Is mindfulness bridging the political divide or widening it?
Today is election day here in the USA, and sitting right outside of DC it’s hard for me to avoid the palpable political buzz in the air. Folks are watching with excitement and anxiety races across all states, keeping a close eye on the possibility of one party gaining power here and losing power there. On top of that, there are concerns about voter suppression, election denial, and attacks on politicians and their families… I don’t need to state the obvious, but in my lifetime I have never experienced such polarizing politics.
And when I think of the polarization and all that is going on it I think of a conversation I had a few years back. The year was 2017 and I was very active in the mindfulness field serving a couple of non-profit boards, my son was a few months old and a new, unlikely president was elected in the USA. This candidate now president said a great many troubling things, to put it mildly. Having immigrated from Iran as a toddler, I was worried for my life and my family's life. Although I have been politically fluid, and across the political spectrum I found myself very scared. I wanted to see the mindful organization I was part of taking a definitive political stance. Not a stance against a policy but against this person and the party that they seemed to commandeer.
I thought we could rally and we should unite and go all in raising funds to beat these guys and making our stance clear. How could it not be evident that this person and this party have lost it I thought to myself. At the same time, I was dealing with a number of close family members with very different political beliefs and allegiance. Even my own family to a degree was divided…I was scared and angry.
I remember there was an older British fellow board member and we were debating this point. At that moment I think I was just caught up in my pain and thought, who is this privileged dude telling me what’s what? He does not have to deal with the hatred being directed toward me, my family, and my community. I dismissed him, he clearly didn’t get it. We came to a compromise as a board and at that time, we agreed the organization would take some measures to show support for those feeling threatened while maintaining a fairly apolitical and welcoming stance. I did not feel like we had gone far enough.
Years later I attended a large mindful conference. There were talks on healing the political divide which really inspired me, while at the same time the entire event had one-sided political overtones. Sharing how important it is to be compassionate and open to those with different political beliefs while subtly and overtly implying an allegiance to one idealogy. It felt fake, hypocritical, and off. I got a feeling for what it might be like if mindfulness was made political and I did not like it.
I thought back to the old British guy and now I understood. It took me years but I got it. His point was so simple and yet so hard for me to receive in the state of anger and fear I was in.
Simply put he said:
People on all sides need healing.
That was it. I would add:
This work is beyond politics. How better to bring people together than mindfulness?
And in a time that we desperately need to bring people together.
For me personally, I find myself still really disturbed by certain political figures, I lean towards one side and there are certain issues that are more important to me than others. At the same time, I find myself very skeptical of extremists from any side. I am radically anti-radical.
I believe we will unite, we must unite and find the common values and aspirations that as citizens of this country and citizens of this planet we can rally around. I believe we can not force things onto each other and I believe that mindfulness can help bridge the gap. Not in a secret convert you to liberalism tool of the woke way, but truly in a way that folks with various political idealogy can come together to have the conversations and remember the connection that unites us no matter what.
Exercise your right to vote, rally for your candidate, do your political thing - but please don’t make mindfulness political.
What do you think? I’m curious if you have ever felt mindfulness is being made political? Has mindfulness helped you bridge the political divide? Do you have any mindful friends that don't share your political views? Do you find you have to hide your political beliefs in mindful settings?
Wonderful and so important! Thank you for sharing your journey of feeling and insight. I was just expressing these same concerns to my recertification cohort at UCLA MARC, and was met with some resistance that speaks of the pain that drives my “woke” brothers and sisters to have sort of a “shotgun wedding” between liberal, progressive spirituality and politics. But mindfulness is a-political and utterly human, and there is a seat at the table for every person of every belief. Not all beliefs are “true” or accurate descriptions of “reality”, but every person is part of a mysterious whole and is deeply connected. We need to be mindful of that always, even as we might march the streets or go door to door or “call in” someone whose ideas we find ineffective or dangerous at large. But we have the possibility of doing it with wisdom and compassion, not hate disguised as righteousness and wokeness. We all need to follow the steps of Buddha and Christ and countless other saints from all traditions and lead ourselves from wise love.
Thanks for sharing your thought Brian! And thanks for raising these concerns within the MARC program. Great observations - one area I would push back on - why do we need to follow Buddha or Christ or any saint? What about those of us who do not share a belief in saints at all or find all the wisdom traditions questionable? I appreciate your inquiry on the political side, can we expand this to truly include all beliefs and those who are atheists?
For some reason I thought of the Two Monks and a Woman story after reading you thoughtful piece.
"A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side.
The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman.
Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on his journey.
The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them.
Two more hours passed, then three, finally the younger monk could contain himself no longer, and blurted out “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”
The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”
We all go through times in life that lead us to hold onto things better left “on the other side of the river” and yet we still carry them and only hurt ourselves. What are you still holding onto that is better left?" www.alphahome.org
Leave a comment