Thanks to my mindfulness practice, I no longer automatically believe my thoughts. I've sat too long with the incessant chatter, painful judgments by a daunting inner critic, repetition of songs or conversations of the past. I've learned their nature. Most thoughts are just representations, judgments or echos of experience and, most of the time, quite distorted at that.
I've accepted that the traces of thoughts and beliefs I grew up with will most likely never go away. This brings a great responsibility as well as a great freedom. I have to continually monitor thoughts and engage with the pause mindfulness affords to choose a wise response.
Values and beliefs are chosen.
This brings in the need for the active use of compassion--a compassion that understands how difficult it is to work with persistent thoughts. A compassion that understands that trying to stop thoughts is like trying to stop the ears from hearing or the eyes from seeing. A compassion that understands that trying to stop or judge the thoughts as wrong or bad starts an inner war. Thinking is what the mind does and when that is resisted, thoughts usually persist and grow in oppositional force. (If you don't believe that, I invite you to try to stop your thoughts for just one brief minute.)
Thoughts arise because of various causes and conditions--some of which we have no control over and never did. If I allow thoughts to arise without resistance, they usually quickly disappear into the spaciousness of compassionate acceptance and I am left able to continue on operating from my chosen values, intentions and vision.
I've accepted the fact that I may never, in this lifetime, be able to live wholly from these values I aspire--my chosen values.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Our hearty container has been challenged, tested, chipped away and reshaped as we continue to work towards a "more perfect union." Will we ever rise fully to our aspirations as a nation?
As a nation, our inner war begins when we try to judge a world view, belief or opinion as wrong and engage in trying to repress or forcefully change it. We get painfully caught. Our national "pause" is the checks and balances built into the governance system. They serve much like the reasoning part of our brain as individuals.
Does that mean we don't need to be concerned when we hear racial, gender and religiously intolerant ideas? No, we must remain alert to know when we are at risk of edging away from our ideals. But, is our best approach to engage in a repressive and judgmental war with those opinions? I doubt it. We are only a product of causes and conditions when operating from our fight, flight or freeze response. We lose access to our deeper wisdom and higher morals and ethics.
What you resist persists. What you look at clearly disappears.
Our constitutional container guarantees and protects people's right to their opinions, values and beliefs, but not actions that don't honor our basic rights as U.S. citizens. If we spend our time repressing, making "wrong," or demonizing strong oppositional ideas, our nation will regress to an inner war.
If we, instead, take a mindful and compassionate approach, the spaciousness created will make it easier to reach for and choose actions that continue to reflect our nation's chosen values, giving us one possible way to shift from our current tension-filled political narrative to a more positive, forward looking one.
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher, author, life coach, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She is author of Companioning the Sacred Journey and the forthcoming Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom