It is an unusual time to live in the UK. The daily political news grinds the nation ever closer to despair with a dizzying black hole of options, amendments, complications, and contortions. The public looks on at times disillusioned, horrified, baffled, depressed, delighted, or incensed, depending on the outcome of the day, and their political persuasions.
It is difficult to know how to engage with such a process as a citizen. You cast your vote and expect something rather more decisive to occur than the present cabaret of daily intrigue, lurching precariously from one bizarre headline to the next.
The nation’s future swings in the balance. Uncertainty looms large. Emotions run high. Disagreements once grumbled, become full-blown arguments. Friendships are lost. Family members, sent to Coventry. And still no real news, as to how all of this will pan out.
So what might Mindfulness teach us about how to navigate such an unsettling mire?
Lots, as it happens!
So let’s take a look at the Eight Attitudinals of Mindfulness and see how they might be applied to our nation’s case of Brexit-blues.
Mindfulness teaches that resisting the reality of the present moment is futile. You can only engage with the present moment as it appears, warts and all. When things are difficult, mindfulness invites you to accept the presence of the difficulty, explore it with curiosity, and open to it with compassion and kindness. On mindfulness courses, we teach the maxim: acceptance precedes change. If you are unable to practice acceptance, you move instead into resistance, or sometimes delusion – both taking you away from the axis of action and potential which exists only in the present moment. So, wherever you stand in Brexit Britain, start with a deep breath of acceptance.
Trust is a powerful practice for the present unsettled period, but it can be a little confusing. Mindfulness teaches you how to trust yourself to accompany each moment with compassion, kindness, integrity, and resourcefulness. It does not ask you to offer blind trust to others, or even to trust that all future circumstances are going to be ok or good. Trust here is akin to a commitment to remain connected and to find stability, even when challenges abound.
3. Letting Go
In the Brexit scenario Mindfulness asks us to let of our future predictions, projections, and attachments. If you were a remainer and you end up leaving, you do not need to give up your intention to be part of Europe, but you might consider letting go of any resentment, or anger that you felt through the process – and vice versa if you were leave. When we experience prolonged stress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction it can move into the body as tightness and contraction. Mindfulness teaches us to let go of tension too.
4. Non Striving
Probably the most confusing attitudinal of all for mindfulness students, non-striving is an attitude which asks you to drop into the present moment without effort, or efforting to be elsewhere. Most things in life respond well to trying harder, faster, better, more, whereas mindfulness is the opposite. The skill here is letting the doing drop away for a while whilst allowing the state of being to become primary in your experience. Next time you are having a Brexit conversation with someone with an opposing view – try practicing non-striving, feel the sensations of the feet on the floor, let go of the need to be right, breathe, and see what happens.
5. Self Compassion
Self-compassion is the skill of treating yourself as you would a good friend. This applies to how you speak to yourself within the privacy of your mind (self-talk) as well as how you treat yourself physically, and how you behave. One simple and practical way to practice self-compassion is to notice your current relationship with the news and consider whether your consumption is adding to your stress or diminishing it? Research has shown strong links between news consumption and increased stress and anxiety, so consider how you would like to stay informed. Choose your sources carefully and don’t be afraid to try a news-fast for 7 days to see how that affects your overall sense of wellbeing. It’s perhaps unlikely that much will have changed on the backstop a week from now!
6. Beginners Mind
Mindfulness teaches you to approach every practice and moment with a beginner’s mind. This is an attitude of openness and welcoming that asks us to witness the uniqueness of our experience and to drop out of auto-pilot. With Brexit, nobody knows for sure what will happen in the coming months and whatever path the nation chooses there will be no controlled experiment to show how the other options would have played out. So, stay open to your own views evolving, and guard against simply rehearsing old arguments that you have spun before. Continue to stay present with reality as it unfolds.
7. Non Judging
Let’s look at this in the context of a Brexit debate. The attitude of non-judging would see you gently shift from: You are wrong, to Help me understand. It’s a small change that can have a significant impact. After all, we can all remember conversations where we held a deeply entrenched position which changed drastically when we heard just one more fact. Remember, the smallest nuance has the possibility of changing everything, so stay present to each word, and aim to disagree without being disagreeable. If you have already fallen out with a friend or relative, there is always the opportunity to come back with fresh eyes and an open heart, and find a new way to connect.
The nation’s patience is reportedly wearing rather thin which is why being patient with each other, now more than ever, is a powerful practice. Remember that we are all doing our best to make it through a very unusual time and many are experiencing great distress seeing their future, and the future of the nation in jeopardy, in all sorts of ways.
A quick mindfulness practice that gives a practical structure to patience is STOP. It takes less than a minute and you can do it anytime, even during fraught conversations, without anyone being aware.
S – STOP
T – TAKE A CONSCIOUS BREATH – inhale…exhale.
O – OBSERVE – take a step back and witness what is happening.
P – PROCEED
Finally, know that taking time for a little mindfulness practice each morning or evening will also serve you well. Even 5 minutes of silence, just to check in with your body sensations, emotions, and thoughts, can help you retain a calm centre through these days of uncertainty.
Here’s to a very peaceful, if eventful few months.
By Neil Seligman
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