You can’t turn on the TV, radio or get on the internet without hearing about politics. Facebook is probably the worst; you check in to touch base with people you care about, and instead get someone’s political agenda.
Funny, how political posts are so much more aggravating when we don’t agree with them. And how annoyed we can get with the person that posts them. That person you’ve known for a long time, or someone you just met and thought you liked and respected turns out to be a [insert opposing political party here].
What’s a yogi to do? Lash out? Unfriend? Try to convert them? Bite your tongue but curse under your breath?
I had an encounter with this yesterday. Someone I haven’t seen in since college (which, suffice it to say, has been a long time) posted a pretty radical statement about what he presumed someone of my particular political leanings would believe. The details are not important—my less-than-enlightened reaction was.
As I read and reread his post, I became more and more angry. Offended. Indignant. I crafted several potential responses, each more snarky and clever than the next, to set this tragically misguided person straight. When I questioned my motives and realized how very unyogic my reaction was, I decided to not get involved, but rather walk away from the computer and do some yoga.
At some point during practice I lost my drishti and my eyes landed on a particular book in my bookshelf: the Yoga Sutras. I’ll bet Patanjali wouldn’t have wasted time spewing negative energy all over the internet, I thought. No, he had a better way to handle people that press your buttons. The Brahmaviharas.
So to help us all keep our wits and our relationships intact during election season (or any other time), I present to you: the sanity saving Four Brahmaviharas. Guaranteed to make the bumpy ride to November 6 a little smoother. They are:
1. Metta: lovingkindness, benevolence. Patanjali would have us extend our benevolence to everyone—even members of opposing political parties. Love really is better than the alternative. Any alternative. The world needs love more than it needs snide and snarky Facebook comments. A person is more than their politics, and every person deserves love. Or at least respect.
2. Karuna: compassion. Traditionally, we are encouraged to cultivate compassion toward people who are unhappy or suffering. This isn’t so hard to do if someone’s suffering is obvious, but in the world of Facebook, people are so invested in looking fabulous, happy and successful, you’d think they never even had a bad hair day. If you get real and look past all the ecstatic check-ins and photos, though, you’ll see that everyone suffers. Even people whose lives look perfect on the outside. Even those whose really f*’d up beliefs and political posts are driving you mad. The Buddha came up with a whole religion based on the idea that no one is immune from suffering. So have some compassion. You have no idea what someone may be struggling with.
3. Mudita: sympathetic joy. This means being happy for people – even when they are members of another political party. Even when they are posting pictures of themselves cruising the islands of Greece—again—in their luxury yacht and you haven’t had a vacation for 3 years. Patanjali reminds us that it’s better to celebrate with them than curse them under our breath. If this is really difficult, remember that truth already mentioned above: everyone suffers. Practice being happy for people when things go well. Even if it means their candidate is ahead of yours in the polls? Just consider that an advanced practice, like, say, the 53rd series of Ashtanga. Aspire.
4. Upekka: equanimity. My favorite: If all else fails, and it will: Let it go. Disregard. Walk away. Don’t let the bastards get you down. Go do your practice and instead of worrying about how wrong everyone is, get your own head right. You can’t change people’s political stance (or anything else) by arguing with them or belittling their beliefs. If you really want to change the world, start with yourself. Or as John Lennon said, “you tell me it’s the institution, well, you know – you better change your mind instead.”
Am I encouraging you to walk away from political discourse, to be an island? Not at all. Get in there, if you have the stomach for it. Just remember to examine where your responses are coming from: Anger? Love?
Is this stuff easy? No it is not. It’s damn hard. Will you be able to be completely serene, compassionate or sane all the time? Not a chance. But you will be closer than if you don’t try. And at least you’re moving in the right direction.
These “four immeasurables” (as the Buddha called them) require you to recognize when you’re getting triggered, step back, breathe, and practice, practice, practice. This is the proverbial high road and it’s worth taking. Because changing the world and all its problems is important—but it’s gotta begin with you. Plus, election season will be over in a few short months and you’re going to want to be able to salvage a few relationships when it’s all said and done.
Now get out there and vote! But play nice. The revolution starts with you.