As we all navigate the current moment of uncertainty surrounding the U.S. Presidential election, we at Mind & Life take great comfort in the record-setting voter turnout across the nation, recognizing that democracy can only thrive with a fully engaged citizenry.
We also know that the days and weeks ahead will challenge each of us in different ways. The threat of violence is real, and more than two-thirds of Americans have experienced increased levels of stress associated with the election. This, compounded with recent events—a relentless pandemic, ongoing economic crisis, a long-overdue racial reckoning, and natural disasters—is testing us emotionally, physically, and spiritually. If there is one overarching truth, it’s that we’re in this together.
This is not the first time that humanity has been challenged to rise to our better selves, to tap the wellspring of wisdom that lies within us, and serve as role models for those around us. At Mind & Life, we recognize that many of the challenges in today’s world have roots in the mind—and that there, too, lie solutions. Through bringing science and contemplative wisdom together, we seek to foster insights that can contribute to individual, collective, and planetary flourishing.
With this in mind, I would like to share five kernels of wisdom, gleaned from members of Mind & Life’s expanding community, to help guide the way forward.
1. Practice mindfulness in dealing with difficult emotions. When uncertainty and fear are overpowering our minds, mindfulness practice offers a lifeline, says cognitive neuroscientist Amishi Jha. Amishi has spent years studying the impact of mindfulness on firefighters, military personnel, and others experiencing persistent stress. In a recent Mind & Life podcast episode Amishi speaks to training the mind to be aware of difficult emotions. “Part of the practice is a form of distress tolerance,” she says, “because our mind can get hijacked by negative emotions.”
2. Be kind; help others. One of the best ways to cope with the uncertainty of the moment, and the tendency to fixate on what could go wrong, is to help others. During a recent Mind & Life online event, meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg shared how the act of reaching out and being of service offers a positive channel for the anxiety many of us are feeling.
3. Lead with compassion. Buddhist scholar and Mind & Life Board Chair Thupten Jinpa emphasizes that at the heart of compassion is the question of ethics and how we treat those around us. All of us wish to be happy and free of suffering, he shared during a podcast interview, making it all the more important to honor this aspiration in others. Jinpa and colleagues at the Compassion Institute have developed a six-step program that includes nurturing compassion for self and others, culminating in awareness of our common humanity and the extension of compassion to all.
4. Seek first to understand. At times of division, it’s important to strive to understand the social reality of those we disagree with, stresses anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann in this podcast interview. The role of the anthropologist, she explains, is to be mindful in the presence of those who come from a different “positionality.” Recognizing that each of us is a product of the social world we inhabit—and that we are conditioned by our environment—can help lessen the grip of preconceived notions of right and wrong, good and bad.
When it comes to bridging difference in today’s highly polarized atmosphere, john powell, Director of the Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley, emphasizes the importance of identifying and acknowledging other people’s suffering. “All of us have suffering stories and suffering experiences,” he shares on the Mind & Life podcast, “and usually if I think of you as my enemy, I don’t want to acknowledge your suffering.”
5. Take responsibility; do no harm. “The world needs every one of us to be asking ourselves, ‘what is called for now’ and what is my role in all of this?” affirms Mind & Life Founding Steward Jon Kabat-Zinn in this presentation. Jon emphasizes the importance of shifting from “a perpetual state of doing, to mindful being,” adding that mindfulness offers a doorway through which it’s possible to gain a deeper awareness of our interconnectedness. “Ethics is the fundamental calling of human beings,” he adds, underscoring the principle of ‘do no harm’ and taking steps to undo harm that has been done.
No matter what the outcome of the election, we as a nation face a steep climb ahead in bridging historic divides. Our intention is that whatever challenges lie before us, they will be met with the best of our humanity. We at Mind & Life will continue our work in earnest to nurture personal well-being, promote compassionate communities, and strengthen the connection between humans and with our precious earth.