Donald Trump is a polarizing figure. His ratings are helped by his fearless off-the-cuff remarks and unpolished, impassioned speeches. Then he spends an inordinate amount of time on some variation of the phrase “that wasn’t my intention.” If only Donald Trump practiced yoga, he’d have some practice working on this.
The yogis of old knew that our intention shapes everything. We’ll never know what Trump meant when he said “she was bleeding out of her … whatever,” but we latched on to it as a cultural soundbite because, regardless of how he tried to spin it later, Trump’s words were not super sweet. Whether you were smiling gleefully from your Confederate-flag draped couch, or shaking your head in despair at the dystopian cartoon state of US politics, we all knew what Trump’s intention was.
“Your intentions become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
Trump’s got the Republican electorate behind him because they seem to enjoy his truthfulness.This is very yogic of Trump (satya, or truthfulness is one of the five yamas or ethical guidelines in Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga). But Trump’s words (and it goes back to intention here) are laced with violence and antagonism. Whether he is lobbing insults, or promising to expand the military so that no one can fuck with America, Trump’s MO is a violent one, as expressed clearly in his book “Trump: How To Get Rich”: ”When somebody hurts you, just go after them as viciously and as violently as you can.”
We get his truth, and the over-poured measure of suffering caused by it.
Ahimsa, or nonviolence is the central tenet of many dharma and contemplative traditions, including yoga. Nonviolence comes before and is of more importance than truthfulness. If our truthfulness harms or causes suffering, our words are poison. A favorite quote of mine is, “truth without wisdom is violence.” If Trump were a dharma teacher he would understand this, and it would matter to him.
Whether we are aware of it or not, our lives are shaped by the power of our intention and attention. A yoga practice builds a muscle of attention, and this attention gives us power to act on our intentions. It’s a cyclical process. If Trump were a student of yoga he might be working on the muscle of attention. What might he see when turning his attention inward? His own suffering.
Yoga teaches us that when we understand our own suffering, we change our behavior to cause less suffering. At some point, we understand that we are all connected, and by natural extension our practice helps to ease the suffering in the world. But until we can really clearly see the root cause of our personal suffering, we’re stuck. And we act out against others (walls, physical ones, to match the psychological barriers we’ve constructed against feeling our own pain).
Yoga teaching might have helped Donald Trump avoid some of his latest media gaffs. But would he have wanted to? Maybe not. If only I understood Trump’s inner workings, his deeper intentions (not just “become president” but the real fear and vulnerability that gives rise to such a polarizing personality). Until then, I’m still working on compassion and forgiveness.