responding to surprising times (ideas for responding to the election)
I have worn a bracelet, given to me by my friend Cathie Jo, for 20 years. If I’ve ever removed it, I can’t remember when. On it is written some of the greatest words of comfort ever penned. “You can never go down the drain. Mr. Rogers.” I’ve been clinging to this promise as the swirling forces of unrest and the ambient pressure of cultural upset have invaded every corner of this week. In surprising, unsettling times it can be easy to grasp at whatever is graspable in order to avoid going down the drain of despair, of anger, or, even, of glee and gloating. I want to share, today, some thoughts about how we might stop grasping and start grounding. How we might survive the bath even when it scares us. Even when there is real reason to be afraid.
I have been on a media fast since Tuesday night at 10 p.m. I have not read or watched any news coverage. I have switched my car radio from NPR to the local classical music station. Not a regular Facebook user, I have logged in to my professional account once this week to post a status encouraging folks to put their devices away. I have not engaged social media at all. I chose a similar response pattern following the crisis of 9/11. Knowing that I did not personally need images or editorialism to help me connect emotionally to the situation, I chose to use any time that I might have consumed media to simply hold the victims and their families and all parties making decisions about our national responses in the Light and Love of God. I am choosing that approach this week because I want to be clear headed and open hearted as I deal with the initial fall out of a situation I cannot control.
In a dedicated effort to put only meaningful content out in the world have written draft after draft of this post. I have written the political version, the therapist version, and the gender and race based versions. I have written the version filled with swearing and the version filled with tears and stunned silent spaces. I started a theological and faith based version and ended up deleting the whole 4 pages in a fit of utter frustration. I am choosing to post this version, filled with what I want to share with my niece and nephew, the thousands of young adults I have been blessed to interact and make friendships with in the last two years, my own kids and my “extra” kids, my clients and my friends about how we might best respond when faced with situations that make no sense, are largely out of our control, and spark fear or concern in our bellies and our hearts.
It feels important to share that the events of this week’s election coincide with the end of 17 months of travel (for speaking, research, and writing) for me wherein I have had my most profound, prolonged “Come to Jesus” moment about privilege, bias, and what Walter Wink refers to as “the Powers that Be.” I have made friendships in parts of my country heretofore unknown to me. I have been in Ferguson, Missouri (thank you Chris), affluent, gentrified, and hurting parts of Philadelphia (thank you Gage, et al), Ivy League Princeton (thank you Mackenzie and Mark), rural Western Pennsylvania, Nashville (thank you Heather), rural Arkansas (thank you Tracy), rural Kentucky (thank you Sarah and Clint), and in many other urban and rural parts of the West, Midwest, South, and East. I have pushed myself into experiences on all points of the religious, political, and cultural continuums in order to try to understand where people are coming from and what drives them. I have born witness to the devastation of racial discrimination, I have witnessed (and experienced) bullying, and I have heard stories of countless young individuals who have experienced all manner of shunning and shaming simply for being who they were born to be. If I, a middle aged, cisgender, straight, resourced white doctor, feel overwhelmed by what I have witnessed and learned, how can I hope to imagine what is has been/is like to experience all of life in this country as part of a marginalized or misunderstood community?
This year stretched and re-organized me and I was emerging from it, long before last Tuesday, determined to fight elitism, heirarchy, and domination in as many ways as I can. Believing that I was put on this earth to help individuals findwhat George Fox (the founder of the Quaker movement) referred to as “that of God” within them, after this year I am more confident than ever that we are created equal, that every single one of us is intended to live rich, complex, fiery lives, that we deserve attachment and safe community, and that our humanity has created a system that privileges some individuals and oppresses others. I believe that we all contain immense light alongside plenty of dark and I believe that no one is immune from this, especially me. While everything in me wants to call out the dark in others, I feel more strongly called to the struggle of determining how to effectively and actually live out what I say when I say that Love must win out over hate.
