Home Spirituality 6 Spiritual Teachers on America’s Divisive Political Climate — Part I

6 Spiritual Teachers on America’s Divisive Political Climate — Part I

An image shows a young man with his hands together in a prayer position commonly seen in the eastern world. This picture is featured in Part I of Balanced Achievement’s article ‘6 Spiritual Teachers on America’s Divisive Political Climate’.

On August 12, 2017, the United States of America was shaken to the core after a confrontation between opposing groups of political protesters turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia. As news broke that one American had been killed and 28 others injured after a fellow countryman purposefully drove his 2010 Dodge Challenger into a group of peaceful demonstrators, whose views didn’t mesh with his own, collective cries of shock, outrage, and remorse rang out from coast to coast. While events of such appalling proportions have been few and far between in recent history, what unfolded in Charlottesville has unfortunately become symbolic for the dogmatically driven political crusade currently taking place in America and the dangers that come with such partisan division.

Despite the fact that those on the left like to point the finger squarely at Donald Trump and his Republican administration for fostering such widespread feelings of animosity, and those on the right like to similarity place the blame on nonsensically self-righteous Democratic politicians currently serving in Congress, the discord between America’s two major political parties has been growing for decades. This truth bears out in statistics that tell us political hatred for the other party has increased by 30% since 2000, and partisanship in presidential approval ratings has declined over 40 points since the early 1960s. And still what’s perhaps even more disheartening is that liberals and conservatives are becoming increasingly unwilling to get married to one another, socialize as friends, or even live together in the same communities.

It was due to these alarming trends and the potential perils that may soon come, that the team at Balanced Achievement set out to discover some ways to ease America’s growing political tension. For the project, interviews, focusing on topics such as the current political climate, the manifestation of spiritual truths, civil discourse, and compassion, were conducted with an esteemed panel of six prominent spiritual teachers, and here in Part I of the article, you’ll find the wisdom-filled insights of the following three individuals: 

  • David Trachtenberg – Mindfulness Teacher & Peace Educator (Washington D.C., USA)
  • Gemma Perry – Yoga Teacher & Meditation Researcher (Sydney, Australia)
  • Colin Beckley – Founder & Director of The Meditation Trust (Kent, England)

Additionally, you can delve into the guidance of spiritual teachers Natalie Parsons, Dr. Paul Haider, and Meredith Gunderson by visiting: ‘6 Spiritual Teachers on America’s Divisive Political Climate Part — II’.

David Trachtenberg – Mindfulness Teacher & Peace Educator:

An image is shown of Mindfulness Teacher & Wellness Coach David Trachtenberg. His advice is featured in Part I of Balanced Achievement’s article ‘6 Spiritual Teachers on America’s Divisive Political Climate’.

Living in the greater Washington D.C. metro area has given certified mindfulness teacher and peace educator David Trachtenberg a unique opportunity to practice spirituality while being firmly rooted in the heart of America’s divisive political climate. When you couple his location with 20 years of experience teaching meditation and other mind-body disciplines, through his own private venture Walk the Middle Way, and as former Program Director of MINDS Incorporated, it’s easy to see why his guidance is brimming with wisdom:

On Coming to Terms with the Current Political Climate:

As it relates to coming to terms with America’s current political climate, Trachtenberg made clear that, although there isn’t a single strategy that will universally work for everyone, each of us should strive to be true to ourselves and respond mindfully to whatever political agitation we experience:

Having individuals respond in a way that’s authentic to themselves, but walking a balance where that’s also not causing harm to others I think is really, really important… So how can we honor our authentic viewpoint and express that in a way that’s thoughtful, that’s bridging connection and bridging listening and embodying some of the tenants of mindfulness rather than causing further escalation.”

