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

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

An image shows a woman looking at the Washington Monument while scratching her head in a state of bewilderment. This picture is featured in Balanced Achievement's article '6 Spiritual Teachers on America's Divisive Political Climate — Part II'.

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, 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 II of the article, you’ll find the wisdom-filled insights of the following three individuals: 

  • Natalie Parsons – Yoga Instructor & Spiritual Teacher (Halifax, Canada)
  • Dr. Paul Haider – Spiritual Teacher & Master Herbalist (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
  • Meredith Gunderson – Yoga Instructor & Founder of The Modern Meditation Movement (London, England)

Additionally, you can delve into the guidance of spiritual teachers David Trachtenberg, Gemma Perry, and Colin Beckley by visiting: ‘6 Spiritual Teachers on America’s Divisive Political Climate Part I’.

Natalie Parsons – Yoga Instructor & Spiritual Teacher:

An image is shown of the accomplished Canadian yoga instructor and spiritual teacher Natalie Parsons. Her advice is featured in Part II of Balanced Achievement’s article ‘6 Spiritual Teachers on America’s Divisive Political Climate’.

Living some 800 miles away from Washington D.C., in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, hasn’t been enough to safeguard the accomplished yoga instructor and spiritual teacher Natalie Parsons from being exposed to America’s divisive political climate. In fact, because diplomatic relations between the two countries have been strained as a result of the political contention, all Canadian citizens have indirectly felt the ripple effects. Today, as Canada’s parliamentary leaders grapple with the new reality of their once reliable neighbors becoming indifferent, if not at times apathetic, towards the historic alliance, citizens continue to contend with elevated costs of groceries and home goods, which resulted from what many believe were unnecessary trade tariffs, and news outlets remain just as interested in American politics as their colleagues from the south.

While there’s little doubt that the uncertainty is looked upon from a precarious lens by large swaths of Canadians and Americans alike, Parsons, who teaches a variety of mind-body disciplines and offers soul coaching through her own private venture called Inspired Self, consciously chooses to view the situation in a more advantageous light. As her wisdom-filled guidance below shows, we too can shift our perspective in a way that turns the challenges of these times into promising opportunities for hope, love, and growth:

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, Natalie Parsons proclaimed that, as both individuals and a collective whole, we have the chance to look upon the situation opportunistically and recreate life as we want it to be. She told us of the steps we can take at a personal level:

My advice would be that this is the opportunity to share your voice, to look within yourself and bring clarity to what kind of world it is that you want to see. And as you go in and find clarity — model that — model it through your actions and through your words.”

Subsequently, Parsons illuminated how the provocative issues being brought to the surface by partisan division offer us a window to collectively rise up together and transform the world:

Through our hardship and struggle is our opportunity to rise, rise up and above. The issues that needed to be resolved for many, many years are now in our awareness so this is our opportunity to come together and support that change, not just as Americans, but as one world.”

On Spiritual Truths Expressing Themselves in American Politics Today:

Pertaining to the expression of spiritual truths in American politics, Parsons was quick to note that although many people falsely come to believe that the spiritual life should be veiled in only positive circumstances, it’s actually the hard times and struggles that encourage us to fly the highest and shine the brightest:

The thing with spiritual teachings is there’s a common belief that it should all be light, fluffy, airy and everything’s okay, but you know, through the trenches and the darkness, that’s when we really see our light shine the brightest — when we’re in the dark — otherwise the stars won’t shine.”

Additionally, Parsons told us how the current situation is serving the important purpose of bringing our shadows into awareness, and that we can find a greater sense of harmonious balance by directly facing them with kindheartedness and integrity:

For me this goes back to looking at our own shadows because sometimes when things are illuminated in our awareness, and we see them as a shadow that needs to be looked at, the light flickers and we begin the dance of balance… Look at them and face them with compassion, honesty, truthfulness and hold them in high regard as an opportunity of something to move through.”

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

Making the decision to stand up and speak out for something you believe is right versus allowing and accepting a situation to unfold with detachment is one that leaves all too many spiritual seekers stuck in a state of indecision. To help us avoid this conundrum, and to assure ourselves that we take the right actions at the right times, Natalie Parsons told us that we must look within and unfailingly act from a place of love:

When you’re dealing with these choices of speaking out, it’s all about going within and seeing where your voice is coming from. Is it coming from a place of love or is it coming from a place of fear? If it’s coming from a place of love, it will be in a way that models respect for everyone involved in the conversation and encourages others to have a voice, because not everyone feels supported.”

