AFTER THE ELECTION
I remember waking up in shock and horror one morning in November, 2004, the day after George W. Bush was re-elected to the presidency. How was such a thing possible, after his disastrous and illegal invasion of Iraq, his refusal to finance his war and his munificence to the wealthy? Had we Americans learned nothing about the man in his first four years in office? Did reason and just plain human compassion count for nothing any more?
The inner turmoil awoke my Mr. Fixit: what can I do, I asked myself, in desperation? What can I do? A wordsmith by trade, I started to play around with words. By sheer accident, I fell into the blogosphere. Fumbling around, I learned that I, too, could use “Blogger” to create a blog. I started to follow the online instructions and was asked, first, for a title. I found myself typing in the words: “The Bush Diaries.” And was soon writing the first of many, almost daily letters to George W. Bush. I intended them to be not unkind, but irreverent, a teasing reminder of the error of his ways in almost everything he did for the remaining four years of his presidency.
Well, almost four years. There came a time, after several years and many, many letters, that I woke up one day with the realization that I had become captivated by my own addiction: I was waking up every day with Bush in bed with me! And that same day, The Bush Diaries morphed very naturally, very comfortably, into The Buddha Diaries—the blog I wrote, almost daily, from January, 2007 until October, 2016—close to 10 years!
The Bush Diaries satisfied my need to “do something,” but there will be no “Trump Diaries.” I woke once again this morning in shock and horror at the election results. We Americans had voted—incredibly, to my mind—for the anger, ignorance and intolerance that the now President-elect had appealed to during his campaign; we had collectively voted to a man who is, to my mind, plainly narcissistic, willfully ignorant, authoritarian, and willing to exploit misogyny and racism in his greed for power. How could that be?
The old “what can I do?” impulse came rushing back. That old sense of despair. The anger against those who had failed to see things the way that I do—the right way. This time, however, I must choose to recognize that I’m unable to arrange the world the way I want it to be; to understand that everything that happens out there in the world is eventually beyond my control—that some things will go my way and others not, and that it is beyond my power to decide which is which. The only thing over which I’m able to exercise some modicum of control is what happens here, in my own mind.
It is indisputable that, like it or not, there is a new reality out there. If I reject that reality, I risk inhabiting the kind of bubble I readily attribute to those with whom I disagree. There is a great deal of anger, a great deal of fear, a great deal of chaos—not only in our country, but in the world at large. I cannot change this. I cannot control it. Accepting this truth, however, what I can do is acknowledge that the chaos out there is at best a reflection of the chaos within; to realize that my best contribution to heal what I perceive to be a sickness in the world is to start by cleaning up the mess of anxiety, anger, grief and fear that pollute my mind and distort my vision. If I grow inseparably attached to my fears and judgments, I’m fated to see only them and to project them out into the world. I will succeed only in making matters worse than I believe they are.
Remember Voltaire’s Candide? When the last of his illusions is shattered, he comes to the realization that his only option is to “cultiver son jardin”—to cultivate his garden. My garden is my mind. It’s up to me to tend to it, carefully, no matter what may happen in the world beyond my reach. My intention, following this election, is to do my best to clear my mind of the weeds that have grown there, thanks only to my indulgence and neglect, in order to reflect the world with greater veracity and equanimity. To do otherwise is to contribute to the chaos that I fear.