In this era of extremism, facing an Internet-driven world where even basic facts seem distorted beyond being able to find even the most suitable simple agreement, the intentions behind mindfulness matter more than ever. While it seems like the word 'mindfulness' is becoming almost tiresome to some, the word itself is beside the point. Mindfulness doesn't represent a cliché like be in the moment, it means building skills that allow for more intention and equilibrium while living through whatever we face.
All of us get caught up on autopilot, driven by habits around emotions, our behavior, and also habitual assumptions. These unconscious patterns undermine our well-being and impact everyone around us too. We're stressed and fearful, so we reactively lash out or shut down or blame or whatever else. Building traits that allow us to see life objectively, and to be more intentional in our choices, benefits us all - regardless of any stance as a Democrat, Republican, or otherwise.
Everyone, even those we most disagree with, seeks happiness and relief from suffering. Taking a stand, we can still remain open to this perspective. Every action has repercussions, even ones we feel are completely just, so we better balance whatever needs to get done now with the impact it may have on the future. How, then, might basic concepts of mindfulness integrate with social action?
• Get out of autopilot. The recent election was a moment of awakening for many. Having been complacent about politics, they now feel resolved to act. That same concept holds true regardless of which side of the election you were on - politicians count on us believing what they say at face value. Voting (or not voting), speaking (or not speaking), and acting (or not acting) purely out of habit, living life without awareness, makes us far less likely to make useful choices for ourselves and our country. Right now, today, what is something you could do to stand up for your beliefs?
• See life exactly as it is. One of the most insidious aspects of how we think is that assumptions get labeled fact. Taking advantage of that tendency, a disturbing aspect of our Internet-driven culture is that viral stories spread instantly and are assumed real if they fit with our views - even when intentionally seeded with misinformation. Yet some basic facts actually hold true for everyone; for example, gravity works on earth. In your personal relationships, with your children, with your families, encourage everyone to step back and reexamine their basic assumptions. Around race, taxes, environment, health care, education, or anything else, pause, reflect, and seek out whatever objective reality is to be found. Beyond politics, hold ideas up to the light, and ask yourself of each belief you encounter, Is it true?
• Practice responsiveness, instead of reinforcing reactivity. In any situation, we control only our own actions. Through them we either increase or decrease conflict. Even taking concrete steps that stand up for what we feel is right, intention and awareness of the larger picture can guide nuanced choices, but only if we stay out of autopilot and fear-driven reactivity. Protest and stand resolute, try to engage in conversation across the aisle, and through it all aim for agreement and collaboration instead of escalating conflict when possible.
• Cultivate compassion. We're all struggling to find happiness in life, however messed up our approach to there sometimes appears from the outside. Mindfulness builds from self-compassion, the capacity to approach ourselves with the same kindness we treat our best friend. When feeling beleaguered and beaten up, we become miserable, lose faith, and may even mistreat those around us. More than that, we actively seek to recognize the pain and suffering of everyone else, even those who disagree with us. While the intention of compassion is nothing more that compassion, it's also true that relieved of fear and suffering, anyone's perception of the world would shift. In essence, we protect ourselves when making life easier for someone else. Compassion of this kind doesn't mean becoming a doormat; compassion for others and self-protection happen all together.
How to move forward during these troubling times? Seeing life clearly as it is right now may mean taking direct action that stands up for whatever you feel right. At the same time, anger and strife lead to more anger and strife. Being baited into conflict strengthens divides and often builds resolve in your perceived opponent. Wake up, check in with reality as you best see it, and then take firm steps to care for our world - all while compassionately seeing that all of us in our own unique way suffers and seeks relief from suffering every day.