Are You Hating Half Of Humanity Right Now?

When I feel irritable, politics is often the stimulus.

No sooner do I decide to ease back from my life long interest in the political world, that something else happens!

As Michael Corleone said in Godfather III: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

Typically on a news blackout, I then take to checking news websites every half hour.

I notice that, during such times, I can easily have spats with people who see an issue differently than I do.

I become reactive. Someone will say something that I find offensive, and I bite back. Not abusively. But I do get into squabbles that seem juvenile when I reflect on them.

I feel disappointed at this because I want to be in disagreement with others in a way that is cordial.

I wrote recently that politics is divisive and dangerous. That it makes us less likeable people. Sandra, who replied to that blog, described politics as “violence slowed down.”

I see plenty of evidence for that. I see insults and labels hurled from all sides. I feel furious at others myself. Many of those I am angry with are complete strangers to me. I know almost nothing about them except their views.

When I was a child, my teacher advised us to count up to ten when angry. At its core, it is good advice. It guides us to insert a pause between stimulus and response.

Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance, refers to this as “the sacred pause.”

When something inflames us, pausing allows us to make choices about our response.

I find counting up to ten doesn’t work so well for me. The counting often intensifies my anger.

What works better, when I decide to pause it all, is to take slow, deep breaths. Really deep. Even just three of these takes longer than you might think. But feel free to do more.

The benefit of this is that it not only inserts the sacred pause, but the act of deep breathing is calming too. By the time I am ready to respond, I find that I do so with a more level head. Often, I decide not to respond at all.

The difficulty is remembering to do this with an inflamed spirit.

This is why meditators meditate. I have tried this recently. It helps. Yet it is a training. The point of meditating is not just for the calm it brings while doing it. It is a training at being less reactive.

It practices for those times in life that result in stress or anger. Someone says something we don’t like. We feel furious. The training of meditation means we can be more skilled at choosing to take that pause.

When I restarted meditating this week, I could barely last 8 minutes. A few days later and I was up to 15 minutes. The more I do it, the easier it gets.

I never thought I’d be a meditator, even a novice. The idea of being sat there alone in silence made me want to run a mile. What has been crucial for me is to use a guided meditation.

With a guided meditation, there is someone to talk me through it. I use one of the free guided meditations by Sam Harris. It lasts about 9 minutes and he is matter of fact rather than new-agey. You can try it yourself, as I’ve embedded it at the bottom of this post.

Being reactive doesn’t serve me or anybody else. It doesn’t bring the change I want to see in the world. So I’m hoping to become better at inserting the sacred pause.

The better I am at pausing before I respond, the more likely I am to share disagreements in the way I want to. Or just choose to let go and not respond at all.

Alun Parry is Director of The Liverpool Psychotherapy Practice

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