Additionally, Trachtenberg told us that we can better come to terms with the partisan divide by cultivating an optimistic perspective. This is to say that, although it can be quite natural to perceive the circumstances from an apathetic or adversarial lens, we all have the ability to consciously view the situation as an opportunity to improve ourselves as individuals and the communities we live in:

Many people feel like they’re being emotionally attacked literally from just who is in office, and if that’s the kind of dominant emotion — you’re starting from a baseline of being offended whether Democrat or Republican — then it’s important in the way we respond to that… Anything painful, which I think this charged political climate can often cause, can be seen and viewed as a wonderful doorway and opportunity for how can people be in disagreement and actually have peace.”

On Spiritual Truths Expressing Themselves in American Politics Today:

When asked about the expression of spiritual truths in American politics today, Trachtenberg quickly acknowledged the problems that arise from widespread ignorance before zoning in our collective inability to realize the interconnected nature of ourselves, others, and the world at large:

If you look at some of the philosophies of meditation there’s always this idea, from any world tradition, of interconnectedness. You know, literally the molecules in the air we breathe, the table, each other, we are all connected and part of the same. So when you look at what’s being embraced now, and certainly with some of the policies, it seems to be the total opposite and getting away from that.”

In order to help America heal from these divisive times, Trachtenberg pointed towards empathetic communication, especially with those who see things differently than us, as being one especially wholesome practice:

It doesn’t mean we have to agree with each other. That would be unrealistic, but it comes back to this idea of if we’re in a fear based place and something we’re doing or saying might cause real conflict, or very high levels of emotional reaction from another person, how can we come back to the part of meditation that has to do with where the human similarities are. To me that comes back to one word — empathy — and that seems to be the real loss in this climate on both sides… What would it be like if we paused and took our own mind out of ourselves, our own framework and psychology, and literally placed it in the person’s shoes that we’re talking to, even if we still disagree with them. Just the act of doing that is an act of love and care because we’re going to start to speak more kindly.”

On the Paradoxical Choice of Speaking Out vs Accepting with Detachment:

While David Trachtenberg told us that there isn’t one universal strategy, concerning the paradoxical choice of speaking out vs accepting with detachment, that will resonate with every individual or be applicable in every situation, he did explain why mindfully reflecting on our impact potential is one useful way to find the best answer:

For me, the question is what do we have control over and what do we not. If the answer coming to us is actually no control over XYZ thing, you know, that might be a time to feel our emotions and honor them and care for them, but to let go of taking action. But then really flipping that, if I do have an ability here to make an impact, what would it be like to check in with my own morals and values, check in with my system, and then put forth an action into motion that is done in a much more thoughtful, sensitive and compassionate way.”

Trachtenberg expanded further on the topic by telling us how two prominent attitudes of mindfulness, curiosity and beginner’s mind, can further assist us in the decision-making process:

You know, especially with mindfulness, it’s a beginner’s mind and curiosity. So what would it be like to pause and really sit with, first and foremost, what is in our body: ‘What is happening in my body?’, ‘What is my body feeling?’, ‘What can that teach me in the moments before I take this action in the world?’… Then what would it be like to really put that into action in terms of the idea of if we act, can we get curious about who are others that this is affecting? Checking in with our hearts, emotions and thoughts like this would give us this huge opening.”

On Cultivating Compassion Towards our Political Adversaries:

Pertaining to the cultivation of compassion towards those who carry conflicting political beliefs, Trachtenberg first homed in on the combination of awareness and consciously generated personal questions as being especially useful for limiting feelings of animosity:

If we’re recognizing that our response is so heated and even full of toxic venom, like we just want this other person to go away without caring how they think or feel, there is a beautiful doorway to cultivate awareness that our reaction is that strong and ask a question like ‘Where is there commonality here?’ — Let’s get away from the issue — ‘Where is there commonality and human connection?’”

Subsequently, Trachtenberg touted the practice of Metta Meditation, which revolves around directing well-wishes of peace, health, and happiness towards others, as being a powerful tool for developing compassion towards our political adversaries:

There’s a lot to be learned from doing that and actually going with it even if our reaction is dislike and discomfort. To even open to the idea of wishing peace for another who has beliefs we don’t like, and having right effort around it, it’s a deeply powerful and transformative thing. That very offering allows us to start to pry open the doorway to see them as a human, which is a fellow human, and not as a political mouth.”

