Fearful times. Confusing times. Let me be clear here that I don’t intend to wade into the political debate and make an argument for supporting one political stance or the other, but I would like to offer some thoughts on how we can steady ourselves to ride out the storm ahead from the point of view of bringing mindfulness and compassion to the situation we find ourselves in.
Feels like the world has gone mad? Well, yes, the outer world is certainly reflecting insanity at us right now, as Donald Trump marches on in the race to become the 45th President of the United States and the United Kingdom is drifting in an effectively rudderless fashion towards the rocks with no meaningful leadership following the EU Referendum (although an argument could certainly be made that Nicola Sturgeon has shown strong leadership qualities in these past, particularly uncertain days). We wake this morning to news of yet another terrorist attack, this time at Istanbul airport, and the grip of fear holds us even stronger, practically paralysing us. When we’re fearful, we don’t exactly do our best thinking. We retreat off into reptilian brain that’s really just concerned with survival – eliminating threats by fighting, running away, or (if we think survival is unlikely) freezing. The anxiety is palpable in the UK right now. I can literally feel it in my body, and perhaps you can too; an increased level of tension in the body, a slightly fluttery feeling in the chest. And the country is frozen, completely unsure of what to do next.
Problem no. 1: This is all too scary! I don’t know what this all means for me and my loved ones.
Solution: Be kind to yourself. Yes, these are difficult times. It’s OK to acknowledge that you feel anxious and/or fearful. Take opportunities to soothe yourself and take your attention into your body (we feel more connected when we do this, instead of disconnected lollipop-heads where all of our thoughts are racing around our heads like hamsters-on-wheels). For example, do some gentle yoga, go for a walk in the park, take opportunities to savour the good stuff such as the taste of a lovely drink or food, the sound of a friend or loved-one’s laughter. In a moment of noticing anxiety, it can be profoundly soothing to place one or both of your hands over the centre of your chest with the intention of self-soothing. This gesture, proposed by self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff and psychologist Christopher Germer who together created the ‘Mindful Self-Compassion’ training, tends to be pretty successful at bringing us into our soothing & contentment system. This is an oft-neglected mode of being as we tend to reside mostly in our threat system (surviving) or our drive system (getting more). Take a moment to feel any sensations of warmth or coolness emanating from the touch of your hand(s), and remind yourself that you’re not alone in your difficulty.
In soothing ourselves we will restore control to the higher-functioning parts of our brain, and therefore think and express ourselves more clearly.
Problem no. 2 – we don’t trust our politicians or business leaders. Never before have we had an overwhelming number of key figures in politics and business warning us of the devastating impact of a choice, with the majority of the population choosing to ignore the advice. Politicians from all parties presented us with a confusing array of conflicting opinions that were presented as ‘facts’, and as a result it was hard to know who to believe.
Solution – perhaps it is time to create an independent office to monitor political campaigns and ensure (as far as practical) that claims are truthful. Josh Babarinde has created a petition if you wish to get behind this idea – https://www.change.org/p/restore-truthful-politics-create-an-independent-office-to-monitor-political-campaigns.
Problem no. 3 – we believe our thoughts and identify with them as if they’re fact. We think we’re making quite logical arguments and decisions but in reality we’re very emotional creatures filled with ancestral, cultural and other cognitive biases. This makes it hard for us to see and really open ourselves to the views of others. Every dispute in history has emerged from rival factions seeing their position as absolutely right, and the other party wrong.
Solution – An awareness of our thoughts and a zoomed-out perspective of the conditioned mind in which they are held requires mindfulness. Because this being human is a messy business and our minds produce conflict and suffering, we must learn to bring kindness towards this suffering. This is self-compassion. In addition, we must be willing to be wrong. Bear in mind that we tend to seek out information, and other people, who confirm our views rather than challenge them. We see what we believe, rather than the other way round. Key in moving forward is a willingness to come to a new point of view, by being open to views of others and engaging in reflective, non-egoic dialogue that recognises the needs and cares of all concerned. We need politicians to usher in a new type of respectful, reflective politics where name-calling and school-yard tactics are absolutely unacceptable, and they won’t do that unless we demand it of them.
Those in education today are our politicians of tomorrow, and because I am a student of education, I make comment here on where I see merit in educational reform. It is imperative that we teach children mindfulness and self-compassion (we can only be compassionate towards others to the degree that we can be compassionate towards ourselves) so that they can become reflective and compassionate members of society, and we must also give some attention to filling the spiritual vacuum within schools that are now primarily non-denominational. The kind of spirituality that I refer to is perhaps simply a sense of wonder and interdependence – a recognition of the interconnectedness of all things – something that nature shows us again and again, over and over. Holistic education fosters balance, inclusion and connectedness, and these must surely be our priorities for the future. John P. Miller’s ‘The Holistic Curriculum’ is a very interesting read, if you’d like to find out more.
I don’t have all (or indeed many) answers to the situation we find ourselves in, I simply present the thoughts above as humble offerings, and wish you peace in your heart in these troubled times. We’re all in this together, and together we’ll find a way through. X