As a mindfulness practitioner, researcher, and facilitator I have been interested in the benefits of mindfulness in our lives. Beyond the obvious benefits of stress reduction, how does mindfulness impact our decision making, our relationships, and our experience in and of this world — these are some of the questions for which I have been seeking answers. Beyond the breath is a metaphor for the ways in which mindfulness integrates in and benefits our lives beyond meditation.

When I decided to enter politics, I was naturally curious how my practice influences and guides my decisions and actions in this new area of my life. Running for the inaugural Amherst Town Council office, I found many opportunities to experience different facets of mindfulness in action — such as focus in the midst of action, curiosity in conflict, and compassion for myself and others.

Was I able to embody mindfulness in the contexts that this new arena of politics was presenting? I remember my first public debate, my first confrontation, and many other firsts. In many of these first-time situations I failed. I failed to remember to respond with mindfulness. Don’t get me wrong, my mindfulness practice supported me more than ever. Yet, every day it was tested and pushed beyond my existing experience of mindfulness. Which is why mindfulness is called a practice.

In this series of blog posts, I will share the challenges I confronted in my political campaign and how the different aspects of mindfulness helped me to walk this path with more ease, creativity, and positive outcomes, even if I didn’t get it right the first time. As you read this series, you may choose to replace the political context with what’s relevant for you – a work situation, a challenging relationship, or any other context you feel this kind of exploration will be useful within. Some of the topics I will be covering are as follows:

  1. Many more thoughts now: Self compassion and focus
  1. Feeling like an imposter: Creating space to connect with self
  1. Managing publicity and stress: Mindfulness on the go and letting go
  1. Discomfort of knocking on doors: Shifting perspective to serving
  1. Running against each other or alongside each other? Seeing the bigger picture of interconnectedness
  1. Keeping my heart open for people who are spreading misinformation about me: Curiosity and sitting with a question
  1. Enjoying winning without attachment: Feeling gratitude and equanimity

Many more thoughts now: Self compassion and focus

Earlier on in the campaign, I remember meditating with a gazillion thoughts flying in my head. At the end of one such meditation, I declared, “What’s the point of meditating when I am lost in thinking? It’s useless if my mind is going to be so busy.”  In that moment I realized how many people must give up meditating because they found their minds were so busy during meditation. If my mind, with its fifteen years of meditation experience, could proclaim this is useless, surely people who are new to the practice would have a similar conclusion and give up meditating because they feel it’s not working.

The point when my mind declared mindfulness was usefulness, is where the real work of mindfulness began. It was turning toward my mind with compassion and realizing that of course there will be many more thoughts now.

Suddenly I had found myself learning about schools, property taxes, zoning bylaws, affordable housing, and all the other facets of municipal government. I was responding to surveys and voters in public forums and my door to door campaigning. This new areas of learning and activity naturally resulted in many more thoughts. Recognizing that it is but natural for my mind to be busier than usual was an act of self-compassion and seeing with clarity.

The outcome of this clear seeing was that I recommitted to practicing regularly even though I didn’t experience the usual calm. The other action I committed to was practicing in between activities – like driving places or walking door to door – so that I had opportunities to create inner spaciousness throughout the day. Especially on days with a full schedule, when I didn’t have the time for a longer meditation, practicing in small intervals throughout the day was helpful to check in with body and mind, to breathe deeply and soften all that is rigid within me.

Summary of Mindfulness Discoveries

  1. Continue to practice even when there are a gazillion thoughts.
  2. The purpose of mindfulness is not to experience a certain state but to learn to observe the state of mind and body with precision and self-compassion. So if the mind is busy, just notice that its busy and when it’s quieter simply note that its quieter.
  3. Even when life is busy, find creative ways to practice throughout the day.

Questions For Your Exploration

  1. While meditating, do you have expectations for how you should feel or how to achieve a particular mind state?
  2. Do you notice a correlation between busyness in life and the state of your mind?
  3. Do you find ways to practice even when you are super busy or do you give up practicing all together?

Feel free to share your explorations and questions in the comments below.