Additional Guidance:

At the end of the interview, David Trachtenberg offered some final guidance by talking about the importance of bringing what we develop in formal meditation practice, especially the skill of mindfulness and attitude of curiosity, with us into the real world:

People can beautifully practice on a cushion in a safe and isolated environment for years, and that’s hugely important to have that formal practice, but it’s of no use to someone who’s just sitting on the cushion and then random person x has one political viewpoint and they fly off the handle. Where’s the bridge from cushion to actual life?… If we just pause and start getting curious about inflammatory inner reactions, it really does create a sense of freedom so that when we respond to something, it’s done in the most holistic and organic way.”

Gemma Perry – Yoga Teacher & Meditation Researcher:

An image is shown of Yoga Teacher & Meditation Researcher Gemma Perry. Her advice is featured in Part I of Balanced Achievement’s article ‘6 Spiritual Teachers on America’s Divisive Political Climate’.

For the accomplished Australian yoga teacher and meditation researcher Gemma Perry, there’s no doubt that spiritual practices have therapeutic and transformative powers. ) Not only did she gain firsthand insights into this truth over a decade ago, when she relied upon the life-affirming potential of yoga and Mantra Meditation to overcome a bout with severe depression, but she’s been able to recently validate her presumption while researching the psychological effects of meditative practices at Sydney’s prestigious Macquarie University. It’s this combination of experiential wisdom and scientific knowledge, in addition to a perspective that’s more emotionally detached from American politics, that makes her guidance especially useful during these turbulent times:

On Coming to Terms with the Current Political Climate:

When asked how individuals can best come to terms with the divisive political climate lingering over America today, Gemma Perry called upon the legendary psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung to bolster her belief that there are particular times when we just have to trust in the workings of the universe:

I would say that there are some things that we just can’t make sense. I love psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s quote that says, ‘In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.’ So the Universe is pretty complex and we don’t always know what the consequences of misfortune are and we don’t always know what the consequences of good fortune are, but, you know, we need to trust that somehow, even during conflict and difficult times, that the Universe knows what it’s doing.”

In a similar fashion to her advice on placing our trust in the cosmos, Perry recounted the teachings of the immortalized Swiss psychiatrist to accentuate the idea that we all have the ability to focus on the positives that have come from the political disarray:

The other thing we can do is look at some of the good that’s come from the political climate. For example, it seems to be bringing a lot of issues to the surface. The issues were always there, the same ways of thinking were always there, but they were just happening behind closed doors… What this has done is sort of bring to light the whole world’s shadow. Carl Jung spoke about a collective unconscious, and it’s almost as though this shadowy part of the collective has come into consciousness and now we have to look at it. Now we have to address these issues and I think that can be seen as quite a positive thing.”

On Spiritual Truths Expressing Themselves in American Politics Today:

Pertaining to the expression of spiritual truths in American politics today, Perry made the astute observation that principles such as ignorance, ego, and impermanence are unremittingly at play in the world, before referencing a distinctive yogic time period, known as Kali Yuga, which helps shed light on the divisive climate:

Well, I think that the universal truths are expressing themselves in everything all of the time. But specifically now in the yoga tradition, we’re in a period of time that is called Kali Yuga — which is a time of ignorance and darkness — and that does seem to make some sense with what we are seeing in the world today. It’s believed that during this period of time, people are the furthest they ever have been from God and the Truth.”

Later in the interview, Perry turned her attention towards the ancient Buddhist and Hindu teachings of karma and suffering while subtly linking them to the previously mentioned ideas of cosmic order and optimism:

Karma is a philosophy within the yoga, Hindu and Buddhist traditions, and states that the past informs the present which informs the future and the nature of karma is that everything is happening just as it needs to be happening…. There are always challenges and we can also see suffering, but there is also the opportunity to overcome that suffering.”

