Meditation is by no means a cure-all for our era of mean tweets and mindless tribalism. I’ve been meditating for years, and yet during one of the Trump-Clinton presidential debates I stress-ate a family-size bag of popcorn. I didn’t realize what I’d done until I looked down to see my feet surrounded by stray kernels. Nevertheless, I really do believe meditation can help you survive this season of discontent and division.
When you’re blinded by outrage, you’re unable to understand the views of people with whom you disagree. A consistent meditation practice can help you know your biases. Does your heart soar every time the Mueller probe inches closer to the White House? Or do you own a mug emblazoned with the words Liberal Tears? When you’re more aware of your own tribal instincts, you may be more inclined to venture out of your ideological bubble and examine opposing views. Next thing you know, you’re refraining from nasty tweets and even having civil conversations with your uncle. Cutting down on wasted emotional churn frees up energy to do things that really make a difference, like volunteering. Multiply this by enough people and it could inject significant light into America’s chasm of toxicity.
I recently took a road trip across America, with the goal of meeting wannabe meditators and helping them get over the hump. Time was clearly the biggest obstacle. The good news is that five to 10 minutes a day is a great way to start. The better news is that if five to 10 minutes is too much, one minute still counts. The instructions include just three steps:
1. Sit comfortably. You don’t have to be cross-legged–a chair will do.
2. Close your eyes and bring your full attention to the feeling of your breath. Pick a spot where it’s most prominent: nose, belly or chest.
3. Every time you get distracted–which you will, a million times–just begin again.
I’m not guaranteeing you bulletproof imperturbability, but short daily doses of meditation can make you meaningfully less likely to do things you will later regret. And there’s something else. Sitting and watching your insane inner torrent puts you in touch with a fundamental truth: everything changes. This can be a bitter pill. Nothing lasts–not the dopamine hit from a fistful of popcorn, not even your life. But at a time of national tumult, a felt sense of impermanence can also be deeply comforting.
Harris, an ABC News anchor, is the author of Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics
This appears in the January 15, 2018 issue of TIME.
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