THE BLOG

Animosity

08/05/2011 06:00 pm ET | Updated Oct 05, 2011

In the daily metta practice with which I start my meditation, I reiterate the wish to be free from animosity. It's easy enough when it comes to those I like, and with whom I generally agree; the hard part is with the people I dislike, and those with whom I disagree. They include, most recently, the politicians who have in my own view seemed bent on destroying this country. The dharma teaches me, wisely and I think correctly, that the animosity that arises serves only to introduce toxin into my own veins. It certainly does nothing to change those against whom it is directed.

These thoughts were stirred in part by the comment to my entry in The Buddha Diaries yesterday. I was writing about gratitude, concluding with a note about the surprise and plucky appearance of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to cast her vote on the debt ceiling bill in the House of Representatives, and my gratitude to her for reminding me of the importance of the vote. Not a word about Obama. But my entry somehow triggered the response you'll find if you check in the comments section, filled with anger directed at "Obama the Eunuch."

I was aware of my own distress as I read and re-read the comment. Some of it came from that part of me that is uncomfortably close to agreement with the content of the writer's argument. It's clear that Obama has been weakened by the unmitigated hostility and adamant rejection with which every part of the agenda on which he was elected has been opposed. It has been relentless and unappeasable, from his first day in office. In my view--perhaps incorrectly--there are many of his supporters who have allowed themselves to be swept up in that hostility, too readily co-opted by the powerful tide of rejectionist action and propaganda. With the erosion of support on his own side, he becomes still more exposed and vulnerable. As I've written before, we on the left, who have learned to distrust authority whatever its source, are prone to the heady delights of king-killing.

That's my view. I find that I hold on to it even more tightly when I myself feel the beginnings of mistrust in it; or, particularly, when I feel it under attack. I pull back in, defensive. Intended or not as such, my correspondent's initial sarcasm and subsequent anger felt like personal animosity, and I withdrew into my shell to mull over its implications. This morning, as I suggested, I paid more than usual attention to my own animosities. I did my best to observe them and then let them go, along with the anger that accompanies them.

I was wondering aloud, at the Buddhist Geeks conference just a few days ago, whether anger ever serves a useful purpose. I believe it can, when it is directed with clear intention and used skillfully; to do so, I must understand what part of the anger is about me, and what part is genuinely about the injustice or malpractice that aroused it. Warrior energy is a necessary part of political action--see Sun Tzu's "The Art of War"--but used indiscriminately and tainted by personal animosity, it can be counter-productive.

The image of a solitary Obama signing a bill which clearly fell far short of his objectives--and equally short of my own sense of what is needed in our current economic crisis--filled me with sadness for both the man and the country that he seeks to serve. He is the target of so many millions of deeply divisive projections that he can scarcely hope to live up to more than a handful of them. There are those, of course, many, who wish him nothing but ill. And there are those, many, who feel that he has let them down; that he is not the man they took him for. I'm only surprised that he manages to tolerate with a semblance of grace the generous heapings of scorn that are dumped on him from both left and right.

I personally think that this would be a good time for us all to take a thoughtful look at our projections: if we think of Obama as the mirror, what is it that we see about ourselves when we look at him? The projection of blame is too easy an answer for our troubles. We have our own share of responsibility for the dreadful mess in which the country finds itself. As another correspondent wrote to me in an email today, "I'm highly disgusted with what's going on in Congress right now, [but] I have to keep reminding myself that we DO live in a democracy, don't we?"

We do. Well, I sometimes think rather that we live in an oligarchy that survives by successfully disguising itself as a democracy (I first typed "demoncracy"!) But, yes, we do. So we do not further our cause by trying to wish away or ignore the existence of the deep and powerful strain of conservatism that has been changing the balance of the American political system, not just in Obama's time but, with increasing power, these past several decades. Like it or not (I don't!), it's impossible to move in any direction without taking it into account. All very well to stand by and jeer at Obama's perceived lack of leadership from the sidelines. He's trying to quarterback a team that plays by the rules of human decency and fairness against bunch of steroid-powered thugs who don't care what tactics they use--or how many injuries are incurred--so long as they dominate the game. (Is this animosity? Or simple realism?)

I know that I'm in a growing minority in a cacophony of voices noisier and I'm sure far more effective than my own. I suspect, though, in a less demonstrable way, that I may be a part of a new "silent majority" that continues to support the President despite the ferocity of the attack. I will not yet surrender the "I Back Barack" bumper sticker on my car. Nor will I cease sending daily wishes of good will to both him and his opponents. And the same to my "anonymous" correspondent, whom I thank for challenging me to think again, again. I send out metta in full consciousness of the adverse circumstance, if only to preserve my own health, and sanity, and self-respect! May all beings be free from animosity...