As we approached a time of reckoning in an election year that has seen our country more ideologically polarized than any time in recent history, it may not have been easy to maintain your calm at the prospect of the election going against the way you think it should. But if you were losing sleep over the prospect, think what a great learning opportunity could be in store.
I'm not saying that the national (or local) political direction makes no difference. I'm not saying that political decisions have no impact on our individual lives. Nor am I saying that we shouldn't get involved or care about the outcome. What I am saying is that it's wise to know what you have some control over, and after all the votes are counted, you can control your own response to the results.
It isn't easy, but then, worthwhile things seldom are. Your first reaction will undoubtedly be anger at the electorate, or at the system. You will be imagining the waste of resources, or the antagonism of other people, or the worsening of one situation or another. You might find that relationships with family members, friends or others with whom you differ on the issues are stressed to the breaking point, feeding that anger.
When you experience these emotions, it's time to remember what emotions are and who you really are. Emotions are songs that play through the instrument that is your persona. So are thoughts. Like any instrument, be it a computer, a piano or a television, your personality is designed to give expression to the software that you run through it. But we are not just our personalities. If we were, we'd be at the mercy of whatever emotions, thoughts and energies that blow by us or through us. We have higher faculties — call it will, or self, or whatever you choose — that give us the ability to determine consciously what tunes will play through us. We have the ability to dampen the energies that are destructive and, even more amazingly, we have the ability to attract and strengthen those tunes that promote wellbeing and harmony.
So the challenge that confronts us (actually, all the time, not just in stress) is to get a handle on those higher faculties and learn how to use them, purposefully and skillfully.
The way to access these faculties is disarmingly simple. There's nothing esoteric or abstract requiring any special understanding or deep knowledge.
We can start with control of the breath and of the attention. This is something you can do instantly, any time, and any place. Pay attention to your very next breath. Just feel it coursing through your body, slow and deep. Then keep the focus on the next breath, too.
If you put your attention on this, your mind will simply release its embrace of worrisome thoughts. You will bring yourself back to the moment, the only time that really is.
Of course, the worrisome thinking will sneak up on you to reclaim your attention. Your instrument is habitually tuned to that frequency, but as often as is necessary you can vanquish the thoughts, and as you do, old habits will weaken and the seeds of new ones will be planted. As this happens, you'll realize that the objective conditions of your environment have less and less power to tie your psyche up in knots. You'll realize too that you don't really need thoughts, as strange as this may seem. When your focus is placed elsewhere, you'll feel more in control of your wellbeing. The people who aggravate you will become less bothersome, the statements of public figures will not throw you into an emotional state. You might even see your relatives in a more agreeable light. Try it. Attention and breath.
Avram Chetron retired from high school teaching seven years ago. He spends his time singing, writing, teaching and appreciating Ashland's blessings.
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