On Saturday, January 21st, I will join the throngs of participants at the Women’s March on Washington. My favorite statistic so far about the event is that 200 city parking permits for buses have been requested for Inauguration Day, compared to 1,200 for the Women’s March on the next day.
I have heard some criticize the Women’s March (and its sister events around the country) as serving only to deepen the divisiveness that plagues our country in the wake of the presidential election.
“You always talk about not resisting the reality of a situation and letting go of what you can’t change,” my teenaged son reminded me, referring, of course, to Donald Trump’s election.
He’s right. Mindfulness practice teaches us that resistance creates suffering. For me, however, the Women’s March on Washington is not about resistance. Event organizers themselves clarify that the March is not a protest but an opportunity to “promote women’s equality and defend other marginalized groups.”
I have accepted the fact that a man will be leading our country whose values I don’t share and whose complete lack of experience combined with thin-skinned impulsive reactivity pose a real threat to our society and national interests abroad.
But acceptance doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take action. Mindfulness simply trains us to strengthen our decision-making skills, keeping intention and rationality at the forefront and letting go of the drama that clouds our thinking and stirs up more negative energy.
How Does the Women’s March on Washington Serve as an Opportunity for Mindfulness Practice?
1) Mindfulness strengthens compassion and empathy, allowing us to connect with others who are different from ourselves. I am well aware of my privileged place in white America. This is an opportunity for me to join with and learn from groups who don’t look like me, who face different challenges, who will bring thousands of unique perspectives to the Women’s March.
2) Mindfulness strengthens our non-judgment muscles. I know that some factions protesting the Women’s March may try to incite fear and reactivity in us. Each of those individuals is motivated by their own personal story, which I will probably never have the opportunity to hear. My goal is to remain curious rather than judgmental, open-hearted rather than angry.
3) Mindfulness teaches us to take action where we can and let go of the rest. The March won’t change the views of the incoming administration. Our action on Saturday, however, will send a signal to lawmakers that women are watching, that we vote, and that we are prepared to get more involved in the political process to defend our rights, to stand up against bias, racism, and sexism, and to protect the futures of our children and the planet.
4) Mindfulness trains us to pause before reacting to an external trigger. We should expect to be confronted by protesters at the Women’s March. Rather than succumb to fear-based responses from the reptilian “fight or flight” area of our brain, we can step back, take a breath and respond skillfully from our higher functioning prefrontal cortex. (A skillful response may be no response at all.) We can choose consciously to base our actions on love rather than hate, on optimism rather than fear.
5) Mindfulness reminds us that nothing is permanent. Scenarios change on a moment-by-moment basis. The present moment awareness that mindfulness instills allows us to weather any turbulence with resilience. This applies to political rallies and presidential cycles alike.
The Women’s March is an excellent example of how to transform stress from paralyzing to empowering. Coming together with supportive community reduces the sense of social mistrust that many of us have experienced since the election (for more on this most toxic of stress responses, see my piece “Shifting Out of the Funk: The Science Behind Mindful Healing.” Sharing our collective energy and courage empowers each of us.
I will undoubtedly experience a roller coaster ride of emotions at the March: joy, inspiration, and hopefulness, as well as bouts of anxiety, frustration, and possibly even fear. All of these states of mind will be temporary. I intend to remain as present as possible as these emotions and their physical manifestations wash over me.
But rather than allowing myself to be pulled into a negative tailspin (in other words, suffering), I will do my best to notice the feeling, label it, and let it go. I will direct my attention to positive targets rather than negative ones, diffusing angry energy with joyful energy, not letting toxic vibes infect my frame of mind.
I will choose to feel positive, choose to feel grateful, and, while surrounded by those many thousands of Women’s March participants, blanket myself in the knowledge that I am not alone in my willingness to stand up for dignity and respect for all.