Have you ever thought of meditation as a political act?
It’s the difference between being awake and sleepwalking through your life
In recent days I’ve turned to Jack Kornfield’s book, ‘The Wise Heart’ especially chapter 22 ‘Tending the World’ as the world is feeling unsettled, violent and hurting.
Here, Jack Kornfield talks about the Buddhist approach to dealing with politics in the world and looks to meditation as a political act. It’s not, as some people may think, a cop-out to talk about compassion, kindness and meditation.
Here’s why, in Kornfield’s words …
‘What can we do in the face of poverty, disease, war, injustice, and environmental devastation? With the torrent of world news, it is easy to despair, to become cynical or numb … We are all affected by the suffering of the world and … the Buddhist approach to this collective suffering is to turn toward it.’
Mindful Meditation to break habits
We’re all humans and we have a tendency to behave through habits. We react along well-worn routes of anger, retaliation and fear.
This is a form of sleepwalking. To stop and look at ourselves with awareness is another way to deal with challenges.
So that’s what being mindful encourages us to do – pause, observe, then make our choice. If we give ourselves a daily 10 or 15 minutes to mindfully meditate, our brains can be transformed so we don’t constantly react in the same old ways.
It’s like tending our own hearts. This is radical! We learn more about ourselves, our beliefs and responses to anything happening in our lives.
Any time you light a candle you can give a thought for peace – it’s a powerful thing to remember that so many of us wish this same thing.
The World Peace Flame has been burning in Snowdonia since July 1999 when 7 flames, lit by eminent peacemakers on five continents, were flown to the UK. On 31 July they were brought together into one flame in Bangor, N. Wales. Their website suggests a couple of peace and healing meditations you can implement.
‘Every wisdom tradition tells us that human meaning and happiness cannot be found in isolation, but comes about through generosity, love, and understanding.’
Love, acceptance, kindness and compassion
When we see governments retaliating aggressively to atrocious terrorist acts some believe that this is the only way to behave.
Yet if hatred, judgment, anger and aggression appears to be this powerful, how much more would love, acceptance, kindness and compassion achieve? We need to be pro-active in creating the world we want. Meditating is the way forward to this.
During the years when the British Empire held control of India, Gandhi spent one day a week in silence.
He meditated to quiet his mind and listen to the deepest wisdom of his heart. From this place he was able to stay true to his beliefs during peaceful change.
The Dalai Lama, too, wakes up about 3.30am and meditates for hours before going about the rest of his day. These peaceful leaders placed huge value on their meditation.
We need leaders like this. I know our British Government created a Mindful Nation UK, to encourage mindfulness in the classroom, the workplace and the NHS.
We need leaders willing to spend time in meditation – returning to a centred place of balance and calm. It means dropping down from quick, reactive and knee-jerk reactions, to deeper, wiser responses.
‘The quieting of our mind is a political act’
So here is a further reminder of what we can do. Kornfield stresses:
‘The quieting of our mind is a political act… through meditation and inner transformation, we can learn to make our hearts a place of peace and integrity. Each of us knows how to do this … It is our inner nobility and steadiness that we must call on in our personal and collective difficulties.’
This approach goes further than simply finding a place of peace. It also means being truthful and honest as Jack Kornfield says:
‘We deliberately turn toward the difficulties of the world and shine the light of understanding … ‘delusion’ blames others, creates enemies, and fosters separation. The truth is that we are not separate … When we look truthfully, we can also see that no amount of material and scientific advancement will solve our problems alone … Economic and political change will fail unless we also find a way to transform our consciousness. It is a delusion that endless greed and profit, hatred and war will somehow protect us and bring us happiness.’
Meditation as a political act
Meditation as a political act also means using our vision to help create a better, peaceful future. This is unity throughout the world, where we share our resources and live alongside one another. It’s what John Lennon was singing about in ‘Imagine’!
It won’t happen overnight, but it can’t happen unless we all want this. Do we value peace, kindness and balance? (Read more about this by the Dalai Lama.)
It means setting aside differences, and not pointing the finger of blame at others. This is difficult enough in our own daily lives, isn’t it?
When meditation becomes a life-skill for us, it also sits hand in hand with the sense of unity with others. We know how to reach out and volunteer in our community, donate for charities or become involved in any activity that benefits others, near or far.
In Buddhist terms this is regarded as the powerful ‘bodhisattva’ – acting for the benefit of all that lives. When we spend time in this way it’s a counter to our Western culture’s focus on individualism.
Kindness already exists within us even though our culture also has a tendency to be caught up in our own personal needs. My family, my wellbeing, my finances, my career-path. Our society can feel overly competitive, cut-throat, greedy.
We can start making a difference in the world right now, by being more present. Elisha Goldstein suggests we build an army of compassion.
And in our everyday lives, in our work, I like what this business-man’s approach is, Marc Benioff, in the US with his 1-1-1 philosophy.
While others are so determined to spread hatred and aggression, we need to decide where we stand.
So instead of lying down and succumbing to it or ignoring it by pretending it’s nothing to do with us, or aggressively lashing out, the third way is through peace and love.
We can all do that, meditation as a political act!
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Updated April 2018