Regardless of your political affiliation or philosophical bent, it’s certainly been a very tense, very contested time in American politics and discourse lately.
Whether the author’s intent is to stoke an existing flame or simply report what’s happening, it’s hard to turn on the TV, pick up a paper, or open a website without a strong confrontational and confrontational tone in most headlines and articles.
How can meditation and mindfulness tools help during these divisive times?
Transition from Reaction to Response
Whether you’re directly affected by the day’s events, know someone, or sit in empathy for strangers, it’s hard not to have a strong, visceral reaction to hearing today’s news.
It’s natural to kneel down to read the headlines or see the accompanying photos, an automatic reaction.
There is nothing wrong with having reactions. They are based on our life experience and how we see the world.
However, it is important for us to learn to respond rather than react. When we respond, we can absorb the shock of the initial push to kiss in anger, but we don’t act out of anger. Responding comes from tapping into it, noting the primal feelings and urges we experience, and seeing the bigger picture.
My favorite quote comes from Austrian neuroscientist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. he said “There is a gap between stimulus and response. In this space, we have the power to choose our response. We have growth and freedom in our answer.”
Because we are able to note our immediate reaction and not live from that place, we are free to end the cycle of anger fueling anger and the cycle of the limbic brain fighting the limbic brain.
A Self-Exploration and Development Tool
This does not mean that our feelings are wrong and we should not have them. Our senses come with an intelligence, pointing us to a place of balance and self-care.
It’s natural to have an angry reaction, and it’s healthy for us to recognize that not only are we reacting viscerally, but that there is wisdom in our reaction. Our anxiety may indicate some weakness beneath our surface that we don’t allow ourselves to feel, whether it’s rejection or issues with authority or judgment versus intelligence or caring.
This is how we can use our initial reaction to news to help us become wiser about who we are and why we do what we do. We can expand our awareness of ourselves and the world at large.
As with me, so with others
As we develop self-awareness, we can see that all anger, not just ours, is layered over vulnerability and pain. It opens the door for us to see like-minded people whose actions make us shudder in dismay and horror.
They may see us with the same fear and frustration. They also come with their own vulnerabilities and sense of what is right. As we become aware of our inner process, it is easier for us to recognize that others have the same inner self-preservation and self-care process as we do.
I do not mean that we condone the actions of others or agree with their point of view. This is not an airy-fairy utopian ideal, so to speak. “Well, I know he’s a killer, but he’s just a hurt little kid inside, so it’s not fair that he has to face any consequences for his actions.”
We can do both at the same time. We can hold others in a place of kindness and compassion, and at the same time agree. We can forgive others for how they react to events in the world and still judge those who have committed crimes.
For ourselves, when we use mindfulness to help us move from a place of reaction to response, we free ourselves to act wisely. We can respond with the fullness of who we are, not just the anger that comes from our primitive limbic brain.
It changes the nature of how we interact with life from defensive and hostile to full-bodied and cooperative.
Compassion and a thoughtful, collaborative response to this divisiveness, in approaching life and each other, is what can help bridge the political divide and help us heal ourselves and our communities.