suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Tag: humor

7 tips for election equanimity: surviving tonight’s political smackdown

By Dr. Christopher Willard & Vanessa Gobes

This year’s presidential election has devolved into something that feels disturbingly like a pro-wrestling match. In fact, Ellen DeGeneres ran a perfect spoof on EllenTube last week:


Clinton and Trump are locked together, trading insults and elbows, and the show they’re putting on – be it via debates, rallies, social media, or resurrected B-roll – is generating huge reactions from audiences. The more we watch, the more impact we feel in our own gut as our favored candidate absorbs another brutal punch. Each face-off, commercial, or round of polls may bring grief or elation, but always brings more anxiety.

Our physical, mental, and emotional reactions echo the low blows and shouts of righteous indignation we see onscreen: Sweaty palms, tight chests, and furrowed brows, gasps for air, primal screams into pillows, cries of disbelief and frantic internet searches for Canadian citizenship and more.

While we may feel powerless to affect the outcome of the election (beyond our vote), we can empower ourselves to affect our reaction to it, in turn helping those around us. Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” Mahatma Ghandi urged, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” These two men could hardly be more different, but consider the commonality – their belief that change starts here, with us. And while few of us will escape 2016’s presidential slugfest with total equanimity, here are seven mind-body trainings that offer us a fighting chance.

1. Don’t show up to every match you’re invited to


Don’t show up for events that proliferate anxiety. Instead, proliferate the positive. Take a break from the news and from your social media feed. Impossible? Limit your social media use to times when you feel emotionally composed. To further quell any political resentment, you may also choose to resign from live posting and real-time online debate.

Instead, consider appealing to the best in yourself and others. While this may sound easier said than done, consider the last question of Sunday night’s debate, “Can you name one positive thing you respect in one another?” Ask yourself this question, not just about the candidates, but also friends, family, and neighbors with whom you disagree. It’s a way to send them to a neutral corner in your mind.

2. Physical training

You are a mindful, compassionate, insightful human being, but during this election cycle, you may find yourself dizzy or even down for the count. In this case, physical awareness is your best defense. When you notice your physical reactions to political rumbles, purge that build up deliberately through exercise, emotional release (crying, laughing, screaming), or through your favorite mindful movement practice, like yoga or tai chi.

3. Take a dive and stay down for the count

The ten count is considered a victory in professional wrestling. But consider the ten count before getting back into the social media ring with that perfectly-composed, snarky Twitter retort. Count to ten, or even count ten breaths, ten sensations in your body, or ten sounds in the environment. Then, return focus to your post and read it aloud. Does it meet your own standards of mindfulness and compassion? Will those words bring out the best in everyone?

4. T.H.I.N.K. before you speak or post online

It’s an oldie but goodie. Ask yourself, is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary and is Now the time? And lastly, is it Kind? Imagine if the candidates followed these guidelines in their stump speeches

5. Use your hometown advantage

We mindful types know that half the challenge of mindfulness, is remembering to practice mindfulness. Try triggering your practice by employing your environment. Use simple decorating details to make your home a constant reminder to take a deep breath and clean up your thoughts. Before the next presidential bout begins, prop a bouquet of flowers next to your computer or television screen. Allow its beauty to remind you that nothing lasts forever, including your tight jaw, your clenched fists, and this disaster of a debate. No flowers in the house? Adhere a sticky note with the word BREATHE in capital letters next to your screen.

6. The Breathing Game

Rumor has it that college kids have made a drinking game of the debates, taking a drink each time one candidate interrupts the other. (This strikes us as an ambulance ride waiting to happen.) Why not take one full breath in and one full breath out each time one candidate interrupts the other, or interrupts the moderator? Think of how relaxed you’ll be by the end of the debate!

7. Work up to the heavy lifting

Going for the world heavyweight title in equanimity this election season?  You can cultivate compassion for yourself and for others.

A friend jokes that the barometer of his spiritual condition is his level of compassion for the opposing political party. It’s a useful yardstick, and you might ask yourself how you are doing with it today? If you’re anything like us, you might not be quite as compassionately-advanced as you’d like to see yourself.

