- Cedar Koons, MSW, LCSW
Six Steps to Becoming a Mindful Politico
Six Steps to Becoming a Mindful Politico or, How to Use Mindfulness to Stay Sane During the Election
Try this mantra: Breathe in, say “Donald”, breathe out, say, “Trump.” Seriously? No, I’m not really suggesting you meditate on the Donald. Still, we do need some techniques to help us stay sane during this campaign season.
This year even those who try to avoid politics all together will find it impossible. For people who follow politics closely the sheer negativity of some of the campaigns and coverage can threaten any sense of equanimity. Since the future direction of our democracy depends on each one of us paying enough attention to cast an informed vote, what can we do in this toxic atmosphere? As a mindfulness teacher and the author of The Mindfulness Solution for Intense Emotions, I have a few suggestions. Practicing these seven skills can help you become a Mindful Politico.
1. Focus your attention on the issues that most matter to you. Tune out the mudslinging, the horse race, the rancor. Focusing on your issues will help you negotiate the complexity you must traverse to become clear about your choices. In addition, focusing again and again on the facts will help you avoid emotional reasoning and the fog of disinformation. Try to find to reliable sources for your information and read widely, then check your facts with a source like Factcheck.org
2. Consult your inner wisdom to decide who deserves your vote. Don’t be swayed by emotional reactions such as fear, aversion and despair. Look closely at your candidate, their history, and where they stand on your most important issues. Don’t worry about whether they can win, focus instead on how their behavior and positions align with your most deeply held values. And remember, no one is perfect. They just need to be the best in the field, closest to your values and actually running to deserve your vote.
3. Stay in the present. Instead of oscillating between hope and despair about future and the past, stay in the present with the race, paying attention to what is going on today with your issues and the candidates. Let go of catastrophic thinking and “what ifs”. Fear, apathy and confusion will make you want to give up—usually not a mindful choice. In the 2014 midterm elections less than 60% of the electorate even bothered to vote. When you stay in the present it is easier to continue to engage in the process and remain effective even in the face of uncertainty.
4. Practice being nonjudgmental. This may seem impossible because the political process is permeated with such intense judgment. However, rather than joining in the negativity, try the to sort fact from opinion, in your dialogues with friends and family, but especially in your own mind. Separate your feelings and beliefs, which are subject to change, from the facts, which are not. Describe facts as facts, feelings and beliefs as opinions. It isn’t that feelings and beliefs aren’t important, its just that they need to take their proper places, i.e., they are thoughts and emotions, not facts. Emotional reactions, be they positive or negative, give us a certain kinds of information that is useful as long as we check it against established facts.
5. Walk the middle path. Once you have settled on your candidate, engage further in the process to the extent that aligns with your values. You don’t have to volunteer, put up a yard sign or a bumper sticker on your car, unless that is what you want to do. Just be sure to show up on election day and vote. Of course this means registering to vote, locating your polling and gathering together any documents you will need and being prepared for a long line unless you are able to vote early…Walking the middle path means doing just what is necessary to get to your goals, avoiding extremes and staying in balance.
6. Let go of attachment to the outcome. Sometime in the first week of November we will have a new President. Given how divided we are as a country not all of us will be happy with the winner. But as long as the process is reasonably fair, that person will be president for all of us, for four years at least. So start preparing to accept whatever that outcome is and recognizing that clinging to it being other than it is will only make you more miserable.
And what if your candidate wins? Is it all over then? Not hardly. Perhaps by then, what you’ve learned in this election year will prepare you to participate in the political process with more confidence, clarity and wisdom than ever before. Every community needs a few mindful politicos—thanks to this insane election season you may just become one.