Like most people I know, sleep eluded me for much of last week leading up to this historic election. The good news is that I have a meditation practice and mantra to which I always come back. Much of Western meditation practice focuses on mindfulness – -noticing thoughts and, hopefully, quieting the mind by focusing on the breath. My 11th book, Meditation Station, deals directly with this concept. Our breath is always with us—wherever we go—and we can always return to it. The idea is to not get whisked away by our racing train of thoughts which often contains unwelcome passengers like anxiety, worry, regret, blame and anger. Thoughts provoke emotions to arise, but they do always pass. Like trains, they will move on and disappear down the tracks if we don’t get on board and go with them. Instead, turn your focus towards your breath. Breathe in for a count of, say four, and then pause for one or two counts and exhale for five or six (longer than the inhale). By doing this, we lower our heart rate and decrease anxiety, fear, etc. almost immediately. Go ahead. Stop reading and take two of these “swing” breaths. Picture a swing, with the pause you have mid-air. Feel the air fill your belly and lungs, hold it for a split second, and then LET IT GO in a long exhale. Repeat.
I have also practiced Metta Meditation for the past 20 years. The translation for Metta is “Loving Kindness.” It is the type of meditation that I find most akin to prayer. Basically, I start by wishing myself well. I sing my mantra to the tune of an old John Denver song (Annie’s Song/Come Let me Love You.) “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe (and strong). May I be calm.” The longer version, more closely translated from Sanskrit, is: “May I be free from danger. May I have mental happiness. May I have physical happiness. May I have ease of being in life.” Perhaps even more accessible…you can sing it to the tune of the Happy Birthday song—per my teacher, Sylvia Boorstein’s, recommendation: “May I be protected and safe. May I feel contented and pleased. May my body be healthy and may I live with ease.”
The next step is to sing (or chant) these same wishes for each of the people who are closest to you—your family, friends, one by one—and onto your co-workers, local community members, acquaintances, etc. Then comes the hard part—try wishing those things to someone with whom you’re having a conflict or towards whom you have less than positive feelings. It is not easy but it makes you feel better than sending your arch rival anger or malice. (Bonus points if you can wish Metta to the candidate for whom you did not vote!) The final step is to circle back to yourself and seal out the meditation practice by wishing loving-kindness inwardly and then sending Metta out to all living beings.
If you don’t have a concrete meditation practice (although I highly recommend establishing one), here are other some simple ways to re-center yourself now that the election is over.
You Do You: In the midst of a pandemic, the election transition and violent racial tensions, we all have projects, work, family and hobbies that keep us busy. Focus on what you do well, and on who you love, so you can live your best life in the eye of the storm. Are you a passionate gardener? Plant some seeds. Do you love to dance? There are a million Zoomba classes on line. Wood worker? Sand away. If you’re fulfilled by volunteering for a cause, more power to you. Find your happy space, your haven, and make that a touchstone every day—or as often as you can. This is not meant to be narcissistic or to live your life like an ostrich. Just put on your oxygen mask first.
Gratitude for the Really Small Things: In California, Oregon, Louisiana, Iowa and other states, the fires, floods, derechos and hurricanes have been frighteningly devastating. If you see a blue sky, take a walk. If you can breathe clean air or drink pure water, be thankful. Don’t take the little stuff for granted. A pretty flower or beautiful bird, drink it all in! On my most recent trip (which feels like a lifetime ago now), I kept a list in my phone of 1-2 great things that happened that day. A gratitude journal is ideal, but the notes of your phone will suffice. Or…just stopping to acknowledge and appreciate the positive things that happened each day.
Acceptance: A classic stage of the grieving process, acceptance is also a Buddhist principle. The saying goes: “The cause of suffering is wanting things to be other than they are.” What is within your sphere of control and what do you need to accept (at least for now) so you don’t flood yourself with stress hormones? Make a t-graph or a Venn diagram so you can visually see what is within your control. Now, make a step-by-step plan to move the needle on those things, and start to let go of the items which you can’t control.
Stay connected: Call a friend, text a family member, cuddle with your partner or pet. I just celebrated a “quarantine birthday” and the highlight of that day, aside from carving pumpkins with my twin nephews, were the many Zooms I set up with friends around the country and the world. I have a frequent “tea time” with a close friend in Arizona and I walk almost daily while talking to another friend in NY. My high school group of friends—over 30 years later—gets together on Zoom from four states to touch base and laugh our heads off. That connection is worth a hundred yoga classes. It makes us feel seen, and heard, and like we belong in this chaotic world.
Nourish Your Soul: If walking in nature fills you with peace, do that. If a bowl of your favorite recipe lifts your spirits, go for it. Right now, we are all just surviving…the closest we can come to thriving is by intentionally doing what makes us happy. Is it a bubble bath? Time playing with your child? A massage? Yoga? Reading a good book in bed? Your favorite t-shirt fresh out of the dryer? You know yourself best and only you can honor that inner wish to have momentary bliss.
Meditation has helped me “Stay in the Station,” with my breath and in my body, for years. I can sing my mantra and take deep breaths in the middle of the night, while I’m out walking or driving in the car. When I’m afraid, angry or grieving, my meditation keeps me sane and centered. We’re in the midst of a pandemic, a political power struggle, on top of all of our other daily stressors. Still, if we meet each moment as a friend, coming back to our breath, our circumstances may not change but our fortitude to face them most certainly will strengthen. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe and strong. May you be calm. May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be safe and strong. May all beings be calm.
Susan B. Katz is a bestselling, award-winning author of a dozen books, including Meditation Station (Shambhala/Bala Kids, Nov. 2020) which won the 2020 International Book Award for Best Mind/Body/Spirit Book for Kids and was named an Amazon Editor’s Pick for Best Non-Fiction Book for Kids. Her website is: www.SusanKatzBooks.com