writing on suffering and awakening

Sympathy for the Devil

Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee for president. If you’re like me, you probably have feelings about this. Whether you support or oppose Mr. Trump, he brings out a response in most people beyond what is normal from a candidate for political office.

I live in Los Angeles. Like many of my neighbors in this cosmopolitan, largely Democratic city, I see Mr. Trump as unfit for office. Millions of people across the country would agree with me.

It’s easy for us to judge Mr. Trump. It’s easy to call him names, or laugh at him, or get angry with him. It’s easy to write him off as a candidate. It’s also easy to fear what could happen if he goes on, against all odds, to win in November.

But Mr. Trump is also doing a service for all of us. His words and actions while running for president have shed a spotlight on a voice that exists inside all of us, and that most of us would prefer to keep hidden.

A psychologist might call it the id. A priest would call it the devil. The spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle calls it the ego: the part of our thinking mind that tells us we need to be afraid.

We all have this inner Donald Trump. It is a part of being human, and Mr. Trump is no less human than any of us for seeming particularly caught up in it. Most of us struggle with it every day. We may try to ignore it or push it away, nobly resisting our darker urges. We may get caught up in it, and let fear and anger and greed guide us.

Mr. Trump’s vision for America is cruel. He is a candidate who seeks to divide people, not to bring them together, and following him will lead to suffering. I think we all know this in our hearts.

But reacting with anger and judgement to Mr. Trump — and the people who believe in him — only leads to suffering as well. After all, if we all have an inner Donald Trump, who are we really judging?

The monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh tells a wonderful story about the Buddha, and Mara, the devil figure in the Buddhist tradition. The Buddha is sitting in his tent, meditating, when Mara shows up at the door. A young monk standing by the door tells Mara to leave, at once — for what business could he have in this holy place? But the Buddha overhears him, and comes outside. His face lights up. “Mara!” he exclaims. “It’s so good to see you, come on in!”

When we give in to the ego, we suffer. But when we push the ego away, we also suffer. In order to make peace with ourselves, and to become free from ego, we need to learn to let it be. What I mean by this is that we can learn to see that there is space within ourselves for all of who we are, the good and the bad. We can learn to say “come on in” to all of our thoughts and feelings, especially the ugly ones that we are so afraid of.

When we make space for our inner Donald Trump, we realize he doesn’t have to control us. Indeed, he starts to fade away, and our hearts begin to open. When we make space for our darkness — for our anger and fear and shame and guilt — we bring it into the light of our awareness, and it begins to lose its power. When we let ourselves be, exactly as we are, here and now, we become free and we become love.

This takes practice. But life tends to provide ample fodder for that. Mr. Trump’s campaign has given our whole country a chance to hold a mirror to ourselves. Let’s thank him, and use it.

Ian Cooper