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June 18, 2016

How Meditation Can Change Our Political System.

Flickr/Gabriel White

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” ~ James Baldwin 

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For six years, I worked in politics—distributing more than one million dollars in campaign checks, working on over two dozen campaigns and speaking with hundreds of elected and government officials.

My heartfelt intention was to improve the conditions for service sector workers, such as hotel housekeepers, and more broadly, to advocate for policies that would make our democracy healthier.

Though I cared about the causes, my heart led me in a different direction. In 2015, I quit my job as a lobbyist and political strategist to teach meditation instead. When I changed jobs, many people asked me what made me leave politics. The surprising truth is that, as a meditation teacher, I am now much closer to the heart of what ails our political system than I ever was walking the corridors of government or writing large campaign checks.

Over the course of hundreds of hours of meditation and reflection, what I came to realize is that there is no such thing as “leaving the world of politics,” because politics is the method by which humans organize themselves into societies. I saw that the most productive thing I can do to help heal our country and our political system is to connect with the goodness in myself and to help others recognize their own goodness.

The hard part is that In order to know our own goodness, we must first reconcile with our pain. As long as we hide from their fear, shame and grief—we will turn to anger, hatred and violence and remain trapped inside those feelings. Mindfulness meditation can lead us out of the trap.

When we practice, we learn how to see and release fear, grief and shame. As our pain dissipates, we naturally reconnect with our own goodness, and we find ourselves endowed with the special power of seeing the goodness in others, even our enemies.

In that light, I offer to you a meditation on politics, using what I like to call the three S’s of mindfulness: sense, smile and soften.

This meditation is best used after reading the newspaper, listening to talk radio or scrolling through the depths of Twitter comment sections and political discussion forums. (The italics next to the instructions are the thoughts that went through my head when I practiced this meditation yesterday.)

1. Sense the feelings in the body. My chest is constricted, and my thoughts are violent fantasies. I am shouting at “idiots” and “lunatics” in my mind. Ah, I am angry.

2. Smile at or say hello to the anger. Hi anger. You can be here.

3. Soften with the feelings. Exhaling and relaxing my shoulders, I can feel this anger in my neck, shoulders, face and chest. I feel my heart pounding. It feels kinda good.

4. Sense deeper into the felt sense. There’s something else here too. It is a rotten, constricted feeling, like something isn’t right. Oh wow, my heart and chest hurt. There’s fear of all the suffering, pain and violence that this kind of hate can lead to. There’s some shame here too about how hateful I can be. I feel like I’m also in the muck.

5. Soften and listen for the answer. There is a knot opening in my chest and a sense of real sadness and despair here. I really don’t want to our country to succumb to more hatred and violence. I want to do what I can to make things better. I want to see past people’s anger. I know how hard it is to be afraid.

6. Smile and remember our infinite capacity for love.

Sometimes when things get very busy or difficult, we may forget to practice mindful awareness and compassion—but we need not be discouraged. Mindfulness is a practice for life. It is learning again and again to stop and reorient ourselves to what really matters. One of the connotations of the Pali word for mindfulness—sati—is remembering. When we practice mindfulness, we are practicing the art of remembering—remembering to be here in our bodies and remembering to listen to the gentle song our hearts guiding us home. One can hope that, in time, these heart songs will be the anthem of nations.

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Author: Devin Maroney  

Image: Flickr/Gabriel White

Editors: Yoli Ramazzina; Katarina Tavčar

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