Originally published Election 2016: Views from Abroad. Additional reporting by Marie Van Hafften.
Emotions have been running high this election season. A study from the American Psychological Association found that 52 percent of Americans felt the election was a “significant source of stress.” Many cited 24-hour news and social media, in particular, as major causes of anxiety.
In New York one group aimed to create an oasis of calm on election night. In Chelsea the Shambhala Meditation Center of New York hosted an ‘Election Night Dharma’, where they are aimed to provide “a safe space to work with the turmoil and pain of the 2016 election”.
About 80 people gathered at the Center, sitting on plush blue cushions strewn across a wooden floor. Candles and oils burned on an altar at the front of the room, under a framed photograph of an orange-clad Buddhist monk. The guided meditation was led by Ethan Nichtern, who began by encouraging the crowd to take a long, deep breath.
“I think a lot of people have experienced this election in a very personal way,” said Georgia Pettit, 32, Director of Programs at the Center. She explained that the aim was to create “a sane and kind space” where people can deal with their negative feelings about the election and the candidates. “It’s like an alternative to going out and getting wasted to deal with your emotions,” she added.
The plan for after the guided meditation was to screen the live election results on one side of the room, she said, while people continued to meditate on the other.
Alec Baxt, a regular participant at the Center, was inspired to suggest the election event after seeing so much aggression in the campaign. ”I find it incredibly sad that so many people are so angry,” he said. “No matter which way it goes there are going to be millions of people who are so hurt.”
For first-timer Lauryn Pepe, election night in the outside world felt threatening. “There’s an intense energy,” she said. What is she looking for at the Shambhala Center? “Space. Space to let everything come and go.”