The work to heal our nation starts within.
A pandemic, economic challenges, a presidential election, and more make the end of 2020 an endurance race. But if we align ourselves based on our compassionate efforts, we can get through this together.
With less than a month before the United States’ presidential election, you may be struggling to stay open and peaceful while major issues are on the line. The leaders we elect locally and nationally impact nearly every facet of society. Our government has the power to dismantle systemic racism, prioritize the issue of climate change, manage the implications of COVID-19, and amend our criminal justice system.
Move Forward Within
Ram Dass shared wisdom about social justice during a talk he gave at the Lama Foundation in 1983, and his words resonate nearly forty years later. He said, “The equanimity to face all of this cannot be rooted in denial. Rather it must be rooted in an acknowledgment of how it all is. But to look head-on at the horrible beauty of the universe as is, without hiding behind fantasy or denial and selective perception, takes guts.”
How can we have the guts to face what’s truly happening? How can we fight for environmental and social justice while keeping mindfulness and compassion at the forefront? Even if you lean on a strong spiritual practice focusing on love and compassion, you likely feel conflicted and confused.
In order to heal our fractured nation, we need to build bridges and to recognize the humanity of everyone. First, though, we need to fully connect with the truth within our minds, hearts, and bodies. The work to heal our nation starts within.
Self-love starts with self-care. Download the Chopra App for personalized self-care guidance you can access anywhere.
Strengthen the Mind
Consider how you react when you read inaccurate or hate-filled statements posted on social media. What happens if you take a deep breath before you respond? That brief pause can help you avoid angry and snarky comebacks. It’s much easier to build bridges when your mind is settled and clear.
Inner work begins with developing present moment awareness through meditation and mindfulness techniques. Taking even just a few moments a day to calm the mind can help you find stability and comfort. Plus, that quieter mind will help you respond to people who challenge you with equanimity and wisdom, instead of aggression or fear.
When it comes to meditation, the more you do, the more you will gain. Research indicates that as little as 11 hours of meditation can change the brain, improving the regulation of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. If you meditate regularly, your self-regulation continues to improve, which means it will be easier for you to respond to challenges thoughtfully instead of out of aggression.
Turn to Meditation and Mindfulness
If you find it impossible to make time for meditation, or it’s something you’re not interested in doing, you can still train your mind to be present by practicing mindfulness throughout the day. Tune into your senses from time to time, and focus your attention on what you see, hear, smell, taste, or feel.
For example, you can close your eyes and focus on the sound you hear farthest away for a few moments. Next, tune into the sound you hear closest to you, and, finally, listen to your own breath. When you notice your mind doing its normal human thing and wandering, simply redirect your attention to the sound.
You can quiet the mind during a hike, while you breathe, and even while washing your hands (which is a regular task these days). Take a break from your screens, enjoy your surroundings, and notice what happens when your thoughts settle.
Tend to the Heart
How can you cultivate an open and loving heart when there’s so much pain, suffering, and political polarization? And why should you open your heart to those whose views don’t align with yours?
If we want to move our society and world toward peace, we need to start with our own hearts. Not only can compassion and love help us bridge political divides, but it can help us promote leaders, policies, and systems that institutionalize compassion.
When you strengthen your compassion muscle, you begin to care about everyone. With enough practice, you get rid of the barrier between “us” and “them,” because you recognize the humanity of all of us. Even when you disagree with someone, an open heart allows you to view them without judgment or disdain. Because you’ll listen and empathize, you can reach a hand across the aisle and create much-needed connections in this disconnected society.
Your compassionate heart also helps you recognize unjust systems. You’ll be inspired to promote healing in our communities, and you’ll have the courage to stand up for those who need your support.
Not only can compassion, and self-compassion, heal our society, but research suggests that it also promotes overall well-being. You feel better mentally and physically when you practice compassion for yourself and others.
Like anything else, your capacity for compassion increases with practice. You can use various compassion meditations to strengthen your heart, and you can also join Compassion It’s 30-Day Challenge to help you prioritize compassion during these turbulent times.
Tune into the Body
Have you taken a moment lately to notice how your physical body feels? Do you feel any tightness in your neck, shoulders, or back? Perhaps you can’t relax, or you feel a persistent knot in your stomach. Your heart might feel closed, and your posture shows that contraction. You might be having trouble falling or staying asleep, and that might make you unusually impatient and quick to anger. It makes sense that your worries and stress manifest in the body. That tension is your body’s SOS, or distress signal, and it’s time for a rescue operation.
You’ve undoubtedly heard, “Treat your body like a temple,” more times than you can count. Enough experts have preached that you should eat well, stay hydrated, move your body, and sleep. None of this is news to you, but it’s easy to let these things slide when we’re encountering the uncertainties of 2020. Let’s face it—Netflix, a big ol’ brownie, and a glass of red wine seem like great remedies during the madness of this year.
We can’t afford to slack on this anymore, though. Now is the time to enjoy healthy foods that help your body thrive. Plus, drinking plenty of water (and cutting back on wine) helps you stay energized.
While it’s important to eat well, exercise, stretch, and hydrate, I argue that getting enough sleep should be the top priority for keeping our bodies healthy. Unfortunately, many Americans face a sleep deficit. According to data from 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in three adults does not regularly get more than seven hours of sleep per day. A good night’s sleep keeps the rest of the body healthy and also supports the mind and heart.
To heed the call of your body, you might also want to look into Somatic Experiencing, a therapy developed by trauma specialist Dr. Peter A. Levine. The therapy heals trauma and other stress disorders through tuning into the body.
Tending to your own suffering keeps you in the game longer.
You Will Get Through This
Nurturing and strengthening your mind, heart, and body will help you get through this election season and whatever comes after it. You’ll be able to act skillfully when you get stirred up by what you read, see, and hear. Plus, by doing this inner work, you’ll be more inspired to stand up for those who need your support.
If you fear that you’re being selfish by tending to your own body, heart, and mind, remember that self-compassion fuels your tank so that you can extend your compassion outward without running out of gas. Tending to your own suffering keeps you in the game longer.
Keep in mind that even though this work is an “inside job,” make sure you reach out for support when you need it. Many of us feel isolated because of the coronavirus, and we need our communities. Ask for help and offer to help. Let’s be here for each other.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.