So how do you build that compassion muscle? Begin by directing well-wishes toward yourself during a seated meditation. Wish for yourself what you most need to survive the next three weeks of political counterpunch. For example, May I be happy… May I live without fear… May I approach Facebook with equanimity… Choose unique phrases that resonate with you. Internalize these wishes, then send those same words outward toward a friend, perhaps toward a buddy of your political affiliation.

Next, send these wishes toward a neutral person, maybe one of those mysterious “undecided voters.” From there, move to a difficult person, perhaps a high school nemesis crossing your candidate online. From there, if you can stomach it, send these wishes toward that challenging candidate, and then ultimately, toward all of us suffering together through this political title match.

Be warned: you may get jammed up by your challenging candidate. While attempting to send well-wishes toward Donald or Hillary, your mind may try to eject from the meditation. Instead of forfeiting, get playful. Use your imagination to neutralize his or her outsized ego by turning that heavyweight into a featherweight. Still too big? Imagine the candidate a tiny, helpless baby. Swaddle him or her in a soft blanket and play peek-a-boo, May you be happy. May you live without fear.

When all contenders are happy and feel safe, be them candidates, friends, or pundits, we all go home champs.


Click here to watch the Ellen video:


Christopher Willard, PsyD, is a psychologist and educational consultant based in Boston, specializing in mindfulness with adolescents and young adults. Author of Child’s Mind, Growing Up Mindful, and three other books on mindfulness, compassion and mental health, Willard has been practicing meditation for more than 15 years and leads workshops internationally.

He currently teaches at Harvard Medical School and serves on the board of directors at the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy, and the Mindfulness in Education Network.

Headshot Vanessa 1.jpg

Vanessa Gobes is a meditation teacher and workshop facilitator, focusing her work in Greater Boston. She co-founded Chrysalis Meditation Center in 2015 in Winchester, Massachusetts, where she especially enjoys introducing mindfulness techniques to women and children. Vanessa continues to write about mindfulness, motherhood, and mayhem with humor and truth for a long list of online publications.



dear mother’s day,

Dear Mother’s Day,

Thanks for coming around every year. That said, today it was really hard to welcome you with open arms.

You see, my husband has been traveling for the past eight days, and my single mothering skills this week leading up to you have been simultaneously heroic and tragic.

I spent most nights with several small people littering my bed, waking hourly to remove an elbowfrom my neck, to listen to the ramblings of a night mumbler, or to log roll sweaty bodies toward the opposite side of the mattress.

I spent too many wee hours alone in my family room watching Game of Thrones, Season 3, surely contributing to the 4-day string of nightmares about zombies, vaginas, and pooping in public.

I spent five long, but wonderful, days teaching meditation full-time at the neighborhood elementary school, returning home to empty cabinets, a sink full of breakfast dishes, and a growing stack of unopened mail.

I spent two late evenings out, one at a fundraiser in the city, and one at town meeting where I casted my vote on various issues, trying my best to listen attentively to debates while nearby town meeting members used the time to take much-needed naps, and others used the time to read magazines and pay bills.

I spent a sunny, warm, spring afternoon wandering aimlessly through town with my kids.

I spent two hours making my daughter’s favorite chowder then accidentally left its creamy, corny contents on the stovetop all night to sour. (Six days later it still sits in my fridge because I do not have the heart to flush an entire vat of chowder down the toilet. If any friends are reading, please come to my house tomorrow and help me with this gut-wrenching deed.)

I spent hours washing and folding loads of laundry.

I spent very little time breaking up fights, because by the grace of God, my children decided to love each other all week long – they must have had mercy on their PMSing, husbandless Mommy, knowing I couldn’t have handled even one melt down during balls-to-the-wall week.

But their mercy shriveled up abruptly on Saturday at 11am, when the three children living in my house decided to turn heathen. I won’t bore you with details, but my kids were so annoying and so irritable, and I was so exhausted and so spent, that the perfect storm materialized right here in my house. A rogue wave of dysfunction. “Turn around for Christ sake! Billy, can ya hear me? You’re headed right for the middle of the monster!” And down we went.

I was splayed on the mudroom floor, teeth clenched, cramming an uncooperative Converse All-Star onto an uncooperative 5 year old’s foot, when my smiling, sweet mother came to the back door to pick us all up for an outing. I offered her no smile in return, no “so happy to see you,” no warm embrace. My bloodshot eyes met hers from behind my unwashed greying bangs, and I announced my defeat: “This is the worst hour of my life.” And from there I just couldn’t turn my ship around.

