The Morning of November 9, 2016

**This is only a semi-coherent first reaction to the Presidential election. Read if you want. Be aware that I channel a little Albert Ellis at the end.**


In four hours I’m supposed to teach a three-hour course on advanced theories of counseling and psychotherapy. The topic today is emotion-focused therapy for couples. It’s a good day to focus on emotions. I have more than a couple of them bouncing around inside me.

Maybe that’s why I made my way to a coffee shop at 5am this morning. That’s abnormal. But today is abnormal; the new abnormal.

Back in college a fellow student who was from Nepal explained to me the meaning of the greeting, “Namaste.”

“It means,” he said, “I salute the light within you.”

It’s a sad and painful morning. I’m not sure about the light in me. Instead, mostly I’m certain that yesterday and last night was a cosmic mistake. It feels like sexism, racism, and hate have triumphed over “. . . all men (and women) being created equal.” I feel this, even though I’m a White, heterosexual, Jewish-Christian-Agnostic male. Given my privileged status, it’s hard to comprehend the pain this vote has caused women and minorities.

But I can imagine it.

When I woke up to sounds on the street at 3am, my mind created evil agents of Donald Trump gathering outside my home to take me away. It was the sort of paranoid thought that can come in the night—even to those of us who are well endowed with safety and privilege. It makes me wonder if that what’s it like for my Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Mexican, and Muslim friends and students?

Late last night I got a text from a wealthy White Christian man who described himself as in tears. “What’s happening to our country?” he asked. And then he wondered what he could tell his children in the morning. He had put them to bed with kisses and the anticipation that they would awaken to the first woman President in the history of the United States.

There’s too much pain and sadness and suffering in the world. But there was too much pain and sadness and suffering in the world last week. And there will be too much next week.

I hold vivid memories of suffering through Reagan’s election, and George H. W. Bush’s election, and George W. Bush’s election. Those were difficult times. In each case I was certain that an evil force on the planet had somehow made it possible for the less honest, less compassionate, and less competent candidate to win.

But this is worse.

Even so, I refuse to believe that the majority of Americans are sexist and racist. I see too much kindness. I hope that Donald Trump is only a temporary phenomenon. I hope his existence will motivate us to swing the pendulum back toward justice, kindness, and empathy.

I’m reminded of the alleged words of Jesus, “Forgive them father, they know not what they do.”

Somewhat irrationally, I still have faith.

I have faith in the possibility that, as Jesus said, many people do not know what they’ve done. I have faith that although Donald Trump won the vote, that most people are not inherently sexist and racist at their core. I have faith that we can reach out to, reason with, and love our enemies, even when they’re our neighbors.

I will also follow the advice that I give people for coping with crisis.

  • Take care of yourself.
  • Look around and do what you can do to take care of others, your family, your friends, and your community.
  • And, don’t do anything stupid.

After I woke up at 3 a.m. and shook off my paranoid thoughts of evil Trump agents outside my door, other words emerged.

“Don’t mourn.”

An old memory was knocking at my door.

“But I want to mourn,” was my response. “I want to mourn. I need to mourn. I want to feel the pain for myself, and for my community of friends and family who have had their hopes crushed.”

“Okay. The voice conceded. “Mourn briefly. Do not linger.”

I recognized that this message wasn’t necessarily mine or God’s. It sounded like Joe Hill, the old union activist. He was saying,

“Don’t mourn. Organize.”

Then I was up. I had my hour of mourning. It was 4am. The sun will rise. I will teach my class.

But more important, I will focus. I will organize. I will, in Freud’s words, “Sublimate my emotions.”

I will whisper “Namaste” to everyone I see. I will salute the light within them.

Even though, right now, it’s so fucking hard to see the light.


49 thoughts on “The Morning of November 9, 2016”

  1. Thank you, John. I watched it all come down last night – the concession phone call, the surprisingly non-offensive acceptance speech. I am disoriented. There is a new world order. Perhaps I will truly experience what disenfranchised minority people feel.

  2. Thanks John. Needed that. Zen practitioners would say acknowledge the anger and disappointment. Let it pass through you. Then continue with the knowledge you have seen it.


    On Wed, Nov 9, 2016 at 7:13 AM, John Sommers-Flanagan wrote:

    > johnsommersflanagan posted: “**This is only a semi-coherent first reaction > to the Presidential election. Read if you want. Be aware that I channel a > little Albert Ellis at the end.** **************************************************** > In four hours I’m supposed to teach a three-ho” >

    1. Thanks Jeff. Very good to hear from you. It’s passing through, some is lingering and easily ignited. But you (and the Zen folks) are right on . . . we need to learn from the anger and disappointment, but not hang onto it. Not easy, but good. Peace to you. John

  3. I am right there with you John…especially the weirdness of walking into class this week. But I think that’s the other part of what this has shown us – we need to teach, now more than ever.

