Published on January 1st, 2018 | by Sarah Buehrle



Spiritual Panel Discusses How to Rise Above Anger, Conflicts

by Sarah Buehrle

A September 2016 Monmouth University Poll reflects what most already know: 70 percent of voters say that the 2016 presidential race brought out the worst in people.

Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, conducted a spring 2016 survey of educators with nearly 2,000 respondents. While some teachers said they’d noticed no changes in the classroom, or that they avoided election discussion completely, hundreds reported that the negative political climate and its effects had even trickled into schools.

“Bias, anger toward immigrants and a huge divide between the Trump and Clinton [supporters]. Hurtful words and mean comments are being shared daily. It is awkward and disheartening,” one teacher responded.

Another teacher said that among students, “Hate seems to have increased.” One year later Americans are still affected by the conflict.

“More than half of Americans (59 percent) report being at least somewhat anxious because of the November election results, with nearly three-fourths (71 percent) of Americans aged 18 to 44 reporting feeling anxious due to the results. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) agree that Donald Trump as president is causing more people to have anxiety,” reports a survey of more than 2,000 people published in April 2017 by CareDash, an online medical portal.

The survey goes on to say that 50 percent of Americans are looking for ways to cope with the negative political environment, and “41 percent of Americans aged 18–44 report engaging more in unhealthy behaviors such as drinking alcohol, smoking, eating unhealthy or arguing because of the November election results.”

The number of hate crimes in 2017 increased by 22 percent in America’s six largest cities when compared to the same period in 2016, according to the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. Most, but not all agencies that broke down data by month or quarter showed dramatic increases around last year’s November elections, according to the center’s “Final U.S. Status Report Hate Crime Analysis and Forecast for 2016/17.”

So, what are Americans supposed to do with all this new stress, anxiety and baggage felt by adults and children alike, that even months later appears to linger?

Natural Awakenings Atlanta asked a panel of three spiritual leaders and three concerned members of the public to sit down one night in late October and discuss how the divisive election has affected them, how they personally have dealt with the results and their advice for how their congregations and others can cope.

Don’t Take It Personally, Don’t Get Angry

Felecia Dawson, an Atlanta-based holistic gynecologist who closed her practice in December to go on sabbatical, said she’s struggled with what the current administration has done since President Barack Obama left office.

“The overturning of what President Obama, the first African American president of the United States, has done for the last eight years is pretty much the only thing that angers me for the most part,” says Dawson. “I think when we become our beliefs or opinions and people challenge it, we get all riled up. I’m thinking I’m not President Obama’s achievements. I’m not his achievements for those eight years and if I can remember that, I can be less volatile.”

Plemon T. El-Amin, imam emeritus of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam and founding director of World Pilgrims, explained Islam’s answer to anger.

“Well, I know it slipped by me, I guess it slipped by a lot of other folks, that the other side was angry for eight years. I saw it in Congress but I just didn’t know it was so deep,” says El-Amin. “So in Islamic tradition is the advice — we give it three times: Don’t get angry, don’t get angry, don’t get angry, because it actually distorts your focus and your mental abilities. So we have to figure out how to move it from anger to something else. Let’s start there. It’s not necessarily love, but it’s not anger.”

Brother Shankara, resident minister of Vedanta Center of Atlanta, has experienced difficulty with a personal relationship due to the vitriol of the last election. He said it helps to use the ephemeral nature of the present to mute personal anger.

“So that we try to convert anger into a positive energy that radiates from us of: This is like a finger writing on water,” says Shankara. “This is not going to last.”

Elizabeth Geiger, manager of a non-profit in Greater Atlanta, says she takes a marriage-counselling approach to her anger roused by people with whom she does not agree.

“My response to the question how to overcome the anger is not trying to change it, … not trying to change what they’re doing that’s making me angry. That’s a separate step,” says Geiger. “The step of how to overcome the anger at them is listening and understanding, just like something you’d learn in couples counselling or something like that. Just understanding. Does not mean I’m going to agree with it. But if I can untie those two parts then I can have compassion, which might be a part of then being able to somehow create a change in their lives.”


Love Thy Neighbor

Jill Hendrix, a Waldorf School kindergarten teacher and portrait photographer, said her activism started with the Dakota Access Pipeline and the protests against it at Standing Rock spanning 2016 and early 2017. She heeded the Sioux elders’ call for prayers and held a prayer vigil for nearly a year. She said this is one key to dealing with the anger and pain many are experiencing at each new executive order, at each family argument.

