“Today, I will live in the moment, unless the moment is unpleasant, in which case I will eat a cookie. ” (Then I will notice the experience of eating a cookie.)
Well, it’s almost here! Election Day. Some of you have already voted via mail and some are waiting for November 8th to make your voices be heard. There is a lot in the media about how this election is “unusual”. Specifically with regards to how intense people are feeling and how divided they are. It’s reported that families, friends and marriages are literally breaking up because of the vitriol. What makes this election different?
KQED radio hosted a show exploring this. The guest psychologist said that this election, more than any other he’s experienced, is getting people in touch with “intense threat based emotions like anger and anxiety… and an ambient sense of looming threat”. The show goes on to interview others, both Trump and Clinton supporters, who have been shocked at the strong responses they received from “the other side.”
I have to say that, I too, found myself experiencing intense emotions regarding family members (or anyone) who favored my candidate’s opponent. It’s seems constant because i everywhere you look, news, comedy shows, Facebook, someone is talking about it. As a mindfulness practitioner, I became curious. So during one of my meditations, I decided to notice what arises in me when I think of those supporting “the other side”. Sure enough, I watched thoughts arise that made me feel anger, anxiety and fear. The thoughts were how sure I was that if my candidate lost, the country and the world were in danger. My thoughts told me that things would surely go from bad to worse. We wouldn’t collectively be able to recover.
But mindfulness is about observing thoughts, feelings and sensations, naming them as such, and meeting any difficulty with kindness. So that’s what I did. I noticed the thoughts and named them. Then I watched the discomfort of the feelings grow inside me. I named the discomfort and observed how fear, anger and anxiety felt in my body. I noted where I felt these feelings. I felt pressure in my chest. I felt heat in my neck and shoulders. As I watched and noted that, I noticed sadness arising. The sadness was about all the people who are having it hard. I noticed how I wished it could be different. I noticed some feelings of powerlessness. For me, powerlessness is the worst feeling of all! I kept sitting though and I kept noticing how unpleasant it all was.
Usually when things are unpleasant we naturally turn away. We can do that by having thoughts about how stupid others are. It makes us feel better to think we know how to do things “right”. But really those are thoughts too not facts. And those thoughts are distracting us from what’s arising, which are our uncomfortable feelings. The upshot is that when you stay with uncomfortable feelings, they change, they pass.
And that’s what happened to me. As I was staying with the sensations of powerlessness in my body, it changed. I noticed my breath and how soothingly rhythmic it was. I noticed the weight of my body on the cushion. It felt solid and comforting. Just as those uncomfortable feelings arose, so too they fell away. I didn’t feel as hopeless, or as powerless. I kept following my breath. The bell rang and the meditation was over.
So what can we do when we’re reading posts on Facebook about the election or talking to someone who’s dissing our candidate? We can notice our thoughts. Then we can notice how those thoughts lead to feelings. Then we can notice where those feelings arise in our body. If we can hang in for a moment we will notice that both thoughts and feelings come and go. We can remember our breath and how it’s always there no matter what. And finally we can feel compassion for all of us. We all want what’s best for ourselves, that’s natural and it’s what connects us.
So use this “unusual” election as a mindfulness practice. Practice noticing what arises when you think about it. The good news is that there’s LOTS to practice with… oh and that it’s almost over!