    1. Thanks Shawn. I’ve always loved the title of an article by an Adlerian, Lydia Sicher: A Declaration of Interdependence. We need to teach, but we need to lean on each other a bit too. Best, John

    1. Thanks Jesse. It’s great to hear from you. I hope your private work is going well. I enjoyed your excellent and thorough self-reflections on CESNET recently. I thought it was courageous sharing. Best, John

  4. Thanks for your words this AM, John. I share so many of your same sentiments. I will use your words as a jumping off point as I teach this afternoon!
    Namaste, John.

  5. Thanks for this JSF. I also have been channeling the words to Joe Hill. Hearing Paul Robeson’s powerful basso…

  6. Your comment about the pendulum swinging reminded me of this Indigo Girls song, written during the George W. presidency:

  7. I hear your response and value it.
    I don’t believe that the majority of Americans are not racist and sexist. This election is not about the Trump presidency for me but about the ways in which my neighbors and fellow citizens have said that their concerns trump my safety and wellbeing. That racism and sexism is acceptable in the pursuit of their causes, or at least not their problem. I feel that rejection viscerally. It makes it difficult to look compassionately at my White conservative students who last week were calling Hillary evil with utter sincerity and blindness to the effects of their embracing Trump.

  8. Namaste…

    Remember to breathe – this too will pass 😕

    I read two quotes yesterday that I think are relevant:

    “No matter who wins, they will NOT fix your life. Better plan on doing it yourself”
    “Once a president gets to the White House, the only audience that is left that really matters is history”

    Doris Kearns Goodwin

  9. I have read this over and over again and it has help me quite a bit with my depression today. We will be strong, we will move forward and hopefully we will all learn from this horrible cosmic mistake.

    1. Thank you Donna. I’m glad to hear that reading this was helpful to you. It was helpful for me to write it, as I process things better when I can write out my thoughts. This was a bit raw, but just sort of spilled out. Take care and I hope we can, as you said, move forward together. All my best to you, John

  10. John:

    Thank you. Thank you. Trying to find my light while comforting my 24 year old daughter who proudly wore her nasty woman t shirt and my 25 year old sensitive-souled son, who both were expecting history to be made and inclusiveness and generosity of spirit to triumph over the politics of hate. I grieve today but the essence of who I am and my core values have not and will not change and tomorrow (or perhaps the next day) I will channel my grief and re-focus my energy on the difference I can make in my corner of the world. Your wise words provided much needed comfort. I know I am not alone.

    Liz Pike (Martin)

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Hi Liz.

      Great to hear from you and so sorry for your children and my children and all children for having to face into this election outcome and all that it might mean. I am glad to hear that you will re-focus. You make a big difference in the world already. When that channeling of energy happens, watch out! All my best, John

  11. Amen! Thanks for sharing. I went to bed earlier than you (Pacific Standard time), Life is compromise with some lines drawn in the sand. The sun will rise tomorrow. Hard to listen the pundits today. Rather listen to you. Vince

  12. Thank you, John. So well said. I will take Hillary’s words to heart and work for a united America; see the good and value in all our neighbors; believe as one country we can and shall move forward; I too look for the light; life will go on. My heart is heavy. K

  13. John, thank you. I took a holiday from news and social media today; I had to work and my heart couldn’t handle it. This is all I read, and it was like a balm for my soul — the sacred communion of M&Ms being shared between friends.

    There’s a verse in the Bible that says that “God, who began a good work in you, will bring it through to completion.” I have no idea what that means, but I believe there is still a completion yet to be done, because man, this was a good work. And there is goodness in store, eventually, I think.

    And so, because community is good, and our patients and students and colleagues and friends and lovers and neighbors and enemies, even, are good — we will begin again tomorrow.

    1. Thank you Emily. It’s so nice of you to read this and comment and share some communal M&Ms. Rylee gives me updates on you from time to time and it sounds like life is going well for you and that you continue to do wonderful things in the world. And yes, we will begin again tomorrow . . . and the next day, with all that good work we have to do. All my best to you. John

  14. Thank you for sharing your heart. I am also in mourning, but I look at what I could have done differently. I often speak to my students about advocacy and I look back at my actions during this election and realized I could have done more. I did not let the light inside of me shine bright enough, but I have learned from this and will do better in the future. Peace be with you!

  15. Thank you for your reflections. They echo much of my reaction and process. I continue to discern what are the messages that is echoed in the collective decision. However, attending to my grief is first.

    My hope is that I can have a sense of what the themes are and that I could support change through solidarity. Unfortunately, it may be fueled from the avoidable pain. Ramana Marahshi was asked what is the point of pain and his reply was to Realize. A biblical reference that has been circulating in my head is that God uses all things for His good. I will seek to understand how I can use this experience to promote realization and understand how this could be used to promote good. Again, I think grieving without understanding is what I need now.

    Thank you for sharing yourself. I am greatly humbled. Blessings.

    1. Hi James.

      Thanks for sharing your comment with me. As you say, I hope that the whole process of grieving can contribute to a better individual and collective understanding and that together we can keep working to make the world a safer and more just place. This should keep us busy.

      I am humbled in return.

      All my best,


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