As I pulled into the drop-off driving lane at my daughter’s middle school, I was confronted with a row of protestors. About 20 parents and a few children lined the sidewalk, all holding up signs and passing out leaflets. It doesn’t matter what they were protesting, except to say it was the opposite of what I believe.
I could feel my body getting enraged. I started shouting through the car window, “This is ridiculous!” “Please mommy, don’t do anything,” my 12-year-old begged. So I practiced my best mindfulness, calmed down, dropped her off, and didn’t “do anything” I would later regret or she would be embarrassed by.
After stewing for the next 15 minutes, I finally had a moment of recognition. “Wow, I’ve had 30 years of meditation practice. If I’m this triggered, how is anyone ever going to get along?”
I’ve devoted years to cultivating compassion and loving kindness. I’ve experienced the fruits of practice— the love that emerges naturally when my mind is resting in awareness. Yet I wondered, where does the love go when I’m faced with someone who believes something so different than I believe? Shouldn’t I be able to love them too, not get so activated? But I’m pretty wed to my beliefs. And I know loving does not mean giving up my beliefs, values, and what I stand for.
Might it be possible that I could do both? Could I open to a deeper love, while still staying true to myself and my internal boundaries? This has become a weekly practice for me I call “Protest Practice”. Each week at drop-off, can I open my heart a little bit, while not giving myself away?
Spoiler alert: It’s not easy!
- A few Protest Practices:When you know you’re going into a tricky situation, get mindfully prepared. Deepen your mindfulness and explore loving kindness meditation, at the minimum for yourself. You might even try it for the difficult person you are about to encounter. No pressure here!
- Notice what’s blocking your compassion. Might there be something to understand here about the “enemy”? You can reflect on this before, during, or after.
- Examine what it feels like inside yourself as you face the “opponent”. Notice the feelings, body sensations, the sense of self-righteousness. Bring a lot of kindness to yourself as you do this. Investigate: Where is my love (or spaciousness, or equanimity) right now?
Thank you Diana for such a thoughtful and pragmatic approach. Protest Practice ! The approach you encourage allows us to hold our values while simultaneously deepening and supporting our practice. My default habit, in similar situations, is to spend countless ineffectual time afterwards crafting the ultimate view-changing retort.
Practicing in advance of uncomfortable situations provides the opportunity to gain a sliver of spaciousness in seeing more clearly both our opponent and our own reactions revealing a pathway for growth rather than deeper entrenchment. Concurrently, reducing 12 year old parental angst is further incentive!
Bruce, thank you for sharing your feedback and experience. “Pathway for growth rather than deeper entrenchment” – indeed! 🙂