Pay Attention Even When it Hurts

Before speaking up, I remember two fundamental principles of mindfulness and compassion that are helpful at times like these; the one who responds to a conflict determines its course, not the one who starts it; and, pay attention even when it hurts. 

Andy Warhol's Bald Eagle, from Endangered Species 

Andy Warhol's Bald Eagle, from Endangered Species 

Conflict makes me feel uncomfortable, so I avoid it. Fortunately, I’m at a stage of life where major disagreements rarely show up, but when one does I tend not to engage. Instead, I run a quick cost-benefit analysis in my head and, more often than not, the best course of action is to leave it alone. Choosing not to engage doesn’t mean I get a pass on the unpleasant emotions that accompany conflict, though. As a newbie, I had hoped that mindfulness meditation would get rid of them but was disabused of that notion quickly. Once I learned to stop ignoring painful feelings and turn towards them instead, I realized I was stronger than I thought.

Some People Like Chaos, Other People Don't

Regardless of political affiliation, people generally agree that our new President is a chaos agent. From the outside looking in, the chaos that’s come in the wake of his inauguration seems intentional not accidental. The choices he made during his first week in office have rocked our political foundation and threatened many of the civil rights and civil liberties that I hold dear. I’d rather focus on the spring garden that’s growing in the backyard than speak out, but the cost-benefit analysis has shifted dramatically in the past week.  Now, it makes more sense to engage because the stakes are too high to let it be. Before speaking up, I remember two fundamental principles of mindfulness and compassion that are helpful at times like these; the one who responds to a conflict determines its course, not the one who starts it; and, pay attention even when it hurts. Buoyed by these reminders, I then:

  • steady my mind
  • open my heart
  • put my big-girl pants on
  • engage
  • then, let the music play.

Thanking rather than yelling

Democrats and Republicans haven’t had much luck changing each other’s minds about long-held, deeply emotional issues, even though they’ve been trying to do so for decades. I'm not sure how to get the job done, but I'm confident that yelling won't work. Shouting shifts people’s nervous systems into high gear which is why it’s hard to listen and even tougher, if not impossible, to be open to new ideas. If we want to be an agent for change, we need to think outside the box for different, more creative ways to communicate with one another

I’ve been giving some thought to how best to skillfully stand up to power and figured thanking people is worth a try. When prominent Republicans buck the party line and support one of the principles I believe in, I thank them on my Twitter feed,  Facebook page, and  Linked-In. My “thank you” tweets and posts are small gestures that won’t move the dial, and that’s okay. If they offer one person a break in the contentious political noise that surrounds him or her, or change the tone of a single conversation, I’ll consider my time well spent. After all, there’s another basic principle that comes in handy during uncertain times; we don't know what will happen next.