How to Bring Mindfulness into Politics
Posted byon October 22, 2020 at 3:34 PM
By Shahreen Hossain of IssueVoter. Reposted from IssueVoter.org.
A non-cliché guide to bringing wellness into the political sphere.
What is this often-used term “mindfulness”?
It is the ability to fully be present and engaged in any given moment. Studies have shown mindfulness lowers ruminative thinking, reduces stress, and lessens emotional reactivity while it boosts memory and focus.
The etymology of the word “political” comes from polis, which is a community. As Aristotle framed it, human beings are political animals. It means each of us belongs to communities and together we aspire to make the world a better place.
“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”-Aristotle
Your Trigger is Pulled Often
At times, the line between passion and anger blurs. They both feel like the combustion of energy fueling the pits of our chests. Anger however is rooted in fear and anxiety. We may be angry at a political party because we fear their solutions are detrimental. This becomes our prime reactive state — ready to obliterate anything that stands against us. Not only does this diminish community building, but also it diminishes our health by inducing stress. Our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is activated by our intense emotion referred to as an “amygdala hijack.” Amygdala, located near the base of the brain, processes emotions like fear and pleasure while the frontal lobe, the two largest areas at the front of the brain, manages rationality, reasoning, and decision making. However, during stress, the “amygdala hijack” overrides the frontal lobe hence leaving us with unclear, irrational, and uncontrollable responses. Few symptoms are rapid heartbeats and sweaty palms. Biologically this may have served homo sapiens while hunting, but imagine how draining these false alarms are for our brains.
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”-Lao Tzu
We have to catch the hijacker in action. This requires disassociating from self and being your own narrator. Start by increasing your emotional intelligence — the ability to recognize emotions. This is enhanced by often identifying and labeling emotions as we do with flashcards while studying for a test. As this emotion recognition muscle strengthens, soon you’ll recognize when you’re being hijacked of your fullest rationality. This awareness serves to lead us to pause. Take three deep breaths (classic). Remind yourself any action you take right now might be charged by intense emotions rather than rationality. To subdue the high crashing waves of forceful emotions, we need to momentarily take our attention away from the trigger.
Here is how:
Use Learning Styles to React
I am sure you have heard of the ubiquitous three learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. But I’d like to turn learning styles to reaction styles.
- If you’re a visual person imagine what is happening in your brain and your body that leads to this reaction.
- If you’re an auditory person divert your attention to any hard to hear sounds you can find. (e.g., a fan, others breathing, or birds chirping somewhere)
- If you’re a kinesthetic person immerse your hands into any soothing action. (e.g., touching a plant, brushing down your fingers on a wooden table, or patting your own head like a mother would to her angry child)
Intensify Your Anger
If diverting the attention isn’t your cup of tea, then heightened your anger towards your trigger in your mind. The only rule is you cannot take any action. May it be a person or an issue, give “anger” your full attention for 72 hours. Only focus on how angry you’re. Have you ever noticed when you’re beaming with joy and deep down you anxiously anticipate the moment when the intense joy may be taken away? Usually, something does happen to rain on your parade. This counterbalancing also can occur with anger. Try it as an experiment. After these intentional pauses, you’re primed to re-enter the conversation as your better, rational, and collective self.
“We are now understanding mindfulness practices as fundamental elements of mental hygiene, nervous system regulation, stress reduction, contemplation and personal sustenance. With politics being notoriously overwhelming and confusing, and elections and leaders having immense implications on society, it is not only an antidote, but also a new prerequisite to integrate mindful awareness into your political and civic processes: research, debate, voting, etc.” — Alyson Stoner
Rewire your mind’s framework
With time the word “politics” grew a negative connotation to some extent, and that can change with our help. Politics boil down to policies. Policies are built to arrive at a solution or guideline that works for the majority. As much as we disagree or agree with a framework, we have to remind ourselves in a democratic world we’re seeing people will play out. Mindfulness can unravel us from the stories and emotions that hold us back with individual fanaticism. That does not mean our unique opinion doesn’t matter. It comes to show an opinion far more multiplied than ours is at play. At that instance, it’s for us to mindfully decide if we’re to question the system, the security, our fanaticism, or support the democratic will. It all starts with shedding the connotation and looking at the pieces that created the bigger picture.
Where else do we see mindfulness
“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things — that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more.”-Steve Jobs
I have gotten this far by talking about mindfulness without mentioning the elephant in the room-meditation. Meditation comes from the Latin word, meditatus, which means “to think or reflect upon, consider, design, purpose, intend.” This process of going inward has been adopted by fortune 500 hundred companies. Google implements weeks-long mindfulness training because multiple studies have shown it made participants happier, reduced stress, depression, and improved immunity to the flu. These highly stressed executives and employees are trained to take a sit, battle with their monkey minds, find the slower inner ox mind that can focus on the ubiquitous companion — breath, and for once give it their fullest attention. A successful metric is when it feels like no time has elapsed between the start of the timer and the beep. At Aetna, the insurance giant, “A highly stressed employee costs the company an extra $2,000 per year in healthcare, when compared to their less-stressed peers.” Corporations would not include just any “hippie” offerings without saving big bucks. So if companies that are making millions and billions of dollars see the importance of this, then our democracy can also benefit.
In fact in the UK, The World’s First International Congress of Mindful Politicians came together from 14 countries as far as Israel, Sri Lanka, Croatia, and Sweden to discuss their mindfulness journey, and how they can use this tool to make a positive change. The British Parliament partnered with The Mindfulness Initiative to carry out a 12 months inquiry on how mindfulness can be included among UK’s institutions and services (Mindful Nation UK report). So change at a turtle speed is happening. Similar to the UK, we can strive to adopt mindfulness into our politics even at an experimental level.
Snippets of how mindfulness looks in action
- Compassionate listening- which means not formulating our own argument or response while another person is talking
- Trigger free-no matter how irrational someone sounds, our emotions are grounded
- Being attentive to our all-time companion — breath while getting a cup of coffee
- Noticing gaps in our system that was previously unnoticed
- Automatically being more inclusive of more beings in proposals and plans