Skandha mara1 is how we react when the rug is pulled out from under us…. We don’t know what’s going to happen next or even where we are. Then we re-create ourselves. We return to the solid ground of our self-concepts as quickly as possible. Trungpa Rinpoche used to call this “nostalgia for samsara….”
[This] process does not have to be considered an obstacle or a problem…. We can allow ourselves to be inquisitive or open about what has just happened and what will happen next. Instead of struggling to regain our concept of who we are, we can touch in to that mind of simply not knowing, which is basic wisdom mind. (68-69)
—Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart:
Heart Advice for Difficult Times (1997)
I’ve got news for [you] … We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got gay friends in the red states … We are one people.
Friedersdorf follows this with a comment about the 2016 election:
I’m nostalgic for the days when the country appeared united, or at the very least united in halves. Today, people who recently seemed as though they were on the same team are at odds.
Many of us are in a panic about the loss of that seeming orderliness of two sides in a football game. We want desperately to get back into that game, because we don’t know the rules of the new one.
Pema Chödrön writes:
When everything falls apart and we feel uncertainty…, what’s left is a mind that is clear, unbiased, and fresh. But we don’t see that. Instead, we feel the queasiness and uncertainty of being in no-man’s-land and enlarge the feeling and march it down the street with banners that proclaim how bad everything is….
When really strong emotion comes up, all the doctrines and beliefs that we’ve held on to seem kind of pitiful by comparison, because emotions are so much more powerful.
So what began as an enormous open space becomes a forest fire…. We use our emotions…. We use them to try to deny that in fact no one has ever known or will ever know what’s happening. We use them to try to make everything secure and predictable again, to fool ourselves about what’s really true. (69-70)
What in the world is she talking about?!
In another November Atlantic article3, Molly Ball quotes Avik Roy, a disaffected Republican advisor who had hoped to bring back his party’s traditional pro-trade, pro-immigration, pro-small-government ideology:
Trump showed me that white identity politics was the dominant force driving the Republican grass roots…, [that] the conservative grass roots viewed questions of national identity with far more priority than questions of economic policy.
It is a basic animal survival mechanism to label what we perceive in terms of “us” and “them.” No species would last if it could not discern who was kin to welcome and who as predator to fight or flee from.
Humankind carried this instinct over into its tribalism, and tribalism—aka “identity politics“—is what is destroying us today across the globe.
Many of us are horrified by the November election, others elated. We know how brutal tribalism can be. We know how righteous and empowered tribal victories can make us feel.
If I feel uncertain and threatened—even if I am momentarily prosperous and secure—and you and I both identify you as being of a different tribe, you look like danger to me. I don’t see your uncertainty and sense of peril, and you don’t see mine. What we both see is “the enemy.”
If I am on the blue team, I now imagine a “fascist takeover.” If you are on the red team, you now imagine that you have “taken back America.”
But this is no game. Tribes, ideologies, identities are all imagined boundaries which have nothing to do with the enormous open space of reality.
When things fall apart, there is just us, all huddled here together in the same boat, wondering whether to get to know and take care of each other, or to push each other overboard.
Notes & Image Source
1 “The Sanskrit word skandha literally means a group, a heap, or an aggregate. In Buddhist tradition, the five skandhas of form, feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness are taken to constitute the entirety of what is generally known as ‘personality’.” —“Heart Sutra: Buddhism in the Light of Quantum Reality”
2 “Making Up Is Hard to Do,” by Conor Friedersdorf, in The Atlantic (November 2016)
3 “Saving Conservatism from Trump’s GOP,” by Molly Ball, in The Atlantic (November 2016)
“Waves,” by Mike Shell (South of Ashville, NC, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, 7/9/2012)