The World Competes for our Attention: Staying Focused and Steady Amidst Election-Game-Award-News Hype

As I listen to the news of yesterday’s election results in Iowa and realize that for all the carrying on in the media for the past few weeks as if this is a definitive moment in history, not really very much at all has been settled and all of candidates are saying, “Well, from here on it becomes really important!” Of course I believe that elections matter, and voting matters.  I have never missed a single opportunity to vote since I voted for John Kennedy in 1960, the first year I was eligible. What I am thinking about this morning is how easily the mind becomes bewildered by fervor and then, in confusion, over-reacts with greed or negativity compounding its confusion and setting itself up for potentially unwise response.

I also noticed that since the election happened yesterday, the Super Bowl this Sunday became center-stage in the morning news, along with recipes for tail-gate party recipes, “At least if your team loses the game you can win the cooking prize for the day!”  Reminders of the Academy Awards coming up and which dress designers might be represented has also become the subject of television speculation. The mind is an omnivore: it appears to eat everything that it’s fed.

I like watching football. I am a very good cook. And, I enjoy the drama of the Academy Awards and will probably watch it from the very beginning to see the Red Carpet fashion display. I am not at all advocating distancing oneself from the panorama of life events that include competitions in which the outcomes, to me, represent various levels of significance. The election of the president is more important to me than the winner of the Best Actor award. I speak openly in my teaching about my goals for the world and how I understand the relevance of the Buddha’s teachings to achieving a world dedicated to peace and compassion. What I am advocating for is careful compassionate attention that leads to clear discernment.

The point is not getting excited and emotionally involved, or not. In every situation, there is the possibility of saying, “I am thrilled…,” or “I am dismayed…,” or “I am overjoyed…,” or “I am deeply pained…,” and still be aware of having enough poise in the mind to steady it through the time of powerful emotion until it is able, through its innate wisdom, to realize, “This is temporal. It will pass. I (and often “we”) will figure out what is the best thing to do next.”

This is all part of Mindfulness. I tell students, “My two main mindfulness practices are TIO and GAG, Think It Over and Get a Grip. Life is manageable. Sometimes terrible, but manageable.”