While internally reflecting like this is undoubtedly an invaluable practice to rely upon when faced with the difficult decision of speaking out versus accepting with detachment, Parsons did note how finding a balance between the two should be the ultimate goal:

I feel like we need to balance both speaking our truth and also detaching. We need to stand strong in our truth in a very loving and respectful way, where we can hold space for others to do the exact same, and then when detaching, it’s all about not taking it personally. So not personalizing all of the events that are going on as events that are happening to you. When you start to understand that they’re just there, and that none of this is actually happening to you, that’s when the detachment naturally takes place.”

On Cultivating Compassion Towards our Political Adversaries:

When the interview moved on to the topic of cultivating compassion towards those who hold different beliefs, and may even speak or act in an unkind or aggressive manner, Parsons talked about the importance of having compassion for ourselves and respecting the unalienable rights of all to freely think for themselves:

Compassion for others begins with having compassion for yourself in the highest regard, and holding everyone’s beliefs with great respect, because we are all entitled to those beliefs, even if we may not agree with them… Unpleasant and hostile situations become a lot easier to navigate when you’re able to bring the compassion, that you have towards yourself, into it so you don’t have to take it on as your own beliefs, but are able to stay open, listen and hold space for that.” 

Parsons expanded further on the topic of dealing with disconcerting and unnerving circumstances by telling us that, although there isn’t one universally applicable formula for diffusing tensions peacefully, it’s all about standing up for what you believe is right without undermining others:

If you’re in a situation where someone’s acting or speaking in a hostile or unkind manner, there’s many different ways to approach it without adding fuel to the fire so I don’t think there’s a one size fits all formula. I think it’s about finding that within yourself and standing with your own empowerment without disempowering others.”

Dr. Paul Haider – Spiritual Teacher & Master Herbalist:

An image is shown of Spiritual Teacher & Master Herbalist Dr. Paul Haider. His advice is featured in Part II of Balanced Achievement’s article ‘6 Spiritual Teachers on America’s Divisive Political Climate’.

Like many of the world’s other most accomplished spiritual teachers, Dr. Paul Haider was nudged down the sacred path by the inevitable challenges and hardships life throws our way. To be more exact, it was a combination of coming to terms with a number of failed relationships, coping with the premature death of his father at the age of 57, and the subsequent realization that he may suffer a similar fate if he didn’t reduce his levels of stress that moved the now accomplished author and master herbalist towards the wisdom of Buddhism and Hinduism

In the 30-plus years that have since passed, Dr. Haider, who was born and raised in California but now resides in Puerto Rico, has continued to sharpen his spiritual intellect and hone his abilities to handle whatever life throws at him with the formidable combination of courage and compassion. His exemplary mettle, which emanates fully in the answers below, was most recently put to the test by the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria and the unsavory government response that soon followed. It’s from this wellspring of stoic resolve that Dr. Haider offers us guidance on how to best deal with America’s divisive political climate:

On Coming to Terms with the Current Political Climate:

As it relates to coming to terms with America’s current political climate, Dr. Paul Haider so wisely told us that, instead of festering about the problems taking place in the outside world, we must look inside of ourselves to bring about true healing:

I think as many of the great teacher have said — don’t dwell on the outside world but dwell on the inside world — and that’s really what we need to do… We need to stop looking at our phones, stop looking at the computers and start looking within so that we can find our true self. When we do this, then we’ll have the answers needed to start healing the world. We can heal the outside if we just go inside.”

Dr. Haider expanded on this advice by discussing how practices such as meditation and contemplation not only benefit the practitioners but also those around them, and also by telling us why it’s vitally important to allocate an adequate amount of time:

It’s important to practice meditation, contemplation, prayer and chanting because you’ll find that you become more peaceful, the people around you become more peaceful and then that spreads out to everybody in the community… I’ve had a lot of people come to me doing 20 minutes of Transcendental Meditation (TM) in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening, and they said it’s no longer working. I say, yeah, that’s because all this agitation going on. It’s overwhelming to the point that you need more time to just get down into a meditative state.”

On Spiritual Truths Expressing Themselves in American Politics Today:

When asked about the expression of spiritual truths in American politics today, Dr. Haider astutely correlated the Buddha’s ancient teachings on craving, desire, and suffering with the modern lifestyle of capitalistic societies:

Desire, as the Buddha talked about craving and wanting, is taking over. It’s the dynamics of capitalism, which is greed and suffering, and all the other stuff that goes along with that — the emotions of anger, hatred and all these different things because we desire it to be this way, we want it to be that way. It’s the capitalistic way of being.”

