Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Can Mindfulness Save Democracy?

“We are a country divided.” That’s what the pundits and political observers would like us to believe. 

For the last few decades, political scientists have documented this shift toward greater polarization. And yet, until just recently, the polarization of democratic politics was viewed as a mostly elite phenomenon. Morris Fiorina makes the case in Culture War: The Myth of A Polarized America, that polarization is a mostly elite phenomenon. Pundits, politicians, and partisans are the ones who are polarized and at war, not ordinary citizens.

This elite theory of polarization no longer seems to be true. In a recent Pew Survey, researchers found a dramatic increase among non-political elites in the experience of stress and frustration when talking about politics. A record 53% of Americans now report talking about political issues as generally stressful and frustrating. Moreover, polling research by Pew also shows a marked increase in ideological division among ordinary citizens.

It’s easy to blame this escalation on a polarizing figures on both side of the aisle or the rise of popular information spaces like Facebook and Twitter. But from the perspective of mindfulness practice, it’s more helpful to look deeper into what holds this pattern of outrage, fear, and resentment in place: our personal unchecked reactions.

The Mirror of Complementary Behavior

At its core, of this shift toward political outrage and polarization is a clear pattern of response and counter-response. This is a common behavioral pattern that psychologists call “complementary behavior”: the natural human tendency to mirror the emotions of those around us. When we’re in the presence of someone else’s anger, we feel angry. When we’re in the presence of fear, we feel afraid. And so on.

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The Science of Chronic Stress, Inflammation, and Mindfulness

Inflammation. Since the early 1990s, when researchers began connecting the dots between a plethora of chronic illnesses and a previously unrecognized form of inflammation—properly called “metainflammation”—it’s been identified as a glaring health concern, a subcategory of wellness unto itself, about which headlines are made and books are written. 

Since then, doctors and healers of all stripes have advised countless (often questionable) treatments to fight inflammation, from diet changes and exercise to drugs, herbs, and supplements. Clearly inflammation is a battle we have yet to win.

Yet in this still-new terrain, researchers have also sussed out a possible common denominator in this complex condition: stress. 

And meditation is showing promise as an accessible and effective way to combat it. →

Why We Get Inflamed

To understand why meditation may work against metainflammation, it helps to understand exactly what inflammation is, and what effects it can have on our health. 

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American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel

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Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers

At the start of Jeanine and Catherine Butler’s spirited documentary American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel, the Christian Bible is described as both a “damaged ecosystem” and a “moving target.” Both descriptions prove apt as the film proceeds to interrogate just how brutally the teachings of Jesus have been misused and abused over millennia. But what could have simply been a classically disheartening assessment is instead populated with interviews with several courageously progressive pastors and historians, creating an uplifting portrait of how a transforming and transformative liberal (meaning “marked by generosity and open to new behavior or opinions”) Christianity is alive and well, despite the fact that the loud, condemning voice of the conservative Christian “Right” continuously hogs center stage in United States politics.


Rev. Lori Walke

As it tours Oklahoma, one of the U.S.’s reddest states, American Heretics does not shy away from revealing the hypocritical views and actions of conservative Republican Christianity, but it wisely keeps its primary focus on the open-hearted and open-minded generosity of its liberal main subjects, most notably Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers, the fierce Senior Pastor of Oklahoma City’s Mayflower United Church of Christ; his courageous associate Rev. Lori Walke; the fearless Bishop Carlton Pearson, who fell from fundamentalist grace when he led his congregation through a questioning of the existence of Hell; and Dr. Bernard Brandon Scott, professor emeritus of Oklahoma’s Phillips Theological Seminary, who gives much-needed historical and Biblical context in a radically matter-of-fact fashion.

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Find Happiness by Embracing All of Your Emotions

Our culture places a high value on happiness—having the best job, house, the most friends, things in general. We’re constantly in a state of grasping for something—filling ourselves up from the outside. And it’s totally bumming us out.

In this video from BigThink, psychologist and author Susan David says our obsession with happiness hinders our ability to do the hard work of living: being able to recover from setbacks when we inevitably make mistakes, or lose a job—you know, when that picture-perfect veneer we were working away at starts to erode.

Appreciating All Your Emotions

While keeping a positive outlook is good in theory, it’s also important to acknowledge that sometimes, negative things will happen to us. The point isn’t to avoid those emotions, but to handle them in a healthy way.

“It is really important that as human beings we develop our capacity to deal with our thoughts and emotions in a way that isn’t a struggle, in a way that embraces them and is with them and is able to learn from them,” says David.

Here are three tips she shares to embrace all of your emotions:

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Sides of a Horn

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South Africa has the largest wealth inequality in the world. It also home to the world's largest rhino population. Poachers massacre rhinos for their horns, which are shipped to Asia for use in traditional medicine (although the medical efficacy of the horns, which are made of the same substance as our fingernails, has never been proven). The international crime syndicates running this illegal trade buy horns for $300 and sell them for $300,000, using the difference to fund drug and human trafficking and terrorism. To stop this illegal trade, African rangers risk their lives in the bush. This 17-minute short film tells the story of the war for rhino horn from the perspectives of a ranger and a poacher. Written and directed by Toby Wosskow and executive-produced by Sir Richard Branson, the film is backed by Virgin, WildAid and the African Wildlife Foundation. Based on real events, it was filmed in the townships and preserves most directly affected by the illegal trade in wildlife parts.

As the film opens, Dumi (Welile Nzuza), a ranger, is returning to his village after some time in the bush. He is met in the streets by a group of men who support poaching in the area; they make it clear that Dumi, his wife, and child are not safe if he continues what he is doing.

Also objecting to his work is Sello (Sherldon Merema), his brother-in-law who desperately needs money to care for his sick wife, Dumi's sister. He makes it clear that he does not understand why Dumi thinks protecting "the rich man's rhino" is more important than his family's health and safety.

When the local poachers inform Sello that there is a rhino in the area that can easily be killed under a full moon, a confrontation between both sides of the horn is set up.

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