What is “mindful politics”?

We’re living in a time of intense political activity with heightened emotions being generated. Crucial choices are being made that will affect the lives of millions in the United States and around the world.


I’m beginning this post on mindful politics informed by two basic propositions:

1) That politics—the process through which we debate choices and make decisions about how we as individuals and groups live and work together in society; how we share and distribute resources; and how we relate to other nations and entities—is an essential area of engagement. Politics matters, but each one of us has to determine how much and whether we get involved;

2) That bringing greater awareness to the way we engage in the political process—particularly through bringing mindfulness to our beliefs, opinions, emotions, words, and actions—will help us engage more wisely, kindly, and appropriately in the process. And, this approach to engagement will be of benefit to ourselves and others.

What do I mean by mindful politics? The key to mindful politics is to bring ourselves—our beliefs, opinions, emotions, and reactions—fully into awareness when we make choices about when, where, why, and how we engage in the political process—whether it’s choosing to give money, demonstrate, phone bank or canvass for a candidate, vote, engage in discussion with a friend or colleague, or post on social media.

With much of our involvement in the political process, we take our beliefs and opinions as true or as a given: women should have the right to choose or abortion is obviously murder and wrong. We take our emotions—anger, fear, excitement, joy—as a given and not requiring much examination, and these emotions often trigger unexamined reactions, e.g., the man at the Trump rally slugging the demonstrator.

We often tie our well-being and happiness to particular outcomes—whether a bill gets passed or our candidate or party wins—and easily turn those disagreeing with us into ‘enemies’ or ‘bad people.’

Mindfulness invites us to take seriously the choices that we make and our responsibility in acting wisely and compassionately. And it invites us to take a step back from identifying with our views and beliefs to include our own emotions, beliefs, and reactions as something worthy of our attention and of allowing ourselves to feel fully.

When we let ourselves fully experience our emotions—feeling the fear, for example, when we contemplate the possibility of having a president who is uninformed and who targets minority groups as the cause of the “problem”—we are then able to make choices that are not triggered by fear or anger, but by wisdom and compassion towards ourselves and the world.

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  1. This is such a great idea, Hugh. When the last election was happening, I was really just getting started with a committed mindfulness practice. Through the course of the current election cycle, I have been so much more aware of how my mind and body respond to the rising levels of conflict and competition around me. It’s an interesting time and definitely provides almost unlimited fodder for my practice as I work to consider all ideas and opinions from the larger perspective of compassion and an open heart. Looking forward to engage here 🙂

    • Thanks, Christy. I agree elections are great fodder for our practice. I think one of the reasons is that we care so much (at least some do) – and this is a good thing – but without awareness we easily get into fear, on one side, or craving/over-exuberance, on the other and we can act in ways that are not wise, kind, or mindful… I see a lot of this on social media, as I’m sure you do.

      With mindfulness we have the opportunity to keep checking in with our bodies, emotions, thoughts, and mind states – and connecting with the present-moment as it is. It’s much more possible then to make wise and healthy choices, rather than being swept along by our views and opinions, and by our fears and our anger…

      Hope all is well with you. Kind regards, Hugh

    • Hi Diane, you can go to my website and go to bottom of the page and subscribe to my mailing list – you’re probably already on it? – and you’ll get the mindful politics blog posts. You can also check the box on this blog page below to be notified of new posts… Hope you’re well!

      Best, Hugh

  2. As I try to bring mindful presence to the current political situation, I am struck by the extent to which so much of the current dialogue results in increased separation between each of us and the “others,” whoever they might be. I am particularly troubled by the characterizations of the so-called “low information voter.” They are variously described as “rednecks,” “trailer trash,” or, “poor white trash.” A number of unflattering and denigrating stereotypes of low income whites are being promulgated by both the left and the right. Many of these individuals are supporting Donald Trump as he speaks to their anger and frustration about the loss of good paying jobs due to outsourcing and other cultural changes in the U.S. What must their suffering be that they are drawn to Trump’s message? How can there concerns be better addressed so that they are not persuaded by the demagogic rantings of someone like Trump? We continue to ignore the pain and suffering of these individuals at our peril.

  3. Thanks, Jeff. I agree with you. It is so easy to define anyone who supports the real estate mogul as ‘the other’, and when we discount them and their fears we don’t have to look at the suffering that leads them to be attracted to this message. I feel it is important to acknowledge both the reality of their suffering–their material losses (jobs, businesses, etc) as well as their psychic pain at the changes that are going on–and to see how making the choice of supporting the mogul is a way of deflecting or avoiding their own pain…

    As James Baldwin said, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

    I think you captured the challenge we face with your final question: How can their concerns be better addressed so that they are not persuaded by the demagogic rantings of someone like Trump? If we don’t address this question, the problem will continue in a new post-Trump form.

    Hope you’re doing well and rested after your Paris trip–sounds like it was great. Best, Hugh

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