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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Practicing Mindfulness and Compassion After the U.S. Capitol Attack

photo by Don Shin on Unsplash

by Catharine Hannay

The attack on the U.S. Capitol was a violation on so many different levels I don't even know where to start. This is not the venue for discussing the political implications, so I'll just mention that I lived in Washington, D.C. for many years and have a lot of memories of being at or near the Capitol. My husband and I went on an evening tour of the D.C. monuments on our first date. And we used to picnic on the Capitol grounds in those more innocent days pre-9/11 when it was also possible to stroll right past the White House gate. 

I know this has been a hard week for everyone. If you live with or work with kids, be sure to check out the links I posted a few days ago on Talking to Kids About the Capitol AttackToday I'd like to focus on the ways I've been practicing mindfulness and compassion. I hope some of these suggestions are helpful for you, and potentially also for your students and clients

Practicing Mindfulness 

Bring Your Full Attention to Neutral Tasks

Bringing my full attention (as much as possible) to neutral tasks is much more doable at the moment than attempting formal meditation. I've been finding it grounding to do things like folding laundry, making dinner, and picking up sticks in the yard.

Take a Quiet Moment of Peace

I was pretty much glued to the news for a couple of days, but I took occasional breaks to stand by the window, close my eyes, and feel the sunshine on my face. 

Depending on the weather, you could watch the snow fall or listen to the rain. If you don't have a window, look at a houseplant or your favorite image of a natural setting.

Take a couple of long, slow breaths in and out, and focus on the physical sensations of a calm, peaceful moment. 

There are a wide variety of other ways to focus on mindful moments:

Take a Break from Social Media

Last Wednesday, I posted what I intended as a simple request of thoughts and prayers for people living in the Washington, DC area during a very scary time. My tweet was misunderstood as a political statement; someone called me an 'idiot' and other people  expressed support because they thought I was siding with them. 

I decided to delete my tweet and stay off social media for a few days. 'Idiot' is mild by today's standards, so I wasn't too upset about it after my initial shock wore off. I'd just prefer to stay out of the scrum and not unintentionally contribute to even more tension by posting something else that could be misinterpreted. 

For more suggestions about mindful social media, see:

Focusing on Compassion and Kindness

'Look for the Helpers' 

Have you seen the photo of Congressman Andy Kim cleaning up debris at the Capitol? It reminds me of when Rosa Parks swept up the broken dishes after a pastor's home was bombed. I also appreciate the gracious response of Kim's political opponent.

“When you see something you love that’s broken you want to fix it. I love the Capitol. I‘m honored to be there,” [Kim] said. [...] It really broke my heart and I just felt compelled to do something. … What else could I do?” 
[...] Tom MacArthur, [whom] Kim beat in a close race in 2018, was heartened by his successor’s action."



I'm working on an upcoming post with acts of kindness and generosity from the past year, like the five-year-old girl who made 200 cards for a local nursing home. It's helping me remember that the world is full of people of good will.

For more inspiring stories, check out these video playlists on kindness, compassion, and service:


A Quick Compassion Practice

A big part of my practice these days is focusing on the many people who need compassion and lovingkindness, including the families of those who died.

One way I've been reminding myself is by wearing a rubber band (hair elastic) on my wrist and switching it to the other hand whenever I feel angry about what I see on the news. As I move the band, I shift my focus from anger to compassion. 

Sometimes I do a brief lovingkindness meditation; other times I just nonverbally focus on a person who's suffering: and there is no shortage of suffering people.


It's been quite a year, hasn't it? I hope these suggestions help you 'keep calm and carry on' with your commitment to mindfulness and compassion during increasingly challenging times.

I keep thinking about this quote from Jason Adam Katzenstein:

"Difficult things have happened; difficult things will happen. […] Still, everything is okay right now […] for one second. And another second. And I can put enough of these seconds together to make minutes. There are minutes when I’m allowed to feel okay, not despite everything that’s happened or will happen, but in addition to it."

Everything is an Emergency, p. 101

Hang in there, everybody!!

Catharine Hannay is the founder of and the author of Being You: A Girl’s Guide to Mindfulness, a workbook for teen girls on mindfulness, compassion, and self-acceptance. (Sales of the book help me continue to run with no sponsorship or advertising.)