Mindfulness and Election Anxiety

Mindfulness and Election Anxiety

Discussion date: Thu, Oct 29, 2020 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
October 29, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening
October 30, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

A day or two after the last presidential election, on a sunny autumn afternoon, I remember watching the neighborhood children playing in a giant pile of leaves. Their joy, the beauty of the changing season, brought a smile to my face. Only then did I recognize that it was the first moment since the election that I had felt the fully range of human emotions.

This year, I do not want to get pulled away again from who I really am. Instead of getting swept away in a fog of excitement or despair, I will practice staying present to joys and sorrows that actually present themselves in the coming week and beyond. In No Mud, No Lotus, Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

If we can learn to see and skillfully engage with both the presence of happiness and the presence of suffering, we will go in the direction of enjoying life more. … If you can recognize and accept your pain without running away from it, you will discover that although pain is there, joy can also be there at the same time.

As we approach this uncertain election, what does it mean to skillfully engage with our anxiety and suffering? I believe that we can benefit from the same mindful practices that we use to embrace other distresses. We can:

  • Become aware of what is happening in the moment and recognize our feelings of anxiety, restlessness, and agitation as they come up.
  • Stay present with what arises and take some mindful breaths.
  • Be kind to ourselves and gently touch our hearts. We can offer an affirmation expressing self-compassion: “This is hard, and I will allow myself to have this feeling. Others are feeling this way too.”
  • Notice how we react to our feelings about the election. Do we seek out news, lose ourselves in consumption, or beat ourselves up for worrying about it? What are the impacts of these reactions?

What would it be like to open to the uncertainty instead of struggling with it? If we actually sit with our anxiety about the election, we may become clearer about what we fear, and also about what we value. As we look at reasons why this moment is important to us, we can expand our thinking beyond the election, to consider what steps we can take — regardless of the election outcome — to act on our values.

These practices for skillfully engaging with our feelings are obviously not panaceas for the anxieties that pervade this election season. We are not alone and can get support. When talking about election-related anxiety with my 12-year-old daughter, she suggested, “If you’re going get very worried, then you should be around people you care about.”

Please join us this Thursday and Friday evenings. We will explore together the possibility of mindful responses to election anxiety.

We will begin our Dharma sharing with these questions:

  • Do you notice anxiety or distress related to the election?
  • Does attention to the election get in the way of being present?
  • What has it been like to bring mindful attention to election-related distress?

Related excerpts by Pema Chödrön and Thich Nhat Hanh are below.

Warm wishes,

Rachel Phillips-Anderson

On Not Knowing
from When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times 
by Pema Chödrön

Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure. Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.”

I read somewhere about a family who had only one son. They were very poor. This son was extremely precious to them, and the only thing that mattered to his family was that he bring them some financial support and prestige. Then he was thrown from a horse and crippled. It seemed like the end of their lives. Two weeks after that, the army came into the village and took away all the healthy, strong men to fight in the war, and this young man was allowed to stay behind and take care of his family.

Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.

Learning the Earth’s Practice of Equanimity
From Creating True Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Buddha taught Rahula, his own young son who became a monk, that the Earth could receive and transform anything that is poured on it. If you put garbage or waste on the Earth, she will receive it without being offended or repulsed. If we pour perfume, milk, or fragrant water onto the Earth, she does not become proud or arrogant. The Earth can turn what appears to be the most repulsive substance into beautiful flowers or delicious vegetables in just a few weeks. It is the virtue of the Earth to receive everything—ugly or beautiful—with equanimity. We should practice like the Earth.

Sometimes, even those people to whom we are closest pour anger, hatred, and misperceptions on us. Maybe you cannot yet receive and transform the hatred, anger, and misperceptions that others pour on you and you fight back. But if you remember that you are a son or daughter of the Earth, you can learn to be as she is—strong, constant, steady. Please go back to Mother Earth and learn her way of receiving and transforming everything with equanimity. Each time you suffer, touch the Earth in your mind and say, “Earth, I suffer so much; please help me to receive this.” You are not separate from her; you are the Earth herself. When you practice like this, you suffer less. When we learn the practice of equanimity from our mother Earth, we learn to accept all things. We do not suffer; we transform our pain, and on our face we have a loving smile for the person who has harmed us.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Oct 29, 2020


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