I have 4 years under my belt as a Free State Project participant in New Hampshire where right now hundreds of libertarians are trying out different flavors of activism from civil disobedience to running for office. I have been thinking about activism for longer than I’ve been practicing meditation, and I can’t help but feel the two go hand-in-hand. I believe individuals practicing meditation on a regular basis would be better advocates for peace. Here is my list of five possible benefits meditation may reap for all my activist, and non-activist, friends out there.
You will choose your battles more wisely.
In life, and in activism especially, it is usually better to act purposefully than to react out of fear. I sometimes hear activists say in response to criticism, “Well, at least I’m doing something.” Often it is a mistake to trust our first reaction, because we can easily mislead ourselves into feeling disconnected with our environment. Our attempts to fix things while in this state can work against us. If you spend three years in Keene, NH as I did, you will feel the disconnect between many locals and activists who have a reputation for being divisive. Keene is often used as an example in other parts of NH of how not to win hearts and minds, and that is in large part due to the belief that “doing something” is always preferable to doing nothing. Meditation is used to help people struggling with anxiety and anger because it teaches you to look beyond your defenses and see that sometimes no action may be required of you at all. Not feeling like you always have to do something makes the act of doing more powerful, like the difference between the opinion of someone who is always talking versus the person who rarely speaks. If you’re going to rock the boat with your activism, let it count.
You can bring about “Libertopia” by going there whenever you please.
While practicing meditation is hardly going to bring about the establishment of “a truly free market” or “a voluntary society” it does provide a sanctuary away from the concerns of the physical world. When peace is a concept with roots only in the external world, completely out of our control, we can never gain access. If you’re waiting for the government to dissolve to allow yourself to feel at peace, you’re letting them have all the power. By practicing meditation, you will find that you always have the power to experience peace with your environment, and no one can take that from you. It is yours, whenever you want it, where ever you need it. As Thoreau defiantly expressed in Civil Disobedience, “Thus the State never intentionally confronts a man’s sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.”
You will have better relationships with those who you want to influence, as you won’t be trying to change them.
People don’t want to be changed, they want to do the changing. Any attachment to the way things should be hinders your ability to find opportunities for understanding. By meditating you turn off the stream of thoughts about how the world could be better if people would only listen to you. If your ideas are the truth, it doesn’t make them any less so because people don’t see the truth as easily as do you. Meditation will give you the patience to allow people and things to be exactly as they are. Give yourself a break from being the world’s hero for at least 10 minutes a day, and see what magic happens in your relationships with others.
You will be the change you wish to see.
Meditation has given me new hope in myself. Without all the distractions and thoughts clouding my world, I see the value in letting things happen without trying to control the outcome. Activists reading this might wonder if this perspective might make them worse activists, as they might have become activists out of a longing to influence and change the way things are towards a more preferred outcome. This I don’t believe to be the case. There is wisdom in knowing the difference between obsessing over what cannot be changed, and having the courage to face what can. Activsts I know will often misquote Gandhi saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” but the closest quote which he is actually documented as having said is, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. …We need not wait to see what others do.”
You will trust something more powerful than your mind to guide you.
As much as libertarians rely on the mind’s ability to think logically and to question ideas, we can better honor that powerful resource by balancing it with something more intuitive. Our intuition is always there in the background. You may have a gut feeling about a person or situation that tells you to adapt even before you have any logical reason for making the adjustment. Meditation shows you that the mind is a very busy place and is full of booby-traps that take you away from the present moment. For instance, sometimes boobies will pop into your mind while you’re trying to focus on your breathing or while reading an article about meditation. It’s one of the many challenges everyone faces while on your way to tuning into something that has always been there under the immediate surface.
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