The Meme That Won the World

fearI recently moved to Portland Oregon, and I’m sitting in my office near the Hawthorne bridge leading into downtown. The traffic outside has come to a halt, again, as the city erupts in protests and riots, again. One of the most interesting things about the work I do in this psychology office is that I get a private peek at the inner lives of the public. And right now the public is scared. Very scared. The therapy sessions this week have transformed into what I can only call civic grief and trauma counseling. Around this city a heightened tension crackles in the air. This morning I saw several people on the bus staring hard into space with a look on their face that is hard to describe. It is the sort of expression I imagine they might have if a doctor just told them they are going to need chemo.

The reality is this: we elected an openly bigoted authoritarian as our president. He won by drilling into a deep reservoir of fear hidden beneath the small towns in this country. He stoked that fear into anger with thinly disguised hate rallies, and promised to cure it by singling out minority groups for punishment. He has a penchant for revenge and has promised to jail his political opponents and go after those who criticize him, which is restrained when compared to what his supporters are demanding. If he actually does nearly anything he has promised, over two centuries of steadily constructed peaceful civil society will be more than undermined, it will be gutted.

We are going to need the equivalent of society-level chemo.

I can’t pretend to understand how we got here. Historians will bicker over how it happened a century from now. But whatever the larger social forces are, there is one thing I am certain about: one of the reasons we find ourselves here is because millions of individuals have been steadily drinking from a firehose of paranoia, and have been cultivating minds filled with fear and anger. Over the past eight years fear and irrationality has reached the level of a global crisis. Through the vector of scare-journalism and social media fear has spread like a mass viral outbreak. In the past I’ve called fear a meme because it mindlessly tries to survive, replicate, and spread. Today it is the meme that won the world.

One of the most basic truths discovered by all meditators is that you have the mind you have cultivated. We don’t just have minds, we are farmers of our minds. Planting the crop now that we will harvest in the seasons ahead. If you want a peaceful mind, cultivate peace by reading about peace, speaking about peace, and engaging with peaceful people. If you want a busy mind, get busy. If you want an angry mind, you can do that easily. It takes time and some effort, but it really is a choice. If you make no choice at all, the weeds will take over. The world will not look out for your mental health. It’s on you.

This is meditation 101. A no-brainer for people who get their time on the cushion every day, and something we take for granted. But I am convinced that this is a crucial insight for our times. What is needed now is the equivalent of a national mental health education project. People who understand how minds develop need to speak up and talk about it. More people need to know that there is tremendous danger in allowing your mind to develop willy nilly, especially in the cultural petri dish of paranoia we now find ourselves in. This idea needs to be shared with people who have not heard it.

If you are a meditator (and if you are reading this you likely are) then you are put in a strange position right now. What do you do? The culture and tradition around meditation has its own memes: acceptance, letting go, letting be, and resting in what is. In other words, not letting things like fear take the controls of your mind. But while these might provide you some personal immunity from fear, they don’t address the larger outbreak. It is not the time for acceptance. It is time to act.

It is tempting to hide in ourselves at times like this. To withdraw from the turmoil of the world and hibernate in a warm cocoon of contemplative bliss. Please don’t. We need you. We need people with insight right now. People who have looked their own demons in the eye and been through the darkest parts of themselves. We need those who know how to be with fear without running away or freezing. Who know how to stay firmly with fear until it loses its hold. We desperately need people who can be beacons of reason in fearful times. So don’t retreat. Don’t hide. Share what you know.


Posted on November 14, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. You are certainly right. The night of the election, I was a mess. The morning after, I was still a mess. It wasn’t until I spent my whole lunch break in meditation that I came to peace with the fact that this suffering is coming up in the world, and remembrance that I’m the president of my own life, every day.

    Then, I stood up and carried my peaceful self back into the office, and not one second of my meditation had helped anyone else. They were all still torn up.

    That’s when it clicked: Do I really *mean it* when I say “may all be happy, may all be free, may all rejoice in each other’s happiness, all are subject to cause and effect…”?

    If this mind is truly slogging its way toward enlightenment, surely speech and action must be too.

  2. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life and through meditation are two old zen sayings, “Open mouth, already a mistake.” and “mind makes everything.”
    As I watched Hillary and Trump campaign and saw and heard the nonsense they were both spewing and also what the press was showing us, I decided to disregard the noise coming out of all their mouths. I had watched a movie called ‘Our Brand is Crisis’ with Sandra Bullock based on a true story. It’s staggering to realize that Hillary’s campaign could actually stage a Trump-like rally, place paid rioters, bigots, racists in a rally just to gain points for Clinton and detract from Trump. This can also go both ways. Trump planting, what Trump calls, Professional demonstrators, in a Hillary campaign. Like the Buddha taught, there’s no solid ground to stand on. I was dizzy with the amount of mud being thrown into the waters. I wound up not voting for a president, first time in my life. I didn’t know who or what to believe and I didn’t feel comfortable with either Clinton of Trump.

