What’s-his-face and the experience of humiliation

With the US election of 2016 just 7 days behind us, the prospect of President-elect What’s-his-face being our next president is one of the most depressing state of affairs I’ve ever encountered.

I’ve been trying to stay present with the emotions: anger, fear, disbelief, frustration, disgust. The fact that this person ran on a platform so antithetical to the Buddhist concepts of Right Intention, Right Speech, and Right Action suggests that we’re about to take a giant step backwards, collectively, from liberation towards suffering. The wind has completely left my sails. My stomach, throat, and breathing are all heavy. My face feels tension. My mind is racing between all of the awful statements that were made during the campaign, to all of the helpful agencies that will be disbanded, to all of the platform promises filled with hate and discrimination that will be enacted and all of the environmental damage that will be done as ignorant policies are unleashed on the land.

Along with all of this is a feeling of lethargy. While investigating this, I realized that there is another emotion that’s present, and calling it out has been helpful: I feel humiliated. I had to tease apart the difference between simply being embarrassed and feeling humiliated. If we drew a lottery and What’s-his-face won, then we’d be embarrassed about it. Knowing that this is something that was intentionally done to us, though, by individual’s choice and action – that moves the feeling from simple embarrassment to a sense of humiliation.

We as a nation have been humiliated – by (just fewer than!) half of the voters. They knowingly, willfully did this to all of us. They chose explicit hate, fear, and anger. And now the nation has to live with a known liar and scam artist, a cheating abusive husband, an ogling peeping tom beauty pageant owner, a litigious bastard of a business owner – the nation must humbly accept this man as our rightfully elected president. That’s humiliating. He will speak on my behalf on the international stage. He will make decisions on my behalf regarding the welfare of my family, my neighbors, and all the creatures of our planet – on the land and in the air and sea. His picture will hang in the post office or even in the principal’s office at my daughter’s school. That’s revolting. The fact that so many others chose him to play this role in my life feels – humiliating.

On reflection, this can only be the case in so far as I identify with being a citizen of this particular country. You can be sure I’ll be examining this identification, but I want to love our country. I do identify as an American and I want to be proud of who we are. Please note: I’m not always proud of everything we do, but I’ve been hopeful that we’re at least heading in the right direction, with a ‘one step back and two steps forward’ kind of trajectory. This just feels like an all-out retreat in the wrong direction towards so much sadness, so much unnecessary suffering. This is why people are struggling so badly, saying “he’s not my president” and dissociating themselves from their affiliation with the country. They are trying to find a way out of the humiliation.

Naming the emotions has helped. Recognizing the feeling of humiliation has helped. It doesn’t solve the underlying pain, but it is letting me see it more clearly, so I can sit with it. I’m trying to stay connected to the Dharma, sitting on my own, reading passages from teachers addressing the election, and sitting with others in my office (which, so far, has been the best response to all of the craziness).

Right now, things are like this: unpleasant feeling tones, confusion, uncertainty. Humiliation feels like this. Sadness feels like this. Breathing in; breathing out. Tension feels like this. Worry feels like this. Breathing in shallow, breathing out shallow. Feeling the body. Aware of the thinking mind, thinking, thinking, thinking. Right now, it is like this.

Good luck to all.

Conditional happiness is not yet freedom

I wanted to transcribe this because it’s been on my mind since I heard it – and listened again to it on Facebook via the live feed stream that Mary did that night. I found the idea that chasing happiness causes a dependency in us, a form of bondage, a critical idea. Please read below. If you want to hear Howie give the talk, you can search for Mission Dharma on Facebook and go back to 11.1.16 for the live stream. Here is the first 4 minutes of the talk:

“We all want freedom. We all want to be happy. We all want to be free of anxiety, worry [and] suffering… and it is possible. But the way that we ordinarily try to discover that sense of  well being is by trying to experience as many moments of pleasure as we can. And then devote a lot of our time to seeking pleasure. And when we get a little pleasure, we say, “Oh, I’m Happy” but we don’t actually realize that this very means of seeking happiness is actually making us, creating in our mind much more dependency on having some pleasure to be happy. The Buddha described the happiness that depends on things being the way we want them – he called that ‘conditional happiness’. He called it ‘worldly happiness’. He called it the happiness that depends on satisfying some kind of hunger. He also called it the happiness of bondage because it just creates … less and less feeling of freedom; much more dependency on things being the way we want.

The Buddha said that we have to have these kinds of pleasures in our life, but we also have to understand a few things about them: their pleasure; their defects – they don’t deliver in the long haul; and what it means to be free from this kind of dependency. We want to know the dangers of getting caught up in the wheel of endlessly looking for sweet experiences. And we also want to experience the pleasure because our senses need to be glad.

That kind of happiness is part of our life, but it hasn’t made anyone truly happy. It has mostly made us feel bound and dependent on conditions for our sense of wellbeing. On the other side, the Buddha said there is this kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on conditions.. called ‘lokuttara sukkha’ the happiness that is unstuck from conditions… beyond the common influence of whatever is happening.. it’s called the happiness of freedom… so that’s what the teachings really aim for, a reliable kind of freedom.”


-Howie Cohn

November 1, 2016.