A Love Letter in Response to the Elections

November 9th, 2016

Dear Beloved Community,

So, after a sleepless night, we wake to a new understanding of the reality of our country at this moment in time. I’m not going to pretend that I have the answers. I’ll leave that for the professional commentators - of whom there are many - and they’re having a field day.

I know that I am not alone in waking up this morning in shock and fear.

There’s a lot of talk about those who, for various reasons, have felt disenfranchised by the “establishment”, with what they are calling “politics as usual”. It seems like these are the keywords and phrases of this moment.

Whatever the motivation, we awake to a sea of change. The scales are falling from our eyes, and we are seeing more clearly than ever before the division and fear in our nation and by extension, the world at large. The question for me, the question that kept me up all night and has me tapping away at this keyboard, is what can I do?

What can we do to bring healing to this moment?

The first thing for me was to recognize that the fear and shock I am experiencing around the election results (and its possible implications) are a mirror image of the fear, distrust and isolation that were already present in many people in the nation.

With that recognition, I realized that I could not use the election results to disenfranchise others, to hunker down and behave like a martyr. It is too easy to point the finger at “the other”, or “they”, or the so-called "hidden enemy." That’s the easy way out.

Rather, let us use this opportunity to reflect on the hidden enemy. The enemy within our own hearts.

What have we missed over the past years? What are the ways that we have closed our eyes in front of suffering, that we have avoided building meaningful connection with those we disagree with, that we have behaved arrogantly? In the Sutra of the Eight Realizations, it says “Great Beings do not hate anyone, even those presently causing harm, and treat everyone - friends and ‘enemies’ alike - equally and with compassion.”

For too long, we have behaved as children, expecting others - in this case our political leaders - to do our work for us, or more precisely our shadow work. Expecting others to bring our nation together. Expecting others to heal the divide. Expecting others like organizations or churches to feed the hungry. This is a wake up call indeed.

This is an invitation for us to step into adulthood and to realize both our capacity and our responsibility.

What are the conversations that we need to have as families, as communities, as a nation? In this critical juncture, can we commit ourselves to a future that includes each other? Can we build communication with the person next to us? Can we not wait for someone else to do the hard work for us? Most importantly, can we stop running and allow ourselves to be in this present moment, even if it is difficult?

It is not an exaggeration for me to say that America saved me. She is openhearted, she is diverse, she is beautiful and at this moment in time, she is hurting deeply.

This morning, this very painful morning, rather than allowing our hearts to shatter into a thousand pieces, let us break them open.


Brother Phap Hai (Dharma Ocean), is a senior monastic Dharma teacher living at Deer Park Monastery and board member of the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. He was ordained as a monk in 1997 and was formally authorized to teach in January 2003.

He has also written a book called "Nothing To It: Ten Ways to Be at Home with Yourself", published by Parallax Press.