Restoring our common humanity: Just like me

From "Connecting to Our Common Humanity"

From "Connecting to Our Common Humanity"

There have been some strong pieces written in this post-2016 election era on how we can use our mindfulness practice to proceed after a contentious, divisive election. For many of us, this is a time when rubber hits the road, and we need to call upon the full spectrum of strategies offered by mindfulness to proceed skillfully from our deepest values.

In After the Divided Election: The Values and Limits of Mindfulness, Oren Sofer guides us to begin where we are, take note of our thoughts, be wary of mind traps that may spin us away from reality, and reconnect with our values and neighbors. He also acknowledges that it is not enough to stay inwardly focused, and we must act from our deepest values to ensure ethical treatment of all who inhabit this earth.  

Sarah Rudell Beach, of Left Brain Buddha, uses tending to the garden as a metaphor for how we might proceed. She reminds us that after we feel the feelings, we must not get stuck in the philosophizing and thought cycles. We must act, and care for our community, as we would a garden. Most importantly, she reminds us, "Don’t buy a farm and start working on ALL THE THINGS that need working on right now. You don’t have the time or the energy for that." Stay focused, she advises.

On Thursday, November 10, when I gathered with my Portland mindfulness educators for our last class together, I knew it would not be class time as usual. I committed to holding space for individuals to express their feelings and share stories of the fallout in their schools on Wednesday when the results came in. We needed to embrace what was true for all of us, and for our students, in order to move forward. 

We as a society also have a real need to restore our belief in common humanity. That underneath it all, we want the same things for ourselves: safety, peace, security, happiness. If we start from this common understanding, perhaps we can then dialogue and find solutions. How do we begin to open back up our own hearts to consider this possibility?

In Daniel Rechtscahffen's book The Mindful Education Workbook, he offers a practice, "Just like me." Here is an adapted version:

After sitting silently for a minute watching the breath, try calling to mind someone, or a group of people, from whom you feel disconnected: 

Repeat the following phrases:

Just like me, they want to be happy. Just like me, they want to be safe. Just like me, they want to know peace. (You can also adapt this to include specific concepts you believe may be shared values)

Sit for a moment with this understanding. And then, you can offer this:

May you be happy. May you be safe. May you know peace.

By practicing loving kindness, we can soften our hearts enough to hear what is really being called out for, what needs are going unmet, in those with whom we may not understand or agree. This does not mean, in finding our common humanity, that we sit and luxuriate in it. It does not mean we are silent in the face of oppression, bigotry, and hatred. Just because we can understand another does not mean we condone their actions or behaviors.

In a most extreme example of opening our hearts and minds across a seemingly unbridgeable divide, Daryl Davis, an African American musician, reached out to Ku Klux Klan members and developed relationships with them. Through sharing his humanity, he was able to persuade some of the most unlikely candidates of his inherent worth. 

Often, it is only when our hearts meet that the mind can be swayed.