To move beyond this most vexing way of life, Dr. Haider proclaimed that we can nurture a greater sense of tranquility and peace by modeling the great masters, monks, and sages of the great eastern spiritual traditions:

If you go to see QiGong Masters and Tibetan Buddhists, they have a very structured way of living which doesn’t have any desire in it and they have a huge sense of peace. So if we let go of desire, let go of greed, let go of lust and all the different things that come along with it, when we give that up, then we’re left with a state of peace.”

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

Like most of the spiritual teachers who were interviewed for this project, Dr. Haider told us that, when it comes to the paradoxical choice of speaking out for what you believe is right or accepting a situation with detachment, there isn’t one answer that’ll be right for everybody:

I think it varies from person to person and each individual’s going to have to decide that on their own. I have seen people that speak up and I’ve seen people who don’t, and it’s not that either way is right or wrong, it’s just depends on the person and what they feel is right.”

Additionally, Dr. Haider built upon this assessment by illuminating how individuals can feel good about their decision and positively impact the world regardless of if their approach comes from a place of demonstration or reservation:

I have good friends who go to D.C. all the time and they’re protesting with a thousands other people on a regular basis, and I have others who don’t agree with what’s going on but at the same time they do it from a more mindful place inside themselves and choose to make different choices in the way they live. Both of these are good and can make a difference in the world.”

On Cultivating Compassion Towards our Political Adversaries:

Upon being asked about how one should go about cultivating of compassion towards others who carry conflicting political beliefs, Dr. Paul Haider so wisely pointed towards His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama as a quintessential role model to try to emulate:

I think the Dalai Lama is a true visionary in that aspect. I mean look at the Chinese destroying his country, destroying the people, and yet he is still willing to accept them and love them with compassion.”

Subsequently, Dr. Haider offered some advice on how to best cultivate compassion within ourselves. In addition to personal affirmations, such as ‘I am compassion’, and self-monitoring practices, he pointed towards the importance of communicating with empathy, sympathy, and understanding of our interconnected nature:

In all the spiritual text they talked about how there’s God in all of us so how can I be angry with them when that person is also that except they just don’t see the light in themselves… You have to be empathetic, you have to be sympathetic, you have to allow yourself to be in their shoes. They don’t know anymore than what they know. So how can they be anything different?”

Additional Guidance:

When asked to offer some additional guidance towards the end of the interview, Dr. Haider recalled his own personal experience dealing with Hurricane Maria to illuminate how looking for the good in all situations and understanding how things could be worse are life-affirming ways to overcome the inevitable hardships we face:

I think the real key to everything in life is to really look at the good no matter how bad it gets. You have to understand that there’s a lot of people going through worse, you know, look at Indonesia and that big earthquake and tsunami. We were lucky because our house wasn’t really damaged at all. We had friends that came to the house and wanted to check on us to make sure we’re okay. So that was a blessing.”

Before the interview concluded, Dr. Haider presented us with one final piece of advice that all of us should strive to achieve:

No matter what it is — whether it’s bad politics, dictators or whatever else it may be — we can always find a way to be a good person.”

Meredith Gunderson – Yoga Instructor & Founder of The Modern Meditation Movement:

A photo is shown of the Modern Meditation Movement’s Founder Meredith Gunderson. Her advice is featured in Part II of Balanced Achievement’s article ‘6 Spiritual Teachers on America’s Divisive Political Climate’.

Ever since Meredith Gunderson first began practicing yoga and meditation in the mid-1990s, while as a university student in America and as a recent graduate traveling throughout Europe, she’s remained passionately interested in the wisdom that’s found in eastern spirituality. It wasn’t until 2014, however, that she decided to forsake an 18-year career working with contemporary art so she could turn this unremitting enthusiasm into a full-time profession. 

