Parker and Courtney

Me with Parker Palmer, Author of Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics worthy of the Human Spirit.

I’m a political junkie. While I try to limit my kiddos TV consumption, I’ll happily plop them all in front of Dora so I can catch a bit of election commentary on NPR. I tune into the debates and savor the post game pundits. I’ve re watched every episode of West Wing online (that counts as politics, right?). I tear up at convention speeches; I vote early.

An when I was younger, I got into pretty heated conversations with people over my political views. (Ok it can still happen.)

This passion somewhat exists in tension with my desire to be a conscious, calm and peace-loving person.

In fact, in my twenties I felt like I had two different personalities: Courtney #1 loved volunteering on political campaigns, interning in DC, drinking beer and trading electoral factoids. Courtney #2 read Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, and learned to meditate. Of course these aren’t mutually exclusive interests, but at the time I lived like they were.

But increasingly– I’ve found some guides who connect the dots. One of my favorite authors, Parker Palmer, has a lovely new book called Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics worthy of the Human Spirit. He writes thoughtfully about how to create space in relationships that can hold the tension of political differences in a life-giving way. (Starting with holding well the tensions in our own hearts. )

I am also learning to temper some of the heat of my political passion with an appreciation of the political process itself. Not focusing so much on how people vote but that they vote. Maybe i’m an idealist, but i believe in the wisdom of the body politic. Sure i have my preferences, but I also find satisfaction in the collective experience of political expression.

OK I know its flawed– that there is a lot of money in politics and problems with voter laws and important reforms yet be made. But still, our democracy has good bones. We have much on which to stand to create the society we want for ourselves and our children. And in order to access it we must call upon what Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address describes as, “the better angels of our nature.”

Here I share some thoughts for a consciously -observed election day:

1) Vote. The experience itself is a satisfying act and ritual– try to breathe and be aware as you do it. And be kind to the people working the polls. i worked the polls once and it was a really fascinating and long day. Many of the volunteers are retirees who return year after year– not because they are getting big financial payoffs, but often out of civic passion.

2. Support your peoples (or candidate or party). This is the antidote to the nihilism that permeates postmodern life (an attitude that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.) It feels good to be willing to participate in a story bigger than oneself, and to contribute money or time to things we believe in. It means that it matters, and that we believe leadership impacts our daily lives.

3. Practice non-dual seeing. This is the trickiest bit, but it is essential for cultivating mature, peaceful people and societies. Non-dual seeing is the oldest spiritual practice there is. In the Christian tradition it is called contemplation. From the Buddhist perspective it is mindfulness. We all share a tendency to receive the present moment and immediately categorize different dimensions of it good or bad. This opens the door for judging and criticizing everything and offering ourselves a relentless inner monologue about it all. In so doing we can miss the texture and subtleties of life. Non-dual seeing is the practice of noticing the present moment and allowing reality to be what it is, always and everywhere a combination of good and bad. So, no name calling. And when the going gets tough, when you just cant imagine why someone believes what they do, turn to curiosity–  wondering what kind of life story led a person to those views. Make it up if you have to. Use it as an opportunity to cultivate your own empathy. (Here is a step by step meditation)

And together we can all draw from the wisdom from the past– like this quote from 1774:

“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy: 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against: And, 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”  John Wesley

We all have the power to preserve the art of civil conversation and to create safe space for deep democracy.

I’m Courtney Pinkerton. And I approved this message.