On The Paradoxical Choice of Speaking Out vs Accepting with Detachment:

When the interview moved on to the paradoxical choice of speaking out vs accepting with detachment, Gemma Perry told us that, although this decision will be different depending upon the individual and situational circumstances, tuning into our values and focusing on the positive can be especially helpful:

I think we need to tune into our values and know what is right for us as individuals. So staying connected to our own truth which is going to be different for different people. I personally like to focus on the positive and the more you focus on the positive, the more that grows… By enhancing the positives, we can then focus on what we can do as individuals and this is kind of, instead of looking at the big picture, we can look at the small picture of our own lives, which is actually the big picture in the long run.”

Subsequently, Perry expanded on the idea of consciously focusing our energy on the things that matter before offering some practical personal questions that can lead us in the right direction:

I love what Oprah says, which is do not give your energy to the other side, and I think that’s really important. It’s like giving energy to our thoughts and when we give them energy, we seem to make them more powerful. We want to put our energy into cultivating positive and meaningful things rather than putting our energy into hate, fear and frustration… We can ask ourselves, ‘Are we being kind to those around us?’, ‘Are we living our truth?’, ’Are we practicing our values?’ and ‘Are we doing something every single day that moves us towards a more peaceful world?’”

On Cultivating Compassion Towards our Political Adversaries:

Although many individuals in the western world come to believe it’s best to suppress the emotions and feelings they find unpleasant, Gemma Perry told us that this is misplaced advice for a number of reasons, with the first being that our inner inclinations are what push us to act in times of need:

I think it’s really important that we tune into how we’re feeling. If we are seeing someone acting or speaking in unkind or hostile ways, this could bring up feelings of anger, frustration, hate, fear, sadness, and pain, and we need to feel that. Obviously, if we are in a situation that we can protect someone from harm then we can channel those feelings into action and protecting someone.”

Perry then discussed the reasons why we need to act compassionately towards those on the opposite side while supplying some guidance for how to make it happen:

Rather than acting from a place of fear and hate, we need to act from a place of love and compassion, and we need to be most compassionate towards the people that have been misguided or that seem to have their values distorted in some way. If we’re properly managing our own emotions — the fear and the anger — by feeling them and observing them but not identifying with them, then we’re able to act compassionately towards those that have really just lost their way.” 

Additional Guidance:

When asked to offer some additional guidance, Gemma Perry provided some useful ideas pertaining to the mental food we feed our brains, especially in the form of social media and news:

We actually do have control of what we feed our minds and that can either promote fear or promote love. So use your social media wisely. Unfollow the fear. Talk about what you love and follow others that inspire you and talk about the things that they love… We don’t need to stay on top of every single piece of news everyday, especially if that’s causing us more anger or angst.”

To end the interview, Perry offered some final words of inspiration about making the most of the unfortunate political circumstances:

We do need practices that help us to manage all of the emotions because it’s just a vicious cycle if we haven’t managed our own stuff. So pray, chant, meditate, do yoga and go speak with people that are talking about nice things, because there really is still a lot of good in the world. And spend more time thinking about the divine and tuning into gratitude because that’s where the power is.”

Colin Beckley – Founder & Director of The Meditation Trust:

An image shows Colin Beckley, Founder & Director of The Meditation Trust, as he practices meditation with a group students. His advice is featured in Part I of Balanced Achievement’s article ‘6 Spiritual Teachers on America’s Divisive Political Climate’.

Over the past 30 years, Colin Beckley, the distinguished Transcendental Meditation (TM) instructor and founder of The Meditation Trust, has passionately committed himself to teach meditative practices and expounding spiritual wisdom throughout the world. After starting his journey with the extraordinary opportunity to train under the guidance of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the immortalized Hindu guru who’s revered around the world for developing and popularizing the celebrated TM technique, Beckley became one of the Maharishi Foundation’s most prolific western based teachers.

