After the 2016 election, in addition to having an increase of clients coming in reporting “election anxiety” or “political anxiety”, I also remember seeing a lot of articles pop up in my social media addressing the question of, “How am I going to deal with the outcomes of this election?”
As so much of my feed is filled with Buddhist and Mindfulness-based sites, it was no surprise there was an influx of articles speaking to the strong negative emotions and fearful thoughts that many people were experiencing. It is normal to feel depression, fear and anxiety in response to events unfolding that feel out of our control, along with the outcomes being the opposite of what you were expecting or hoping they would be. Additionally, these challenges provide the opportunity to implement and integrate Buddhist and mindful thinking into everyday secular life with the intention to help through difficult or trying times.
At its core, Buddhism is rooted in the notion that suffering exists as part of the human experience, and since there is often a cause to the suffering, there is a way to end it. Mindfulness is one of the ways in which we can reduce our suffering by adopting the following core beliefs:
- The most constant thing is change
- Having non-attachment to the outcome
- Practicing equanimity – having an evenness of mind, not labeling something as good or bad, positive or negative
- Being in the present moment, rather than ruminate in the past or fear the unknown of the future
- Acceptance of what is (versus denial, resistance or ignoring what is
Now let me qualify, that to accept what is, to be present, to let go of attachment to the outcome, to go with the flow of change, and to have equanimity does not mean that you have to like what’s arising. In fact, the reason we turn towards these tools, is to manage when we don’t like what is arising. (If we were always happy, we wouldn’t need to find ways to deal with the hard shit that exists in our lives.)
When we become more skilled at practicing to integrate these mindsets, the more equipped we are to manage when things don’t go our way. We have greater ease at going with the flow, and not holding onto the assumption that things have to unfold the way we wanted them to, or thought it was “supposed” to, in order to be peaceful, happy and content.
So, what was it that all those articles suggested we do when our minds are racing all night keeping us awake, or we are struggling through anxious stomachaches and unsettling emotions?
Well, it’s going to be the opposite of what you might think…
We turn towards the very thing that has us feeling ungrounded and unsettled, and bow down to it, honor it, and thank this experience for giving us the opportunity to practice our tools.
It’s paradoxical, right?!
Cause the truth is that there’s no need to have to practice when we aren’t in suffering; these tools are designed to help us stay more present and calm when we otherwise feel stuck and overwhelmed.
So, between Super Tuesday and Election Day, you have a choice (aside from taking action by voting!) every moment you feel fear creep in, negative thoughts arise, experience anxiety in your body or your mind wanders to “what ifs…” You can let those thoughts and emotions take over, taking you to the dark side, or, you can see them simply for what they are: thoughts, emotions and sensations in which you have a choice in how to respond to.
When you respond with awareness and compassion, rather than with anger or resistance, while taking deep breaths to calm your brain and your body, you’ll see that the thoughts or emotions don’t hold the same power over you. It’s not about making the triggers go away – it’s learning how to respond to them in a more skillful way.
And remember, thank the challenges in your life for they provide you opportunity to put your practice to use!
Oh, and by the way, this is all easier said than done…and it’s also not a “one-and-done…” The key is to keep practicing, have compassion for what’s hard, continue to come back to your breath because it will allow you to access your tools, and most importantly, take it one breath, one day at a time.
We’ll all get through this together.