This life and this year have changed me. I am no longer able to live comfortably surrounded by people just like me. I must be a celebrator of diversity. I must set a table at which everyone is welcome. I must work to acknowledge my privilege and the powers that work actively and passively to oppress others. I must live in such a way that justice and Love are siblings. As my friend Tyler says, if I believe that there is that of God in everyone then I NEED everyone’s voice and presence to understand God and to experience the fullness of life.
This means I need to love those I disagree with. It means I need to find a way to respond non-violently to even my “enemy.” This week, and this year, this is difficult for me.
When things feel topsy turvy, don’t make sense, and feel as though they are sucking me toward the drain I have several options in response. I can become reactive, spewing my insides and acting out. I can become paralyzed, isolated, and afraid, reinforcing my fear by the simple response of inactivity. I can become overwhelmed and depressed or manic and out of control. I can also, however, choose to respond from a place of centeredness and calm. This is the response I hope to encourage with the following thoughts, ideas, and reflections. So, if I were given the opportunity to suggest five things to do in response to this week’s election to the people I care deeply for, they would be the following.
Find your center and work to function from an internal locus of control.
While there are understandable needs to be informed and aware (especially for certain people), there is likely nothing to be gained right now from listening to one more inciting news story, reading one more editorial, or scrolling yet again through one’s Facebook feed. Put down the phone, turn off the laptop. Drive in silence. The news, social media, and the noise can wait for periods of time while we find our center and experience our core. Our dependence upon and preference for hyper-connectedness does not serve us well when we, and those around us, are reactive and affectively dysregulated. Even if we are using media to stay safe or to organize, we will be most effective if we do so from a very grounded center and a filtered receptivity.
Most of us currently live from what I refer to as an External Locus of Control (with the word “locus” meaning “center”). We have acclimated to living life at such a hyper extended range and accelerated pace that we rarely take time for the kind of stillness required to be able to assess our emotional, intellectual, and physical well being. Unable to tolerate focused quiet and bereft of experience with the messy feelings we experience therein, we crave distraction or hand holds outside of our selves. This creates a vicious cycle where we feel dysregulated (sped up, anxious, depressed, manic) by the occurrences around us but incapable of stepping away to find our center. Instead we seek to be well-informed, well-entertained, or well-distracted which turns us back toward forces outside of our selves rather than within.
When we are our healthiest we live from a deeply developed sense of self and a well established internal locus of control. We seek to understand our thoughts and feelings and to give them voice or to resolve them as needed. We can look to our own selves to find strength and determination as well as comfort (a good nap, a long cry, screaming in the car), empathy and humility. We can be in relationship to others as whole inter-dependent individuals without being dependent upon them to validate us. We can attach and detach from others and from information sources without anxiety or fear, knowing that we are solid in and of our selves.
This is why I choose to fast from media in times of unrest and crisis (and I recognize that my privilege allows me to do so). I want to make my own assessments before I listen to others. I want to wrestle with my own emotional reactions so that I can come to the information I will receive in less unconsciously biased and reactive ways. I need to get grounded and regulated before I engage with a world of others who may or may not have done the same. While I need to be informed about and prepared for what will happen in the days ahead, my ability to be fully present to the moment I am in is of immense importance. I have very little control over the world at large and huge control over how I respond to and live within it. I choose to do so from a grounded center and an internalized locus of control.
Some simple ideas for finding your center:
Do a brain dump. On a piece of plain paper write everything that comes to your mind for five minutes. Try to release it from your mind as you write. Leave it on the paper. Take some deep breaths and re-enter your day imagining a clean slate from which to start.
Find a physical center. Standing with both feet hip width apart and firmly on the floor, feel your feet and imagine flattening them to make a very steady base. Slowly and with your eyes closed, rock gently back and forth and side to side while keeping your feet flat on the ground. Move your body in circles, experimenting with where you feel most centered. When you find that space stretch your head upward to lengthen your spine. Experiment with grounding your feet and lengthening your body, breathing deeply and feeling centered and stable.
Practice some mindfulness meditations. Some of my favorite of these can be found here. If you are a person who experiences a relationship with Divine Presence/God/a Higher Power there is a meditation for you on my website which can be found here.
(I hope you'll check back in later today for more ideas for how to handle surprises.)