“By the Renewal of Your Mind” (Election Day 2017)

Somehow it’s managed to feel even worse waking up the morning after, hasn’t it?

I can’t much see or feel past my grief, which takes many forms. Among all my worries, I am thinking of countless women, and in particular many friends, who are survivors of rape and sexual assault, and of how re-traumatizing it is for the patriarchy not only to keep the glass ceiling intact, but to suggest that the most repugnant forms of sexual violence are to be rewarded with even more power. I am shocked by the general acceptance of the downright surreal narrative that it is white America that has suffered the most persecution and discrimination in this country rather than the immigrant and the person of color. I am frustrated that it is largely the poor, the unemployed, and the uninsured who have hammered this latest nail into their own coffin. I am grieving that at this most pivotal moment in the history of our planet, what few tenuous hopes we had for prophetic leadership on climate change may as well be kissed goodbye.

Furthermore…. I am so aware of my own weakness, my own sinfulness, that I cannot judge any human being, including Donald Trump. None of what I am saying is about condemnation; but it is about fear, because I know from personal experience what kind of psychological disintegration and moral collapse are possible when we do not adequately address our own woundedness, and here we have just handed the most powerful position in the world to a man, I think, profoundly more unstable than I am, with a desperate need for psychological help, and with infinitely more responsibility.

Casting about for wisdom last night, I thought, weakly, of St. Paul’s admonition to the Romans to overcome evil with good: bless and do not curse, mourn with those who mourn, do not be proud but count your friends among the lowly, live in peace with all, do not repay evil for evil, and do not take revenge. I thought of Dorothy Day, whose birthday it would have been yesterday, and who wrote once, “As we come to know the seriousness of the situation — the war, the racism, the poverty in our world — we come to realize that things will not be changed simply by words or demonstrations. Rather, it’s a question of living one’s life in a drastically different way.” And here too Paul exhorts us to use our diverse gifts for the good, rising to the challenge of a crisis like this one with an overflow of creativity, hard work, and re-commitment to the cause of humanity: “If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, forgive joyfully.”

But what really struck me in this chapter of Paul’s letter was the first part, in which he writes, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” I’ve often heard this passage cited in conservative circles, as a way of dismissing moral progress and intellectual nuance, and clinging to what is comforting yet archaic. Yet today I see it in a new light. We’ve been spoiled by eight years with a president who, human and fallible though he was, was at least a benevolent person, and a philosopher king. This blinded me not only to the possibility that anything like what happened last night could ever, in a million years, happen, but also to the fact that all conformity to the pattern of the world ends up in disappointment. What abides is not historical progress. And the response to last night is not (at least, not only — it cannot be) to reassert our allegiance to the opposing ideology, which for all its moral superiority remains ideology. The response, I think, is somehow to practice detachment from the world, not in order to recuse ourselves from the fight for social justice, but, on the contrary, so as to renew our mind and fortify our spirit while the fight for what is ultimately important continues.

In a way, then, it is only what IS ancient that is adequate as a response to the world-historical disaster that occurred last night. This hymn, a negation of false ideals that tries to touch the infinite mystery of transcendent Being, does not exhaust all speaking about ultimate reality, but it may provide — well, certainly not a solution, and not exactly a consolation, either, but the beginnings of a practice of opposition to all of the lies of false ideology, as well as a fallout shelter in which to take refuge while our spirits figure out where to go next.


1) I am not mind, nor intellect, nor ego, nor the reflections of inner self (citta). I am not the five senses. I am beyond that. I am not the ether, nor the earth, nor the fire, nor the wind (the five elements). I am indeed that eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

2) Neither can I be termed as energy (prāṇa), nor five types of breath (vāyus), nor the seven material essences, nor the five sheaths(pañca-kośa). Neither am I the five instruments of elimination, procreation, motion, grasping, or speaking. I am indeed that eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

3) I have no hatred or dislike, nor affiliation or liking, nor greed, nor delusion, nor pride or haughtiness, nor feelings of envy or jealousy. I have no duty (dharma), nor any money, nor any desire (kāma), nor even liberation (mokṣa). I am indeed that eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

4) I have neither merit (virtue), nor demerit (vice). I do not commit sins or good deeds, nor have happiness or sorrow, pain or pleasure. I do not need mantras, holy places, scriptures (Vedas), rituals or sacrifices (yajñas). I am none of the triad of the observer or one who experiences, the process of observing or experiencing, or any object being observed or experienced. I am indeed that eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

5) I do not have fear of death, as I do not have death. I have no separation from my true self, no doubt about my existence, nor have I discrimination on the basis of birth. I have no father or mother, nor did I have a birth. I am not the relative, nor the friend, nor the guru, nor the disciple. I am indeed that eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

6) I am all pervasive. I am without any attributes, and without any form. I have neither attachment to the world, nor to liberation (mukti). I have no wishes for anything because I am everything, everywhere, every time, always in equilibrium. I am indeed that eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.