There’s a reason some people laugh when I say that mindfulness meditation can save the United States—that it can dampen the political polarization now dividing the country; that it can defuse the hatreds that have propelled the word “tribal” into our political vocabulary and have led serious commentators to compare the US in 2017 to Northern Ireland, even Yugoslavia, in the 1990s.
Actually, there are two reasons people laugh. One is that they can’t imagine a huge number of Americans—especially those in the Trump tribe—actually sitting down and meditating. And I, too, have trouble imagining a sea of MAGA hats enveloping a statue of the Buddha. For that matter, I’m not under the illusion that most anti-Trumpers get up every day and meditate. But for reasons I’ll explain, I don’t think these harsh realities are fatal to my American salvation scenario.
The other reason people laugh at this salvation scenario is that they think the point of meditation is to cultivate love or compassion or some other warm and fuzzy feeling that might heal the nation. But in fact, mindfulness meditation isn’t fundamentally about love or compassion. Other kinds of Buddhist meditation—such as “metta” meditation—take on that challenge more directly.
More broadly, mindfulness meditation isn’t warm and fuzzy. In a certain sense it’s cool and clinical. It involves, among other things, examining your feelings and deciding whether to buy into them, whether to let them carry you away.