Politics and Mindfulness: Reflections on a Forgotten Skill Set
I don’t know about you but my head space over these last couple of months has been dominated by all things politics. At work with clients and coworkers, at home with friends and family members, even at yoga waiting for class to begin. It seems like every corner I turn, it’s waiting for me, like the (hopefully less permanent but equally unsettling) Grim Reaper. Okay, maybe comparing politics to death is a bit dramatic but, these last few months have been dramatic!
In the beginning, I believe I handled the stress of the changing political landscape skillfully. I sought out dialogue with those with differing opinions to learn and share ideas. I felt competent in finding dialects in even the most difficult situations and prided myself on maintaining an easy manner and non-judgmental stance with relative ease. However, over time, the drudgery of information overload day after day has taken its toll on me. I’ve gone from Interpersonal Effectiveness master to Interpersonal Eff… wait, why do I have to engage with other people again?
When entering political conversations now, I find myself participating fully in willfulness, using sarcasm instead of gentleness and on some days completely tuning out. I wake feeling anxious anticipating hearing about changes that occurred overnight and just when I start to recharge my batteries throughout the day, I receive a fresh dose of dread when my phone notifies me of a fresh news or fake news headline. Again, it feels never ending.
The worst part is not just the impact on my mood and emotional availability to others, but this has also impacted my relationships. People may not know it but I’m avoiding many. I’ve unfollowed loved ones on social media, turned down get-togethers and even snapped at my partner after suggesting we watch the news the other night. That, the whole yelling at my Bae for no apparent reason thing was actually the final straw. Having such a strong reaction to a suggestion of an activity that once brought closeness, conversation and connection… was when I realized something had to give.
After some mindful reflection, here’s what I observed: Somewhere along the line I forgot some key skills. I stopped acting interested in others’ opinions and points of view, “because they were wrong.” I saw differing beliefs as the opposition and threatening versus something to be curious about and seek to understand “because what they were saying or doing wasn’t right.” Assumptions and my own judgments (see above) blocked willingness to be open to new information and instead of seeking constructive dialogue, I became more self-focused and wanted to be right and prove points. And I was spending a whole lot of time not being in the present “because what’s going to happen next? And what if ______!?”
Add all of that together and it’s no wonder my anxiety had gone through the roof. The experience of reflecting on forgetting about Mindfulness of Others amongst other skills has been humbling. I’ve realized that it is one thing to be an Interpersonal Effectiveness master for one hour or one day; it’s a whole other thing to use these skills daily, week after week, month after month, especially when it comes to subjects and matters that are emotionally charged and deeply entrenched with our values and sense of self.
Since my “something’s gotta give” moment, here’s how I’ve been trying to correct myself and tune back into skills: I’ve been reducing the amount of distractions I use (to prevent overuse) and have been dipping my toes back into self-soothing, radical acceptance and participating fully again. Before dinner parties I remind myself of my priorities and give myself a pep talk to stay open, stay curious, and stick to my values.
I’m still working on finding the most effective balance of skills for me, but here is the recipe I have come up with so far that yields mostly effective and productive conversations. I’m happy to share it with you all and hope you find it useful as well.
Mindfulness of Others
Equal parts: acting interested, validation, going with the flow
Heavy (on the): easy manner
Sprinkle (with): fairness
Focus on those you are with, maintain curiosity, ask questions.
Stay in the present; don’t multitask or distract.
Let go of needing to be right.
Replace judgments with descriptive words.
- Use willing hands. Repeat.