If you’ve ever closed your eyes and taken a deep breath in a stressful situation, you’re already aware of the benefits of meditation. “Practiced for thousands of years. Meditation originally was meant to help deepen understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life,” explains the Mayo Clinic. “These days, meditation is commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction.” And soon, we may be able to include “furthering respectful political discourse” to that list.
New research from the University of Toronto suggests that people become open to more politically liberal ideas immediately after practicing a spiritual exercise such as meditation. The research, which consists of three unique stages, makes some interesting observations about religiousness and spirituality — and the difference between the two — affects our stance on social and political issues.
“There’s great overlap between religious beliefs and political orientations,” says one of the study authors, Jordan Peterson of University of Toronto’s Department of Psychology. “We found that religious individuals tend to be more conservative and spiritual people tend to be more liberal. “Inducing a spiritual experience through a guided meditation exercise led both liberals and conservatives to endorse more liberal political attitudes.”
The first stage of the study asked 590 American participants to identify themselves as Democrat or Republican. The second stage, measured 703 participants’ political orientations and support for the major U.S. and Canadian political parties. These first two studies allowed the researchers to prove association between religiousness and political conservatism, and spirituality and with political liberalism, respectively.
The third stage involved 317 participants from the U.S. Half were asked to complete a spiritual exercise consisting of a guided meditation video. Those who watched the video were asked to close their eyes and breathe deeply, imagining themselves in a natural setting and feeling connected to the environment. They were then asked about their political orientation and to rate how spiritual they felt.
The researchers report that, compared to those in the control group, participants who meditated felt significantly higher levels of spirituality and expressed more liberal political attitudes, including a reduced support for “tough on crime” policies and a preference for liberal political candidates.
The researchers hope that these findings can not only advance our understanding of spirituality, but also help future political dialogue.
“The conservative part of religious belief has played an important role in holding cultures together and establishing common rules. The spiritual part, on the other hand, helps cultures renew themselves by adapting to changing circumstances,” says Peterson.
“Both right and left are necessary; it’s not that either is correct, it’s that the dialogue between them produces the best chance we have at getting the balance right. If people could understand that both sides have an important role to play in society, some of the unnecessary tension might be eliminated.”
Unfortunately, it’s that dialogue that’s been conspicuously absent from American politics for the past decade or so. Wouldn’t it be awesome if each day of Congressional proceedings started out with guided meditation? It might not achieve perfect bipartisanship, but at least we could avoid more of this.
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