This, however, all changed around the turn of the 21st century after Beckley became disenchanted with the organization’s rising fees and made the decision to establish The Meditation Trust, a UK-based charity dedicated to making TM accessible and affordable to all which he’s remained the Director of for nearly 20 years. It’s from this vast wellspring of experience that Beckley, whose answers are more concise because they were submitted by writing, offers us guidance about America’s divisive political climate:

On Coming to Terms with the Current Political Climate:

When asked how Americans can make sense of the country’s current political climate, Colin Beckley auspiciously pointed to a breakthrough in universal consciousness levels before outlining the spiritual steps we can to help make this transition as smooth as possible:

Be aware that the whole world is currently in the process of a breakthrough in levels of consciousness. Rapid change at any level means turbulence in most countries, families and individuals. We can all contribute to family and country stability by being regular in a spiritual practice that transcends that turbulence and stabilizes us in the silence that lies beneath mental activity, and inevitably also helps to stabilize those around us.”

On Spiritual Truths Expressing Themselves in American Politics Today:

In response to the question pertaining to the expression of spiritual truths in American politics today, Beckley first explained how one’s mistaken intellect is the foundational cause of all other principles, including karma, ignorance, suffering, and ego, and then turned his attention to the supreme knowledge of non-duality:

The primary universal truth, the basis of all others, is pragyaparadha the mistake of the intellect. The mind’s forgetting of its essential nature, and becoming convinced that duality is the only reality, is the essence of all our ignorance. Advaita (non-duality) is the supreme knowledge (Vedanta) that there is only one of us here! We are just One infinite consciousness expressing itself in an infinite variety. A significant number of us knowing this experientially would create a paradigm shift, put an end to the wars, crime, sickness political turbulence and other aspects of suffering that seem so endless.”

On The Paradoxical Choice of Speaking Out vs Accepting with Detachment:

To illuminate how one can most advantageously approach the paradoxical choice of speaking out vs accepting with detachment, Colin Beckley so wisely pointed towards Chapter 2, Verse 48 of the Bhagavad Gita. It’s at this point in the great Hindu epic when Krishna tells an internally conflicted prince named Arjuna, ‘Be steadfast in the performance of your duty, O Arjuna, abandoning attachment to success and failure. Such equanimity is called Yog [Union with God].’ As Beckley explains further, we can assure ourselves of doing what’s right by spontaneously acting upon our inner disposition while relinquishing any attachments to the potential outcomes:

The advice from the Yoga Tradition is ‘Yogastha Kuru Karmani’ [Bhagavad Gita.2:48], Established in Yoga [the silence of Being] perform action. Not the detachment of doing nothing, nor the struggle of trying to do the right thing — but the non-attachment of acting effectively according to our deepest principles whilst spontaneously in harmony with the universal intelligence at Nature’s source [through transcendence]. Here the paradox is solved and action is effective without strain on the actor [as demonstrated by the athlete’s zone; experience], because we are spontaneously unattached to the results, so not affected by them, whatever our intentions may have been.”

On Cultivating Compassion Towards our Political Adversaries:

Beckley once again pointed toward Chapter 2, Verse 48 of the Bhagavad Gita, and the idea of spontaneous action without attachment, when asked to explain how one can cultivate compassion towards their political adversaries. Additionally, he made the important point that compassionate action doesn’t always mean passively standing by and allowing others to do whatever they want:

Again, the advice from the Yoga Tradition is ‘Yogastha Kuru Karmani’ [BG.2:48], Established in Yoga [the silence of Being] perform action. From the silent Bliss of your inner Self, discovered through effortless transcendence, compassion will ultimately be your spontaneous response. This does not necessarily mean standing by and allowing others to do what they will – your response will be firm, helpful and given with Love.”

If you’re interested in learning what three additionally distinguished spiritual teachers have to say about the United States’ partisan divide, please visit ‘6 Spiritual Teachers on America’s Divisive Political Climate — Part II’.


6 Spiritual Teachers on America’s Divisive Political Climate — Part II | Balanced Achievement February 24, 2019 - 9:59 pm

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Hari Om April 7, 2020 - 12:35 pm

Dear Patrick Zeis,
You article is amazing. I like it.

kashish April 5, 2022 - 4:13 am

your article has so many information , i get to know so maany new things ,Thanks for sharing such articles


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