After three days of watching the televised impeachment trial last week, my wife and I decided to take a break from it. We gave ourselves a Saturday of quiet and media-free space in our home while a winter storm raged outside. We do this periodically when either or both of us become jangled or upset.
I’d awakened that morning with swirling feelings of righteous indignation with the Republican Senators who remained locked in their loyalty to Trump despite the overwhelming evidence of his having incited the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Underneath the anger was a sense of futility and despair. These feelings had been building in me the previous evening and disturbed my sleep. I was more than ready to begin sorting out this upset, and grateful to have the time and space, and a willing partner, with whom to do so.
After a light breakfast, we sat together to begin our work. It was a wintry day but warm and comfortable inside. We created an informal altar in our living room, replete with flowers, a candle, and a few other objects of spiritual importance to us. After lighting the candle, we each spoke our intentions for our time together. I spoke of both the anger and despair within me and asked for spiritual help to move through this upset. I also affirmed my gratitude for my wife and for the environment that we were able to co-create to enter more deeply into our feelings. Though not as engulfed in negativity herself, my wife expressed her intention to use our time together to enter a deeper bonding that could help get us through the unsettled feelings that the impeachment trial had provoked.
We then used a meditation bell to usher in a period of silent prayer and meditation. My own meditation practice involves using prayer beads. I begin by simply focusing on my breathing, one bead for each inhale and exhale. This takes more conscious attention when I’m emotionally upset. By allowing my breath to slow and deepen, the focus usually becomes easier. But that morning, I was having a hard time dropping into a relaxed state. I continued with the breathing exercise for ten minutes or so but noticed that my body was still quite tense and my negative emotions still swirling. I decided to stand up and begin a walking meditation around the living room. It felt right to connect with my body in that simple way, and I continued to slowly pace around the room, still using my beads to help focus on my breath.
At some point in my walking meditation, I began feeling a current of energy rising through my body. It felt closely related to the anger I’d been feeling about the Republican Senators who were opposing impeachment. I allowed the energy to move up from my belly into my chest and shoulders. The current of self-righteous anger seemed to be mobilizing my body for a fight. I appreciated the energy but also knew that the aggressive hostility coming with it was not productive for me or anyone else. I recalled Jesus’ teaching to “Resist Not Evil” and began speaking it as a mantra that I repeated using my prayer beads. I continued the walking meditation, slowly, deliberately repeating the words, “Resist Not Evil”, for quite a file before I started to settle down.
When we finished our meditation, my wife and I each spoke about what was going on inside ourselves. We then sat in silence again until she suggested that we listen to some music from her playlist. I agreed. The piece she chose was an orchestral work by Phillip Glass called “The Light”.
There are times when I am particularly open and receptive to new music and this was such a time. From the opening chords I experienced a sense of haunting mystery and grandeur. As Glass’ characteristically repetitive melodies began to emerge, I resonated with some primal conflict that I felt was building. I allowed my own inner feelings of conflict to emerge again as well, seemingly in synchrony with the music, which began building in complexity and in volume.
I experienced in the music a primordial battle between the forces of Light and Darkness. The conflict was dramatic and intense, and continued on with what felt like one gargantuan battle after another. I began visualizing myself as a Union soldier during the American Civil War, entering into violent conflicts, with men shouting and advancing and cutting down the rebels with our rifles and bayonets. I felt exhilaration as the battle began, but then began noticing the bloodshed and maiming, men crying out in fear and pain, hundreds of bodies left lying in the battlefield as our army charged forward. As the music continued to grow in intensity, I felt stretched to my emotional limits as I imagined battle after battle in the long bloody war between countrymen. Familiar with the history, I knew that the Civil War was an inevitable clash between irreconcilable beliefs about the essential dignity of all human beings. It was ghastly in its ferocity, yet necessary. The music continued for what felt like hours and I felt relieved when it finally resolved with beautiful modulations and recapitulations.
The epic battles I’d imagined actually occurred within less than a half hour of music. At the end, I could feel that the heavy weight of anger and despair I was carrying that morning had passed through, leaving me feeling lighter and brighter. We listened and moved to more music before we brought our session to an end. I had enough energy afterward to go outside and begin shoveling out the wet snow that was accumulating on our sidewalks and driveway. The physical work felt purposeful and enlivening.
That evening, we watched the news reporting the expected outcome of the vote in the Senate. While seven Republicans joined fifty Democratic Senators in voting guilty, it was well short of the 2/3 needed to convict. I still felt disappointment, but I no longer was enraged or despairing. Instead, my admiration for the skill and determination of the team of impeachment prosecutors inspired me with hope.
Our personal ritual that day had succeeded in bringing me to a place of acceptance. Jesus’ “Resist Not Evil” teaching reminded me that stoking angry partisanship leads only to more evil. And the strong energetic current I experienced while listening to “The Light” helped inspire a necessary inner firmness in the face of assaults to dearly held values. I was ready to redouble my political activism with purpose and resolve.
John Bayerl, 2/22/2021