawing, not necessarily hope, but some level of perspective on this week’s events from my own spiritual practice.
For the past year, I have read the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana, two Hindu spiritual texts. In both, egomaniacal demons (sound familiar?) refuse to acknowledge the clearest of signs and omens that they will be defeated. Now, in both cases, it took many, many years. In the case of the Ramayana, we’re talking tens of thousands of years. I don’t think it will take that long in our case, but then again, even a minute of backsliding is too long in this time of global chaos.
Reading these texts over has often felt like reading some far-out fantasy – similar to how I felt reading parts of the Bible as well; “That’s an interesting and unnecessarily bloody fiction. What’s the lesson here? Is there any conceivable way I can apply this to my life? Not really.”
So I am pretty shocked that my mind keeps traveling back to what I’ve read as I try to wrap my head around what’s gone on this week. The interpretation I take from my studies – and it is mine, so it may not mesh with others who have a far better understanding of these things – does show that there are patterns that have consistently repeated over the eons from which we can learn and, perhaps, even glean clues as to what the future holds.
Message #1: There is a bigger plan at work. This is the biggest message for me right now. And it is giving me some modicum of comfort. Good and bad (even evil) aren’t so clear and concise as drawn by a god (or by whatever it is in which you believe). The lessons, the unfolding, that is planned for us is beyond our comprehension and may sometimes even seem cruel and incredibly unfair. But cruel and incredibly unfair are only words and constructs created by our puny little human minds. Who are we to ascribe them to any situation?
In the Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna (and, I think the name “Arjuna” is interchangebale with “the American people”) that the battle must be fought. Arjuna doesn’t want to fight it – his friends and family are on the other side of the battle field; it’s too hard to make some of the choices he’ll be forced to make and to do the things he’ll need to do. But of course, he must. There are bigger forces at play.
Message #2. Bad shit happens – sometimes even at the behest of gods – but, ultimately, course correction happens, too. And, if you keep your eyes out, you might even see some of the signs of that course correction along the way.
In the Ramayana, the worst thing to ever happen to not just “our” world but two others as well, is the demon Ravanna (now, you could use “Trump” in place of Ravanna, but the latter is a very respectable dude in many ways; so not an “apples to apples” comparison, I’m afraid). Over the course of tens of thousands of years, the gods – who, by the way, put Ravanna in a position of power in the first place – plot and plan to defeat him. They send him tons of signs indicating that his days are numbered. Because he is an ego maniac, surrounded by yes men, who believes himself to be invincible (again, familiar characteristics), he ignores him.
Here’s the message of hope though – Ravanna’s not invincible. He does lots – I mean LOTS – of shitty things and wreaks all kind of havoc before his reign of terror is ended, of course. Some of those shitty things includes multiple sexual assaults (hmmm…..). But end it did. And here’s a great little aside – ultimately, a woman was at the root of his downfall. Poetic justice in so many ways.
Message #3: Dharma, right action, is all. I debate with my teacher all the time about whether there is an ethical construct evidenced by Hindu scriptures. Do concepts of “right” and “wrong” really exist? As someone who likes categorization and a reason for everything, I have to believe that, yes, it does. But that doesn’t always mean it will fit our personal definition of right and wrong.
For me, Dharma is a super tough concept to try and understand. But after reading the Ramayana, I’ve come to believe more than ever that it boils down to living your “right action.” Doing the best you can, even when it’s super hard (sorry, Arjuna and the American people).
Right now, it’s super, SUPER hard. This sucks. I am terrified as I am sure are many of you. This is the dark night of the soul. But perhaps our Dharma is to adhere strongly to those things that make us great: community, compassion, and civic duty, among them. It’s our duty to join together and comfort one another in a time of extreme sadness and confusion. I find myself really missing having a strong yoga community and spiritual guidance at the moment. I hope we can come together, because we often say we are the light. Now is the time to walk that talk and make it more than a new age aphorism.
It’s our duty to be compassionate – there is fifty percent (maybe a little less; Hillary did, after all, win the popular vote) of our country that felt just as hopeless as we do now prior to the election. They are lost, too. Yes, we may not understand where one another is coming from, but we can choose to listen rather than to fight. In the Ramayana, the hero attempts many times to engage in discourse with Ravanna. That didn’t work, ultimately, and so he had to use force. But that was not his immediate go to approach. I love seeing the protests in the streets right now and wish I had the gumption to go out and join them. But I don’t relish seeing damage or bloodshed. That’s a very slippery, dangerous slope.
Ultimately, it’s our duty to work the system. It exists, it’s the one we’ve got, so let’s make it work for us. For the duration of this election, I sat on my ass snarking at my social media feed and television. Beyond that, I did very little. I’m old and tired, not a fresh-faced, energized millennial. But you know what? This devastating loss has energized me. I’m ready to fight like my life depends on it. Because, of course, it does.
There are lessons to be learned from this week; great lessons. They are lessons that have consistently been taught in many ways since time immemorial and even through myths. We thought we’d already learned these lessons; we thought we were beyond this particular demon. But we didn’t and we aren’t. We’re not done with this epic war. This fight’s not even close to being over.