Early last month I was giving a day presentation to religious congregations in San Rafael, California. The day focused on the power of contemplation as a transformative process, the transformation of consciousness and communal contemplation. The day ended with a section on exercising contemplative power. During the final discussion the question arose as to whether we could do something collectively to exercise contemplative power during this election.
We decided that each of us would commit to a period of contemplative prayer and that we would invite as many people as we could to join us. The time, day and duration was to be determined by each of us, but knowing that we were virtually together engaged in this action made it significant. The focus became clear. We would intentionally envision healing our divisions as a country, making choices for the common good, and respecting each other so as to engage in civil discourse. We also said that we would continue this action after the election for a period of time.
I believe we were a bit prescient about seeing the importance of continuing this action beyond the election. As I write this, I am dreading the final presidential debate scheduled for October 19, having felt quite sick since the second one. The behavior of Donald Trump and his rhetoric on stage only became more exaggerated and emotional as he attempted to defend himself against the sexual allegations brought against him by a number of women. At his rallies the cries of "Jail Hillary" ("Lock her up") have intensified. It has even morphed among some of his supporters, who refer to her as "Kilhary." Such chants are not put down by the candidate, and in many cases they have been encouraged.
Then I heard him say in the midst of trying to defend himself that it is the global elites who are against him and have rigged the election. That triggered something in me: I felt I could let go of the vitriolic language I wanted to write about Donald Trump; I felt sadness and a pity for this man.
He is a man who has created himself in such a way that he cannot lose. He cannot fail. I read in Never Enough by Michael D'Antonio that the drive to succeed, to win has driven Trump throughout his life. Now when he is clearly behind in every poll, he is creating the scenario that will prevent him from losing. As he has done throughout this life, he will blame someone else for this so that he will win in his own mind because he has to.
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The tragedy is that he is on a world stage, and his rhetoric about unjust elections and the media's bias against him and people like him is being embraced by a segment of the American people. Such sweeping, un-nuanced accusations are driving wedges into our political system. Our democratic system is not perfect, but its strength has been free and fair elections. The United States has had a peaceful transition of elected leadership. Whether we win or lose, Democrats or Republicans or Independents, after Election Day begin to work together for the good of the country.
We have seen this working together eroding over the years as people who run for office often run on a platform of anti-government. We can't sustain that for too long of a time and not face what we may be facing now, as Donald Trump supporters are being led to believe that this is not a fair election.
I try to see his followers with empathetic eyes. There seems to be a certain demographic that supports Donald Trump, who is often depicted as being largely white, high school-educated, blue-collar worker males. And I understand that what they perceived as the "American dream" they believe has passed them by. They perceive a reality in which their children won't be better off economically than they are. The good-paying jobs that one could get with a high school education are no longer available. Their status as men is under attack, too; women are no longer subservient to men in the workplace or at home.
They perceive persons of different races have become threats, taking the limited slots in prestigious universities from their children and getting promoted faster than into higher-paying jobs. Family life has been disrupted as too the sexual mores within which they grew up. What they learned about how to get ahead and the things they were expected to achieve no longer are there for them. With terrorism growing throughout the world even keeping their loved ones safe no longer seems possible. There is a desire to make things right by force, strength, might. There is a desire to make America great again in those ways.
These perceptions are being fed by promises that cannot be met yet such rhetoric resonates with this worldview, with this way of seeing the world, and so confirms it. But this time the rhetoric has gone too far states historian Jennifer Mercieca. Quoted in an article from the BBC news, she says "when we treat politics like sport or war, then we treat ourselves as fans or soldiers, cheering or booing or following orders. ... When we treat politics like that, then those who hold differing views from us are not wrong, they are evil. They are not mistaken, they are enemies."
Come Nov. 9, 2016 we cannot be enemies of each other. We need leaders inviting us to reflect on the changing realities of our global economy, our culture, our faith in ways that would allow us to face difficult realities and explore new options for how to live together as a nation and as a global community.
To hear such a new message is an invitation to become more reflective, more self-aware. We need to know why we react the way we do; to explore our racism and sexism; to face into our fears. I believe it is an invitation to be serious about one's spiritual journey and to deepen one's spiritual practice.
Contemplation is one such invitation. It invites you to a deeper awareness by letting go of thoughts and surrendering yourself to the presence of the Divine within you. Such practice awakens you to what is real and to your true self. Through this dying to self so essential to the Gospel message you begin to live and act in new ways. We need to begin bridging the space between us. With congregation members, family, friends, co-workers we need to share what has happened to us as a people and explore together how we enter the future.
Since the presentation in San Rafael, thousands of others have joined the action to sit in contemplation for ourselves as a nation believing that such focused energy goes beyond us and effects change. We will be continuing that after the election. Please join us. On Facebook, go to #contemplativepower to see when and how some people are practicing it. Regardless of whether you join this effort or not, please begin to act in whatever ways you can to begin to bridge the space so that we can begin to shape the future of our country together.
[Nancy Sylvester, IHM, is founder and director of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue. She served in leadership of her own religious community, the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, Michigan as well as in the Presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Prior to that she was National Coordinator of NETWORK, the national Catholic social justice lobby.]