    I did a quick google search and found that Trump employs 34,000 employees. He employs slightly more men 57% than women 43%, but at the executive level there are more women than men and women, on average, are paid more.
    I didn’t search too hard to find exactly how many minorities Trump employs, but there are a few who have spoken on behalf of the Trump family.
    Anyway, instead of believing all the garbage, lies, half truths being thrown I decided it best to check facts…or what appears to be facts. Who knows?

    How are you doing right now? Sun is out. Leaves are falling. Tapping keys on a keyboard. Breath in, breath out. I don’t see Fear anywhere here. Mind makes everything.

  3. Ron, you seem to be perpetuating a myth. Since when do meditators hide from reality? We’re no longer living in caves in the Himalayas. Awakening is about being as intimate with our reality as we can possibly be. Accepting it as part of the entirety of our existence and acting on that clear-headed intimacy with compassion.

    • I agree that is what meditators should do Chris. But we don’t always get it right, and the temptation to look away from reality is pretty strong right now.

  4. Well… the inclination to look away or hide is a great opportunity for a meditation practice, a place to start to examine one’s fears and how one deals with adverse conditions, even abhorent conditions. To observe and learn from how we form judgments about things. How we make our reality based on tiny samples of experience. If we can’t see fearlessly, if we can’t be honest with our experience and assess it from observed experience then we’re doomed to repeat the worst in ourselves and believe the worst in others.

  5. Thank you for writing this great article!

  6. Hi Ron, I’m fond of reminding myself that we must accept what we cannot change. It helped me when, in my country, Brexit hit (and make no mistake, that was sold on a similar platform of fear and hatred — leading to the murder of an MP). Trump’s rise is very shocking, and scary, and the world is watching to see what happens. It’s good that so many people are aware, though — every move he makes will be scrutinized minutely. I hope the fear subsides soon.

    It also helped me to understand why Brexit won, so it may be helpful to understand why people voted for Trump. This piece by Noam Chomsky is an excellent read in that regard:

    Metta to us all!

  7. HI Ron,

    Reality is only a mirror of our perception, which differs for everyone because we all have different perceptions. Fear is created by media that no longer does its job. Instead of reporting the facts, they serve propaganda.

    Trump has never been a government official, but Hillary has. As a lawyer, she used unethical tactics to persecute Nixon. It was so unethical that even her Democratic boss had to fire her from the impeachment team. We will never know how she was allowed to get someone to clean up Vince Forrester office just before the police arrived. She compromised national security and caused Benghazhi deaths and lied about everything. We learned so much about the corruption of Hillary through leaked emails. How can any American trust what she does with the power if we already know what she is capable of as a government official?

    I was a liberal all the way until 2008, but having investigated the background of Obama and discovering the charlatan that he is and the media just turned the lens and ink the other way, I had to vote for McCain no matter how much I was looking forward to vote for a Democrat and disliked McCain. It turned out that I was right. Obama would have been impeached and castrated if he were a Republican president.

    Trump is not a racist. He is vocal so he appears to be narccistic, but he is no more so than any previous politicians. Obama is far more narccistic. So many video of Obama that had been surfaced but media never mentioned. Senator Obama speaking at New Orleans to a black audience with strong black accent falsely accusing the federal government that they didn’t waive the 10% funding from NO for hurricane recovery but did so for NY and Miami. The check was in the mail but he neglected to mention. Further, Senator Obama voted against it but Senate voted for it. Again he failed to mention his own racist voting record instead charged the FED for being racist not wavering the 10%.

    When media is biased, of course perceptions will reflect a flawed reality.

    Why media always scroll the names of dead soldiers at the end of nightly news when a Republican president is presiding but quickly stop the practice when a Democratic president is presiding? Where is fairness and objectivity?

  8. Ratay Jackson

    I find that when people say that Trump or others use “fear” to persuade people, what they are really trying to convey is that the Trump supporters are “chicken,” and so much less intelligent and brave than themselves. I’ve been meditating for 2 years, so my empathy has increased to the point that I can easily recognize this insecurity-based self-defense mechanism.

    • I find when people preface a comment with an unrelated claim about meditation experience, it’s often a way to take the moral high ground by making said comment seem to come from a mind elevated above worldly pettiness.

      I empathize with the feeling of insecurity that can come from seeing people working to spread ideas contrary to one’s own. The more one feels that one’s ideas are part of the foundation of a healthy society – and that the foreign ideas are undermining it – the more discomfort is felt.

      However, to appear sufficiently enlightened to pull off the years-of-meditation gambit, one of course can’t admit that discomfort – certainly not publicly, and perhaps not even to oneself. So I won’t be holding my breath for any “mea culpa” or anything like that.

  9. My goodness, Ron. I didn’t know you are living in Portland now! I’ve been way out of the loop, apparently. I work in Portland as well. I’m thinking maybe we should grab lunch and talk shop sometime.

  10. This post really discredits your blog. An authoritarian leader? What are you talking about you’re deluded. He’s no different than Obama and Hillary, they’re all part of the same class, you’re just brainwashed by the media and society and can’t think for yourself. Also someone who is enlightened isn’t concerned with the puppet show that is politics, especially American politics that is purposely a two party system, both hands of the same secret courts and elite class.

    It’s all bread and circus, you should know better than to be fooled by forms.

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