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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Hillary holds her seat

One of the benefits of meditation is that you become less reactive. You cultivate the ability to rest in a calm, clear space so that you can choose how to respond rather than habitually hitting back.

There may be no better illustration of that than Hillary Clinton, who was the only witness in an 11-hour highly politicized hearing having to do with the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Libya that left four Americans dead; Clinton was secretary of the state at the time.

Clinton was widely praised for her calm, somber attitude through the day of questioning by the House Select Committee on Benghazi. How did she do it?

"I tried to meditate in the breaks," an NPR reporter overheard her say.

NPR notes that there had been no formal breaks in the hearing up to that point, so Clinton was practicing what's sometimes referred to as stealth meditation -- meditating in place so that no one knows you're doing it (as opposed to going outside to sit under a tree or locking yourself in your office). It can be done by placing your attention on an object or a sensation -- your breath, the feeling of your hands holding a pen, the warmth coming off a cup of coffee, the droning sound of a politician making a statement. The trick is to stay present, not to space out. One way to do that is to become aware of all that's happening, noticing the sound, the sensation, the movement, without becoming engaged with them -- to rest in the awareness of what's happening.

Meditating in place is a skill that's helped immensely by practicing in designated meditation sessions. If your mind has practice in resting in awareness it can find that place on the spot more easily. "If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained," says one of the Lojong slogans. (Lojong is a system of Tibetan Buddhist mind-training slogans.)

If you can practice patience in the traffic jam with a sense of humor approach or whatever approach you want to use, you are training for really major difficulties in your life. So, it sounds silly, but actually, it’s true. If you’re sowing seeds of aggression in the traffic jam, then you’re actually perfecting the aggression habit. And if you’re using your sense of humor and your loving-kindness or whatever it is you do, then you’re sowing those kinds of seeds and strengthening those kinds of mental habits; you’re imprinting those kind of things in your unconscious. So, the choice is really ours every time we’re in a traffic jam. Pema Chodron