Today is election day in America, and this year, perhaps more than any in recent memory, there is a tremendous amount of tension, fear, frustration, even outrage. These emotions are close to the surface for many, and threaten to boil over around any number of possibilities from the way the campaign was carried out to the way voting takes place, to the way results are reported and when, to what the candidates and their surrogates might say – and that is before we even achieve an actual outcome.
Every four years I get to a point where I declare that I can’t wait for it to be over - when the political ads and the numerous texts and calls get to be too much. This year, though, I have been completely detached from the process in a way that I never was before. I didn’t even watch the debates, much less donate to a candidate or party, or volunteer making calls and knocking on doors as I have in the past. I have even taken myself largely off social media and put myself on a strict news diet – consuming very little over the past several months.
This year’s election has the added specter of a potentially significantly delayed result, increasing the usual tension even further. AND on top of all of that lies the uncertainty about whether the results will be trusted and accepted by a candidate and his supporters. Never in my lifetime have we had to worry about the violence that has broken out at protests and rallies, and the potential for it to escalate. This year, the end of the election may not be the end, and that has many of us on edge.
Not being attached to the debate or the news has given me the ability this election season to be in close proximity to family members who don’t agree with me politically and to be at peace. The fact that we have an agreement not to discuss politics has significantly helped, and the news diet for all of us has been a game-changer. There was a point at which we realized none of us were going to change each other’s minds about certain political points of view or even candidates, and that trying to was only putting a wedge between us.
I woke up this morning feeling anxious, and when I tuned in to what I needed to do to dispel that feeling, the answer was clear: you’ve already been doing it – detach. Detaching doesn’t mean I don’t care about what’s happening in the world or about the outcome of the election. It doesn’t mean I’m not working to make the changes I feel are important in our society or that I am not voting. It does mean that I am unhooking my emotions and my well-being and my identity from all of it. I am actively choosing NOT to suffer.
After the last election, I experienced my first (and hopefully only) migraine. It was excruciating, and I managed it only by taking myself to bed in a dark room and lying as still as I could. When we are too attached to a certain point of view, dependence on a particular outcome or feeling that any external circumstance is going to “save” us or “doom” us, we open ourselves up to internal and, possibly, external unrest.
What is Non-Attachment?
"Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you."
– Ali Ibn Abi Talib
Non-attachment is not ignoring what’s going on around you, and it’s not being cold or unfeeling about what’s happening in the world. It is simply not allowing your thoughts and emotions to be controlled – or even influenced – by those events. External realities don’t have to have any influence over internal states. In fact, quantum physics and other leading-edge science is showing us that it is actually the other way around. Our internal states actually CAN influence external realities. I have written about this before here and here.
Often, it is only when things become so uncomfortable that we can no longer stand it that we are forced to change. We are feeling this individually and collectively right now. I had a discussion with a lawyer friend recently about which was more important: laws or consciousness. I argued that changes in consciousness led to better laws. He suggested that new legal protections often force changes before people feel ready for them. I suspect we are both right on some level.
You have complete control over your own consciousness. No matter what happens with laws or politics or medicine or education or foreign policy, you get to choose how you see yourself, others and the world. Your feelings guide your actions, so choose the ones that empower you. Choose the ones that increase your feelings of love. Choose the ones that bring out the best in you. Choose the ones that make you feel hopeful. Choose the ones that give you peace. Whatever the outcome of the election, the sun will still come up tomorrow. Birds will still sing. The Earth will keep rotating on her axis. Life goes on.
Here is what may (or may not) happen when you learn how to practice acceptance and surrender:
You will stop being controlled by your emotions, instead, you’ll become interested in them
You won’t be attached to the outcome, meaning that you’ll be free from the dread, anxiety, and inner tension that comes with clinging to expectations
You’ll be more curious, open, and spontaneous because you have no predetermined desire or craving
You’ll be more peaceful and less neurotic, meaning that your relationships and friendships will drastically improve