Does mindfulness matter now? After Tuesday’s election, I’m feeling not so mindful – more like preoccupied, scared, astonished. My mind is way too busy generating stories about what lies ahead and what might have been different in the lead-up.
Disclosure: I volunteered for the Clinton campaign, happily and with rising enthusiasm. As the song in Hamilton asks, “What did I miss?” What did so many of us miss? How could a tectonic shift like this happen? The search for answers is just beginning and I believe it will not be easy.
The coming conversations deserve our best selves. And I think this is where mindfulness does matter. Mindfulness, to me, is a way of being. It’s not an activity, a cure-all, or a fad. So I’m going back to basics, to mindfulness as a particular way of paying attention: on purpose, in the present moment, and with compassion.
On purpose: Left to its own devices, my mind will most likely keep racing to make sense of what happened. However, I can set my intention to do something different instead: to focus and refocus on what really matters to me, and what I can actually control in my life. I can tune in to my body and check how I’m holding anxiety physically, then do something to ease my distress: eat well, take long walks. I can choose to put my energies toward attuning to my family and neighbors, clients and colleagues, staying connected and not isolating myself.
In the present moment: It’s a bit of a cliché, but very true: “now” is the only moment we have to actually live our lives. If I exhaust myself with worry about the days and years ahead, I’ll miss my own moments. So right here right now, I can center myself by focusing on my breath, by practicing Qigong, by choosing how often to watch news coverage. When I’m honest with myself, I know exactly when my equilibrium is out of whack. Meditation practice disciplines me to regard with equanimity what is pleasant and unpleasant, neither “approaching” the former or “avoiding” the latter. As best I can….
With compassion: In mindfulness teaching, “happiness is an inside job,” and it begins with self-compassion. This doesn’t mean flattering ourselves or excusing our mistakes. It does mean offering non-judgmental kindness to all the feelings and thoughts and bodily sensations we experience. We do this because turning attention inward on a regular basis keeps us connected with how we really are doing, and invites us to change what isn’t working so well. It is also the foundation for empathy – for understanding the suffering of others and seeking to help them.
What did I miss? What did many of us miss? Sitting in meditation is not an escape from engagement with an unpredictable future. It seems to me it’s a path toward engagement that is authentic, considered, and courageous. Traits we will likely need in abundance for ourselves, our relationships, our cities, states, nation, and the world.