Neither was endorsing apathy or disengagement; quite the opposite, they said. Instead, they were advocating that compassion is a more useful tool in fighting injustices than blame or despair. And a way to cultivate compassion is through meditation.
Ryan, whose name is often included on a long list of potential Democrats to challenge Trump in 2020, speaks frequently about his years-long meditation practice and how it has helped him be less reactive in a career in which it’s easy to get swept up in the daily frustrations.
“If you hate, you’re just adding hate; whether you’re hating from the left or hating from the right, it’s still hate,” Ryan said. “It’s not that you don’t acknowledge your fear or anger or wherever it’s coming from, but we can’t operate from that perspective. I’m not quitting, but I’m not going to hate you. Because it’s paralyzing.”
Salzberg recently published “Real Love,” a book that seeks to expand the definition of love beyond the romantic or familial to one that captures all kinds of connections, including both self-love and a love for all beings. She recalled a conversation she had several years ago with Myles Horton, who taught some of the country’s most influential civil rights leaders. After she told him she practiced loving-kindness meditation, he harrumphed, Salzberg said. He told her that “Marty” — as in Martin Luther King Jr. — would always say, “You have to love everybody.” Horton would respond, “No, I only have to love the people who deserve to be loved.”
“And Marty would laugh and say, ‘No, you have to love everybody,'” Salzberg recounted.
Salzberg said she doesn’t tell that little anecdote often, but when she has, someone always approaches her afterward to point out that for all his benevolence, King was still assassinated.
“They say it as if there was cause and effect there. As if, had he been vengeful and hateful, he would have been safe,” Salzberg said. “What we think keeps us safe, keeps us strong, it’s not what we think. It’s probably the reverse of what we think.”
During the campaign and after the election, meditation was a go-to method of coping for many Americans. In October 2016, Salzberg and several other well-known meditation teachers released guided “election emergency” meditations on the 10% Happier app. Headspace, another meditation app, saw a 44 percent jump in meditations designated to “calm you down during ‘sudden meltdowns'” the day after the election, Vox reported in June.
But Salzberg then shared another story about where she believes meditators still fall short. She described a study in which one group had eight weeks of meditation and a control group did not. They were all told to come to the lab for a final wrap-up, but the real test was in the waiting room where there were very few chairs, many occupied by paid actors on their phones not paying attention to their surroundings. Then an actor came in on crutches, and the study found that a vast majority more of meditators got up to offer a chair than those in the control group.
The results didn’t surprise Salzberg. It’s been well documented that mindfulness practices lead to more compassion, she said. But what she wondered was why people didn’t take the extra step to find out how to get more chairs.
“There’s a difference I’ve learned between good-heartedness and looking for systems change,” she said. “I know that if you practice and get more attentive, you will see that person asking for money on the street as a human being and you’ll have a degree of regard for them as a human being, and you will likely give them a dollar, but will you start questioning housing policy in that town? I don’t think so.”
Ryan said his meditation practice has helped him see issues as interconnected. It is that kind of big-picture problem solving that is desperately lacking in both parties, he said.
After the event, asked about how he withstands the day-to-day pressures as a Democrat in Trump’s America, Ryan said his meditation practice has helped him see Trump as an asset for showing Americans what it looks like when the country is governed by fear.
As for whether he’ll attempt to take on Trump in 2020, Ryan demurred like any good politician. He said his focus is on the 2018 midterms and only then onward to the presidential election. But he acknowledged that his answer was not a no.