“The physical violence, the animosity, the angry [sic], the hatred that was coming towards them, they understood the power of exactly that and they said you cannot go and be on the front line … You cannot go with anger. You have to go really with a spirit of forgiveness. That’s what they were going in with. And many of us know what happened,” Hendrix says. “To me that was the example, the beacon, the foreshadowing of what we would all need to hold as we come into this time. It’s very powerful.”

El-Amin cited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s similar struggle with opposition and his similar show of compassion for the opposition.

“That’s what distinguished Dr. King from the other civil rights leaders, that he was always trying to help the other side. Always talked to the other side,” El-Amin says. “If you just go back and look at it, he always has them in mind, more so than the people who were supporting him. He’s talking to the opposition in a way trying to help them.”

Despite Differences, Remember We Are Connected

A 2016 study by the American Psychological Association found, “While sources of stress differ across racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and urbanicity, Republicans and Democrats are statistically equally likely to cite the election as a significant source of stress. In addition, 46 percent of Independents say the same.”

So regardless of political side, no one is alone. David Ault, senior minister for the Spiritual Living Center of Atlanta, said humans are connected in such a way that frustration at others is often a mirror.

“I think one of the most challenging and strengthening things that we can do individually and collectively is look at how to disband the idea of ‘other.’ And so when I see an acting out, when I see something horrific, if I can go, ‘I must have that same aspect within me; it’s just that I’m relating to it differently.’ What I’m judging, I’m actually judging an aspect of me, and how can I forgive that? And how can I seek to understand that, rather than try to fight against, because I believe the more that I condemn, it’s boomeranging back,” Ault says. “And how else do you explain oneness? There’s not two-ness. There’s not two unities. There’s only one unity, one universal presence, and so if everybody is a part of that then I must be connected. I just say consider the fact that what you’re angry about is an unhealed aspect within our own selves and take responsibility for that.”

Ault suggests the message of the 100th-monkey philosophy: If a person wants change, they need to be a model and be an example of the change. Then others will see them and follow their example, and eventually the scales will tip and the ideas will spread.

Shankara concurs that is the way to move forward, doing as little harm to oneself and others as possible.

“We must be true to ourselves, and as we’re true to ourselves that radiates and makes a positive effect. The belief, if we talk about omnipresence—that means we’re all connected. Absolutely at the most fundamental level we’re connected,” Shankara says. “So what we radiate has an effect on others.”

Those Who Struggle Are Not Alone

Leaders Admit to Inner Conflict in 2017

by Sarah Buehrle

According to a survey of the leaders and members of the public present at the panel convened by Natural Awakenings, even those seeking to better themselves and to lead others have had personal struggles in the year following 2016’s election.

Respondents were asked to rate a series of questions from 1 to 10, with 1 being “very weak” and 10 being “very strong.” Of the three spiritual leaders present— representing Christian, Muslim and Buddhist traditions—two said they felt a level 0 of love toward Trump and one checked a 3. Lay people reported the same results on the panel.

Anger at President Donald Trump was ranked 6, 9 and 9 among spiritual leaders, and 2, 10 and 10 among other attendees.

As far as anger toward the president’s supporters, one leader rated his feeling at a 1, another at 3 and the third at 9. e others ranked their anger toward supporters at 2, 10 and 10.

Democrats were not let o the hook. One leader ranked his anger at them at 0, but others chose 3 and 7. Other attendees chose a 3, 4 and 8.

Leaders associated words such as “narcissist,” “arrogant,” “bombastic,” “lewd,” “ridiculous,” “greedy” and “sociopath” with Trump. The panelists used words such as “hurt,” “self-centered,” “little boy,” “horrible,” “selfish” and “egomaniac.”

Words associated with Trump supporters included “racists,” “corporatist greed,” and “hateful,” as well as “narrow- minded,” “angry,” “archaic,” “bigoted,” “sexist” and “blind.”

Clearly both leaders and nonleaders felt anger and frustration during the president’s first year in office. That did not stop panel members from trying to better themselves and the world around them, however.

Shankara of Atlanta’s Vedanta Center offered the Göethe quote: “A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.”

Roundtable attendees agreed that they carried love in their hearts, however distorted by anger and frustration. David Ault, senior minister for the Spiritual Living Center of Atlanta, quoted a course in miracles.

“My all-time favorite quote is from that,” Ault says. “And it says, ‘Love brings up everything unlike itself.’”


Top Image: Roundtable participants clockwise from top: Paul Chen, Jill Hendrix, David Ault, Brother Shankara, Elizabeth Geiger, Plemon T. El-Amin and Felecia Dawson. Sarah Buehrle

About the Author

Sarah A. Buehrle is the managing editor for Natural Awakenings magazine of Atlanta.

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