After spending the summer traveling and teaching in India, the country where yoga originated, Gunderson, who was born and raised in the United States, returned to the country she calls home today, England, to formally commence her career. More recently, the now distinguished yoga instructor, who also teaches meditation and mindfulness, launched a free curated resource portal for people wanting to cultivate inner peace called The Modern Meditation Movement. It’s from this abundance of spiritual and cultural knowledge that Gunderson shared guidance about America’s divisive political climate:

On Coming to Terms with the Current Political Climate:

When asked how Americans can best come to terms with their country’s current political turmoil, Meredith Gunderson touched on a variety of inspirational and interwoven ideas, starting with the personal qualities of acceptance and creativity:

Don’t struggle against it. Instead, learn how to accept things as they are as this will put you in the most powerful position. When we are in a state of resistance, we lose our creativity and your creativity is needed right now to create the world you want to live in. You may wish it were different but humans have been living in an imperfect world since the beginning of time.”

Gunderson then illuminated how mindful awareness, self-control, and inner strength can help us not only come to terms with the current political climate but thrive in the face of it:

It’s important to step out of the stress, evaluate where you actually are, drop the judgment and even pray for those you feel are acting inhumanely. Keep yourself present, mind your vibe and go from there. You will be far more powerful, effective and useful to your world in such a state, and also much happier.”

On Spiritual Truths Expressing Themselves in American Politics Today:

Pertaining to the expression of spiritual truths in American politics today, Gunderson so wisely told us about how our view of the outer world is a projection of our inner state, and why judging others does us more harm than good:

The world around us is a reflection of the world within us. Do not be afraid of what you may perceive as ‘darkness’. Your judgement and condemnation of others is not helpful, as it only makes you miserable and often leads to a slippery slope of feeling like a victim, which is a disempowered state.” 

In addition to her insightful assessment of the expression of spiritual truths, Gunderson also offered instructions for a manifestation technique, based upon the law of attraction, that we can use to invoke support from the universe and transform our world:

Americans are so fortunate to have freedom of expression and speech, so use it and cherish it. Speak about what you WANT and not what you don’t want. A classic manifestation technique, when invoking support from the universe, is to always speak in the positive rather than the negative. For example, with self-talk, if you are constantly saying ‘I don’t like X,’  you are actually focusing on X so more of X will show up for you because it’s in your energy field and like attracts like. But if you say ‘I desire Y,’ you are focusing on Y and more of Y will show up.”

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

Meredith Gunderson additionally shared some life-affirming advice when asked about the paradoxical choice of speaking out versus allowing a situation to unfold with detachment. To start, she explained why the best outcomes come when we both act in accordance with our own truth and release attachment to whatever results may transpire:

Speak out and stay true [to yourself] but release yourself from the outcome because when we have a fixed idea of what and how all should go, we become controlling and that is never going to be an enjoyable process, nor will it reap the most elegant outcomes. Alternatively, releasing from the outcome actually enables far more beautiful outcomes that include synergy, serendipity and so forth.”

Later in the interview, Gunderson expanded on the topic by talking about the importance of acting with love and putting our trust in a higher power:

An act of love is very, very powerful and this can be utterly trusted. Your job is to act with love in accordance with your own personal truth and leave the rest to the universe and/or God. Trust is paramount, yet most of us are not taught to trust in this way and find it uncomfortable. Keep trying and your world will transform, and it will be way easier and way more interesting than trying to control everything.”

On Cultivating Compassion Towards our Political Adversaries:

Upon being asked about how to cultivate compassion towards individuals with opposing political beliefs, Gunderson talked about the importance of understanding the root causes of judgment and also the vitalness of acting from a place of love:

Stop judging, stop shaming and understand that any hostile act is coming from a place of pain and fear. Also, be mindful of the fact that we all have been there too. We need to be here to love and help each other, and ourselves, instead of shaming and judging.”  

Gunderson expanded on this advice by telling us that how non-judgmental witnessing our own unkind and spiteful tendencies is the starting point of healing and beneficial change:

Nothing leaks energy and possibility like judgement. So become aware of when and how you judge, and don’t shame yourself when you notice how much you do, because shining light on it and witnessing it — although a bit uncomfortable — is the beginning of healing it and creating new habits.”

Additional Guidance:

To end the interview, Meredith Gunderson offered some last words of inspiration by proclaiming how we can use the divisive political climate as an opportunity to move toward personal growth and change:

America seems to be going through some sort of detox at the moment and lots of uncomfortable truths are rising to the surface. It’s ok if it’s messy, it’s ok if it’s painful from time to time. This is growth, this is life. Make the daily commitment to stay present and choose love over fear while knowing that you are safe.”

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 I’.

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6 Spiritual Teachers on America’s Divisive Political Climate — Part I | Balanced Achievement February 24, 2019 - 10:04 pm

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