~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Changing My Mind, and My Vote

September 13, 2020

When I cast my ballot this fall, once again I will commit a minor act of treason against my family heritage and political past. Although I was raised in a fiercely Republican family and bred on the values of individual liberty, free markets and entrepreneurial spirit, I will whole-heartedly cast my vote for a Democrat.

The last four years have revealed in no uncertain terms that our political beliefs can be deeply entrenched and slow to change. Once we stake a political claim, it seems, we often defend our beliefs with unwavering passion. We are even sometimes more likely to bend the truth to suit our beliefs than to change our point of view in response to truths that are revealed in the world.

So how did I, the child of a Republican family in a reliably conservative community in the heartland of the country, find my own political beliefs changing? When I consider my shifting vision of the world, I trace the transformation of my political views to one unlikely corner of my life: Meditation changed my mind and my vote.

As a child I helped decorate floats for Republican candidates marching in local parades. My father gave me Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged for my twelfth birthday. Another family member sent me off to college with a subscription to National Review to inoculate me against the liberal elites in their East Coast ivory towers. After college, I even worked as a low-level aid in the White House for a Republican president of the United States.

It was the stress of living in Washington, DC, that led me to meditation. The anxieties of living in its cut-throat and often mind-bending culture wore on my mind and my spirit. One day I found my way into a yoga class, seeking a little ease and peace. I fell in love with my first downward-facing dog pose, and yoga soon led me to a more formal meditation practice. The discipline has been my steady companion ever since, and it has changed my life in profound and beautiful ways.

Meditation is the practice of resting with clarity and ease in the present moment, with an open heart and a welcoming mind. Slowing down, steadying the thoughts and reconnecting with the experience of the here-and-now offer benefits that range from lowering blood pressure to de-stressing our minds to nurturing greater compassion for the world around us. Millions of practitioners across many centuries and spiritual traditions have come the same conclusion: Meditation can help us navigate the often turbulent waters of life with greater wisdom and ease.

There is a beautiful mystery to meditation, to the myriad ways that sitting quietly and cultivating awareness can change our minds. When we let life’s stresses clutter up our brains, we grow confused. And when we let the mind settle, we see more clearly who we are and how we want to be in the world. We begin to sense a deeper connection between our small selves and those around us. Our sense of separation - from other people and creatures and even trees and mountains - diminishes. We begin to understand more deeply the truth espoused by many spiritual traditions: In the end, we are all one.

Meditators will tell you that this realization leads to changes both large and small. When you see how closely our lives are bound together, you begin to treat others less like strangers (or worse, enemies) and more like friends. You grow less frightened by people who seem different from yourself. You become a little less quick to judge and a little more likely to forgive. And you take better care of the world around you - not just for yourself and your own children, but for all beings, everywhere.

You begin to see the exhaustion in the eyes of the cashier at the grocery store, and you pause to ask how she is doing. You begin picking up trash on the sidewalk, even when someone else made the mess, because everyone benefits from your small action. You begin slipping a few dollars into the cold fingers of the homeless man on the street - even though you have no idea what will come of that money - because your heart has been primed to respond with kindness when others ask for help. Little by little, your guiding vision shifts from it’s me against the world to something much bigger: We are all in this together and we might as well help each other out along the way.

Once this happens, the concept of individual liberty becomes a little bit shady and strange. We grow less interested in our own private agonies and elations, and we grow a little more concerned about the wellbeing of the wider world. We begin to understand the need from time to time to sacrifice our own freedoms in the name of the greater good, so that our communities grow strong and healthy for us all. And we commit to treating others with the very same respect and care that we ourselves would like to be treated.

I never anticipated that meditation would be a political act. But the practice has led me to think more carefully about how all of my actions - including my votes - matter in the world. As meditation has changed my mind, I have grown less interested in candidates’ political affiliations and more interested in how their actions ripple out into the wider world. I have begun to care about not just their policies, but also the kindness and care with which they treat others, especially those least able to help themselves. I have grown more interested in supporting leaders who recognize how closely we are bound together and who advocate for we just as fiercely as for me.

On the day I cast my ballot this fall, I will surely sit in the quiet of the morning first. I will breathe and soften and settle my mind. I will feel the air around me and the sounds of the day coming alive. I will settle my awareness deep into the moment, where I sense so clearly those bright strands that weave us all together into one beautiful tapestry of life.

I will nod to the deep roots of my family heritage and political past, which have given me the courage of my convictions and the confidence to change my mind. And then I will collect my ballot and vote my conscience - mindfully and with care - with heartfelt wishes for wholeness and wellbeing for every last citizen of the world.