Holy Buddha. . .it’s almost the election. There’s no doubt that there is a lot going on, so it’s natural to feel paralyzed or despondent. But we invite you to consider what you can do in this moment and the moments to come: vote, volunteer, and take care of yourself and others. At the very least, we encourage you to pause before refreshing the homepage of your most frequented newsite as the results roll in. 

To help you out, we’ve put together the following guide to keeping your head in the days before, during, and after the 2020 election. 

Preparing for Election Day:

You might be feeling powerless lately. But one thing that is within our control is the ability to vote. “True acceptance is not inertness,” writes meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. “In my mind, voting is a direct reflection of the Buddha saying everyone has innate dignity, or innate worth.” In fact, voting may serve as an antidote to despair.

But first, make a plan to vote. Whether you decide to do early voting, complete a mail-in ballot, or vote in person, make a concrete plan and stick to it. To find out more about voting in your state, check out vote.org for more information.

Maybe you’ve already cast your ballot—you can volunteer your time to help get more people to the polls. For one vipassana practitioner, the desire to encourage people to vote (and understand people across political lines) led her to “deep canvassing”—a practice with many similarities to meditation, she found. 

If you’re feeling anxious the night before Election Day, join Tricycle for Stability in the Storm, a pre-election day sit with Sharon Salzberg at 7:00pm EST. Sharon will lead two short meditations, helping us to ground ourselves in the breath and send lovingkindness to ourselves and others. (If you can’t make it, check out other online resources in our online meditation calendar.)

The Day:

If you do decide to vote in-person on Election Day, you may encounter unusually long lines. You can treat the lines and other setbacks as a chance to practice. Here are some good practice guides for treating liminal space like the cushion: 

  1. “Any time we want life to be different than it is, we are caught in impatience,” vipassana teacher Michele McDonald writes. Here are her tips for tapping into the power of patience
  2. Or maybe you’d rather treat this time standing more like walking. If so, try moving through the voting queue as if you’re practicing walking meditation. In this article, Thich Nhat Hanh offers his tips for “walking like a buddha.” (For more guidance, we recommend these audio instructions by Claire Villarreal.) 
  3. Waiting in line to cast your ballot in a significantly anxiety-inducing election may not initially seem like the most opportune time to reflect on joy. However, as meditation teacher Scott Tusa recommends, meditating on joy is, actually, quite radical
  4. And if all the masks, social distancing guidelines, and other safety protocols activate fear or even claustrophobia, pop in your headphones and listen to this guided meditation on creating spaciousness

After Polls Close:

You voted. For the most part, there’s nothing more you can do right now. Of course, with so much at stake, it’s hard to do nothing. Instead of constantly checking the news to ease your anxiety (while it probably does more to feed it), use that time to check in with yourself. 

You don’t have to tune out entirely, but it might be better to limit your news consumption. Make sure you don’t get stuck in a scrolling spiral by setting a timer. After 10 minutes, stop refreshing your feed—things aren’t going to change for a while—and tune back in at a designated time. 

There are many things you can do in the time between these news checks. Below is a sample itinerary with ideas for practicing on Election Night; we encourage you to customize it to your needs (and time zone).

6:00–7:00 p.m. (EST) –  At 6:00 p.m., Indiana and Kentucky will be the first states to close their polls. As the tallying starts, pundits on TV will be trying to predict the winner, even though it will be hours—or possibly days—before we know the final outcome. Rather than trying to predict the future, practice maintaining a don’t-know mind. Or, if you’re feeling burnt out after a long and stressful election season, engage in a restorative meditation practice or mindful activity. Metta practice—sending oneself and others lovingkindness—might offer some relief as you shift your focus from political divisions to interconnectedness. 

7:00–8:30 – It will still be a while before the media have much to report. After 7:00, exit polls and early tallies will start coming in from Florida, Georgia, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Virginia, but there’s no need to check them yet. Instead of doom-scrolling, go eat something. Mindfully prepare a nourishing dinner, appreciate each bite, and then wash your bowl, so to speak. (For more on mindful cooking, download the Tricycle Teachings: Food e-book.)

8:30–8:40 – News check #1: With North Carolina and Ohio closing their polls at 7:30 and Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, and Pennsylvania at 8:00, tallies from most central and eastern states, including many significant swing states, will start coming in now. The final results will be far from certain, but at this point a picture will start to take shape. Go ahead and check the forecast, but don’t get too caught up in the speculation. 

8:40–9:00 – There’s a good chance that you’re more anxious than you were ten minutes ago. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to listen to “Working with Strong Emotions” from our For the Moment podcast. Or use this time to check in with friends and family. Talking to people in your community—whether online or in person—may be more helpful than trying to practice alone. 

9:00–9:25 – If the weather allows, go for a walk—or do some mindful movement indoors. 

9:25–9:30 – Optional news check. If you enjoy the horse race, you might want to check in at around now to see the early results from states that close their polls at 9:00. This is not really necessary, so set your timer to just 5 minutes. Or feel free to skip it.

9:30–10:30 – Ready to wind down for the night but can’t shake the election jitters? Here’s a practice for working with anxious thoughts. And if you need more community support, join the Upaya Zen Center’s election night live stream,Bearing Witness Together on Election Night,” with Roshi Joan Halifax.

10:30–10:40 – News check #3: At around 10:30 p.m. polls will remain open in only five states (California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska). It’s possible that a winner may be confidently predicted at this point, but nothing is certain. 

10:40–11:30 – It’s getting late, and it might be hard to stay awake during a seated meditation practice. Check out this month’s Film Club feature, listen to a podcast or music you enjoy, or do something that you find relaxing and restorative.

11:30–11:45 – News check #4. People will still be voting until 1:00 a.m. in Alaska, but the polls will be closed everywhere else. Do a final check-in at around 11:30. If the outcome is a landslide, that will start to become clear around this time. If it’s a close race, you might stay up all night and still not know who the winner is. The results will be the same in the morning. 

11:45–12:00 – Engage in a brief gratitude practice for everyone who participated in the election process, and then go to sleep. If you are having trouble, try a relaxation or sleep practice

After Election Day: 

Your candidate won or lost. Either way, your job isn’t done. For inspiration on how you can combine your Buddhist practice with community engagement, check out our Real Change podcast series, featuring five practitioners and activists who are creating change in their communities. And while Buddhists aren’t big on “hope,” we still think it’s a fruitful endeavor to contemplate what democracy means to a Buddhist—and how we can continue to take the values we treasure in our tradition and help bring them to manifestation in the world. 

***

As a final offering in this toolkit, we present a Buddhist prayer penned by Tricycle’s former editor, Helen Tworkov. 

Prayers for October 2020

I take refuge in the Buddha

(therefore I vote)

I take refuge in the dharma

(therefore I vote)

I take refuge in the sangha

(therefore I vote).

 

I pray that all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness 

(therefore I vote)

I pray that all beings be relieved of suffering and the causes of suffering 

(therefore I vote)

I pray that all beings rest in evenness, free from attachment and aversion 

(therefore I vote)

I pray to accept the impermanence of all phenomena

(therefore I vote).

 

I pray to recognize that all things are empty in essence

(therefore I vote)

I pray to recognize the inseparable union of emptiness and clarity 

(therefore I vote)

I pray to recognize the inseparable union of samsara and nirvana

(therefore I vote)

I pray to recognize the innate ground of compassion

(therefore I vote). 

And so this voter, a hopeless vehicle for the Buddha’s teachings, alive in this chaotic world of confusion, implores everyone, in the full display of emptiness and clarity, to awaken to the dance between this and that, and vote as if this dream is all that matters. 

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