Community reporter and founder of Pens of the Earth, Helen Salsbury, shares the benefits of meditation during the current local election campaign.
I learnt a long time ago that I am not a political activist. I lack the rhetoric, the certainty and the confidence to persuade people to believe differently than they do. In my experience, people’s opinions – my own included – are shaped by so many factors: upbringing, what you read, who you listen to, what scares you. It can be like a well worn habit. I might believe something because my father did, or because my father didn’t and I don’t want to agree with anything he said! (Not true, he was a lovely man.)
But overall, our belief systems are formed by the constant drip, drip of information, opinions, stories and soundbites. And it’s hard sometimes not to be programmed. Not to do what we’ve always done – because there’s a whole weight of background and habit in it. Not to believe the most convincing person, the person whose charisma carries us along, or whose rhetoric plays to our emotions: our hopes, our fears, our concept of ourselves.
So where does meditation come into this? As an ex-yoga teacher who has practised yogic and Buddhist meditation for many years, one of the most significant things I’ve learnt is to look for the truth. When you sit with the breath, you examine the nature of your breath. Thoughts and emotions come up, and you examine the nature of those emotions. You’re looking for the truth, looking to get beyond perception and habit, looking to get beyond emotion. And then, you’re looking to take that practise out into your life, to make decisions based not on programming but on truth.
How does this tie in with the coming election? Fundamentally, it means taking a step back. Noticing your emotions, but not acting on them. Noticing your habitual patterns – ‘I’ve always voted for them.’ Noticing your habitual fears. ‘If I vote for so and so, they will do…’ And asking yourself, if I forgot about the party colours, which policies come closest to what my heart feels is right for us as a country, and for us as a world?
Fortunately, there are ways to do this. WhoGetsMyVoteUK is ‘an online application that enables voters to compare their views with the policy positions of the main political parties that are competing in Great Britain in the 2019 general elections.’
- ‘a strictly not for profit project’
- ‘not associated or affiliated to any political party or organisation.’
- ‘a collaborative project involving researchers from various universities and research centres, which include Oxford Brookes, and the app developers from the Preference Matcher consortium (University of Zurich and Cyprus University of Technology).’
‘It is not designed to tell citizens how they should vote, only to allow them to see where they stand compared to the main parties across a range of policy issues.’
For me, as the founder of Pens of the Earth – a grassroots writing project designed to celebrate positive local environmental initiatives – I will be making my decision based on environmental grounds. It’s not that I don’t care about whether or not we leave the EU, and under what terms. I do. But I think there’s something taking place that’s far more urgent, far more important, and that has nothing to do with boundaries.
Climate change recognises no boundaries. Rising sea levels will ultimately overflow defences. I recently heard this: ‘We find ourselves in the midst of a very consequential election campaign, in that we have ten years to halve our emissions and whoever wins will quite probably be in power for five of those.’
I’m not interested in scaring people. I think it’s far more important to focus on what we can do to halt climate change. But however non-active a political person I am, I can’t ignore the fact that the outcome of this coming election could make all the difference in the world.
You can also use FullFact to check facts, and if you’re unsure of the facts on climate change, the video below is a great place to start.