By 5:00 that day, I was crying on my mother’s shoulder as she reminded me that tomorrow could only be better. Tomorrow. Tomorrow was you, Mother’s Day. Now you’re today. Coming to force me to feel grateful for homemade cards and quirky poems and burned pancakes in bed.

Oh, Mother’s Day, why did you have to come this weekend? Why? I would have so much preferred you to come another time. I hate feeling forced to be grateful. Of course there were a few savory highlights – a lingering hug from my son, a heartfelt message from my stepdaughter, a five minute nap outside on the patio – but for the most part it was just another day of scraped knees and dirty dishes layered upon a too-tired-to-think-straight-never-mind-feel-grateful-you’re-here Mom.

So. It’s 9:53 on Sunday night. And I am writing my annual Mother’s Day letter. I wish I could report a 180 to you, Mother’s Day, some sort of deeply inspired tale of perfect reconciliation, like the ones mommy bloggers conjure up for Huff Po. But what can I say? Some years, Mother’s Day, you suck. Some years, I want you to burn like my pancakes did this morning. Some years, I’m not in the mood to be honored, or to be grateful for being honored. And that’s okay. Mother’s Day, you can’t get a five-star rating every year. But I’m glad you always show up regardless. If only to give me an excuse to underperform on Father’s Day.

Your grateful (but sort of ungrateful) friend,

Wishing all of my Mommy friends peace this Mother’s Day, and know that if yours was mediocre at best, you’re not alone.

take a break from your life!

Sometimes we get so caught up in caring for others or responding to unplanned interruptions that we struggle to manage our own needs and desires. By asking others for help, we can create space for some much needed *alone time* and allow the flow of inspired action!

you and me and a donut makes three

There’s nothing like a donut to bring two people together.

I brought my truck in for a long overdue oil change yesterday.  My five year old son came with me and we decided the one hour wait would be a perfect opportunity to visit the donut shop next door.  We hustled in from the cold and ordered up a couple of hot chocolates and sweet treats.

I invited my little man to choose our table and he pointed toward a two-top in the far corner.  The space felt noticeably peaceful.  Nearby three old men sat reading the paper, enjoying a warm ray of sunlight shining through the floor-to-ceiling windows.  We smiled at them as we passed and I followed my son to the corner, listening to the quick, rhythmic shoosh-shoosh-shoosh of his snow pants he walked through the quiet shop.

We sat down and got cozy, shaking off our jackets and releasing shocks of staticy hair from under our hats, then reached for our goodies.  I unwrapped my go-to flavor, Boston Cream, and he slowly revealed own his favorite, Strawberry Sprinkled.  He laid the pink donut on a napkin and sipped his cocoa, “Too hot!”  I peeled off the cap and poured in a little more milk.  He tried it again.  “Mmmmm.  ‘S good.”

“What happened in school today, buddy?”

No answer.

“Did you learn anything new?”


He was not interested in conversation.  He pushed his cocoa aside and turned his focus on the awaiting spongey delight.  I decided to stop talking and simply enjoy the sight of my little guy wholly engaging in an exquisite eating meditation.

With deep concentration he examined his snack on the table.  He picked it up and sunk his teeth in.  When a tiny red jimmy toppled onto his napkin, he pinched it between his thumb and forefinger and meticulously nestled it back into the icing.  He chewed and paused and chewed some more.  He lifted the donut high above his head with one hand, clearly in awe of its deliciousness.  He held it up to me as if to say, Look, Mamma, isn’t it beautiful?  But he didn’t utter a word.  He just returned his full awareness to the slow and methodical extinction of one pink donut.  He carefully selected which portion to bite, mindful to save the sweetest bit for last.  He chewed and relished and appreciated the donut so entirely, I could only imagine that for him, in those moments, not one other thing existed in the whole wide world.

The last bite was upon him.  He popped it into his mouth, chewed for a long while, swallowed, then tossed his head back in the chair, staring at the ceiling, seemingly reconciling the experience.

I paused to take in the warm hush of the donut shop.  And I realized that silence is a pretty amazing way to communicate.

I smiled then laughed out loud.  I told him I loved him.

“I love you, too, Mamma,” he finally responded.