Opinion: Mindfulness, politics and appreciating the quiet

Noel Lee/The Occidental

I began meditating just about a year ago, and it has become an integral part of my daily routine. The purpose of meditation is to take a moment to allow the mind to rest while you reflect on the thoughts and emotions that arise within it. It is both an exercise and an escape from an overwhelming world. It has led me to appreciate peace and quiet contemplation in a way that I hadn’t previously. While politics had nothing to do with my decision to begin meditating, it has nonetheless been one of the many aspects of my life that have been transformed by this practice. As one of very few liberals in my group of male friends in my hometown of Spokane, Wash., I often find myself in political debates and conversations. While these debates have always been friendly, practicing meditation and mindfulness has reshaped my political debates and activism. I find that my quiet mind allows me to find common ground with those I disagree with, to debate intelligently and to form opinions without reacting emotionally.

This more rational approach is a stark contrast to the political atmosphere we have existed in for the last four years. President Trump’s hateful and violent rhetoric led many Americans to adopt a reactionary and angry brand of politics. For the duration of Trump’s presidency, I shared that anger and frustration — and in many ways I still do. But this last year has taught me the importance of quiet contemplation, and that is why I believe we should all be impressed by and grateful for the job President Biden is doing so far.

While some of Biden’s policies, such as the Covid Relief Bill, have been met with wide approval by Americans, Biden has also faced harsh criticism from conservatives and progressives alike. While it is extremely important to hold those in power accountable for their policy decisions, this is not an article about Biden’s policies. What I have found most impressive about his presidency so far is his rhetoric. Biden’s social media activity and public addresses have consistently been a calm, reassuring message for Americans, entirely devoid of political conflict and criticisms, coming as a stark contrast from the previous administration. This change of tone has matched my personal shift, sparked by my practice of mediation, toward discipline, slowness and peace. I am especially appreciative of this new political era because meditation has helped me realize how important those traits truly are.

During Biden’s two months in office, he has yet to launch a single Twitter attack against even his fiercest political opponents. Instead, his tweets have centered around uniting America, outlining plans to get Americans vaccinated and even wishing his wife a happy Valentine’s Day. Rather than shamelessly promoting himself, Biden is making a clear effort to unite America, which he promised to do during his campaign. Whereas Trump stoked the nationalist and racist flames that exist in America, Biden is quietly working on mending a broken country. He has held memorial services and town halls, he has shared his own experiences with tremendous loss in order to console grieving Americans and he has remained almost entirely out of many of the political battles being waged in Congress.

Also notable is the fact that Biden’s personality appears to have remained relatively unchanged, as he has retained the folksy, working-class characteristics he has come to be known for. In his memoir, “A Promised Land,” former president Barack Obama described Biden as, “all warmth, a man without inhibitions, happy to share whatever thought popped into his head.… For he genuinely enjoyed people.” Despite criticisms and jokes, President Biden’s grandpa-like nature and commitment to the American people have remained consistent. Few times in American history has our populace been so divided, and after four years of a president whose sole goal seemed to be growing that divide, we should not underestimate the importance of a calm rhetoric.

As college students, we in particular should be grateful for this reprieve. We are known for our political activism and strong opinions, and these traits have been heightened by the contentious political landscape of the last four years. As colleges move to a digital platform due to the pandemic, we have come to rely on social media for almost all of our communications and interactions. It is inevitable that politics will come up on social media, and with algorithms that confirm our biases and debates that lack face-to-face interaction, the ability to find common ground has become almost nonexistent. This has forced us to adopt a very reactionary brand of politics, one in which college students on both sides of the aisle have come to define themselves based on their fierce opposition to someone else’s tweet, post or comment.

College is a time to form opinions and create our identities, both of which require a great deal of personal reflection. The isolating, digital, reactionary world we have been living in makes it difficult to do so, and it was exactly for this reason that I began meditation. While meditation may not be for everyone, taking time to quietly contemplate our identities and convictions is an important part of growth. This is what President Biden is giving us the chance to do. He is giving us an opportunity to stop, to reflect, to read, to think, to debate and to grow. So that is exactly what we should do. We should maintain our strong opinions, hold those in power accountable and protest when there is injustice. But before that, we should reflect, and we need peace and quiet to do so. That is why Biden’s rhetoric has been, and will continue to be, so important.