How Mindfulness Can Help Us Cope with Our Feelings Post-Election: A Q&A with Sharon SalzbergNone None
One week after the election, we asked mindfulness teacher (and all-around wise human being) Sharon Salzberg how meditation can be helpful to us now. The transcript is below.
What is the most important thing we should be doing for ourselves post-election?
Remembering we need to take care of ourselves, too. While some are pleased with the outcome, others are frightened and full of doubt about the future. We need to monitor how much news to take in before we feel overwhelmed. Some of us feel the need to try to heal ruptures within the family because of differing wishes regarding the election. Being in nature can also bring great perspective, and music, art and poetry can inspire us as well.
How can we show compassion to others during this time?
I try not to dismiss the fears or dismay of others by mindlessly assuring people it will all work out for the best. I don't know that it will! I do know that within each of us is a reservoir of strength, clarity and kindness we can learn to access and nourish. Creating space for whatever someone may be feeling, from hope to dread, is an act of compassion.
Why do you feel it’s important to empathize with others whose views on the election are different from our own?
As CNN's Van Jones said, empathy means understanding, not agreement. Try to understand the viewpoints of others, their hope and fears. This doesn't mean giving up your own sense of right and wrong, or your principles. It does mean that adversaries might not be seen with such a rigid sense that their lives have nothing to do with ours. It's important that understanding grows.
How often should we be meditating during this time?
I think a dedicated period of practice at least once a day is good. In stressful times like this, I'd say at least twice—one in the morning and one before you go to sleep. It will help you sleep! A period of at least 10 minutes is good if you can do it, and it can be sitting, walking or lying down. By dedicated period I mean a time when your only aim is to strengthen awareness and compassion. Other things come up of course, but that's our aim. In addition, interspersing short moments of mindfulness throughout the day is good. Drink a cup of tea without checking your email at the same time; walk from room to room without texting at the same time. It will provide moments of respite from complexity.
What are the overall effects of meditation?
We strengthen concentration, becoming more centered and grounded. We strengthen mindfulness, which helps perspective taking, creativity (not getting stuck in a rut) and understanding. We strengthen loving-kindness and compassion, for ourselves and for others. This gives us a very different sense of connection to the world, an ability to not get so overwhelmed, and to see the distinction between what is actually happening and our fantasizing about it. As I usually say, life can be hard enough, why add anxiously imagined hardship to it?
What if someone tries meditation but they're still stressed or irritated afterwards?
It's natural to not be perfectly calm after a meditation session. See if you can intersperse your feeling of stress with some conscious breathing now and then. The most important thing is working on a different relationship to one's thoughts, feelings and body sensations while practicing. After, as difficult experiences start to arise, we can be aware of them but remain balanced deep within. Over time they become like ripples just on the surface. After a meditation session, throughout the day, usually the easiest thing to be mindful of are body sensations—what you feel when you pick up a hot mug of tea, squeeze out a sponge, walk, move, lie down. It helps a lot with stress.
Are there different meditation styles for different times in life? How do I know which one is best for me?
There are many kinds of meditation—some done in stillness, others in movement. Some work with trying to center our attention on one object, like the breath, or sound, a mantra, an image, continually returning our attention to that object. Others emphasize a more open awareness—bringing attention to various sensations, emotions, thought patterns as they become predominant. Some work with awareness of awareness itself as the main object. Others particularly deepen loving-kindness and compassion. The best thing is to experiment and see what you are drawn to for now—it might change over time.
How can meditation help us to cope with how we’re feeling this week and beyond?
Meditation can help us create the space to feel our full range of feelings authentically, without clinging to them or condemning them. It reminds us of the importance of finding balance in all things—compassion for ourselves and for others, in degree of media consumption. It also brings us back into the moment, to see what "is"—compared to endless rumination about the past and what we should have done, or futile anxious speculation about the future. When we come back to the moment we find again our deepest values.
For guided meditations from Sharon, join her free 4-week track on Happify, Real Happiness: The Meditation Transformation. You may also want to try her post-election meditation for healing, unity, and compassion.
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