Most people today are disturbed by the constant change and turmoil of our current events. I find myself turning on cable news after I awaken to see if there are any radically disturbing events. When I see that the world hasn’t blown up, I turn off the TV and go about my day.
That’s a pretty sad sate of affairs.
Our current conditions are unprecedented. There have been times in history when there were daily changes that were unsettling to the entire world. But today we have the news at our fingertips 24/7. We have constant news on cable television and we have smart phones that send us push notifications the instant that the news breaks.
There is much required of us today to stand up for what we believe is right. The resistance to this administration’s erratic actions needs to be sustained and it needs to grow.
I hear from people everywhere I go that they are distressed, their sleep is disturbed, and they feel stressed and worried to the point that it is a affecting their daily lives. We will not be able to stay engaged, and stay healthy, unless we find ways to create some evenness, some steadiness.
There are many things we need to do to keep our inner state steady. The first thing is to do some kind of mind training, or meditation. This kind of repeated focusing in the present moment can interrupt a hyper state of vigilance that can ultimately cause our systems to release excess stress hormones, which is not at all helpful.
But if you don’t meditate daily, there is a simple step we can take that will help bring us to a softer state in the present moment. It is called savoring.
Savoring is the ability to focus on the sheer enjoyment of something that is pleasing to you.
I use chocolate to help people learn to savor. It is simple to learn to drop all other thoughts and focus on enjoying the sweetness of chocolate. (I also offer other sweets or fruits for those who don’t prefer chocolate.)
It’s very simple, and it may be the simplicity that can make it difficult to sustain our attention on one sensation. But simplicity is exactly what we need to take our “emotional rest”. So, in the following exercise, remember that you are keeping it very simple as you focus on the taste in your mouth.
* First, you should do this when no one is going to need your attention for a bit, as you will be allowing yourself to be fully absorbed in the taste in your mouth. Set the alarm on your phone for maybe 15 to 20 seconds so you don’t have to think about time. If you can do it for a minute, even better.
* Secondly, take the chocolate, or whatever you find appealing, into your mouth. It doesn’t have to be the best of the best. Use what you have available, just make sure you enjoy it.
* Now just sit quietly and experience the sensation. No need run a commentary in your mind. When your mind starts to think, gently shift your awareness back to the taste, the sensation on your tongue. Do this as often as needed. Feel the fullness of the taste, allowing it to linger.
* Finally, as you open your eyes, notice your state of mind. Notice any relaxation you might feel. And notice how you can still taste the chocolate. Pleasure sticks around when we make room for it. It is true that all the problems of the world are still out there, but you have spent some time focused on enjoyment.
When you do this exercise about 10 times, it will come more naturally to you as you walk down the street and see a beautiful flower, an interesting building, or a smiling face. You have begun to rewire your brain to engage with an inner response of joy, no matter how fleeting.
This practice of savoring will interrupt the stress responses we have to difficult external events, because you are beginning to build up the response of enjoyment as another option. This doesn’t mean we won’t be stressed by the difficulties we are facing. This means we will be able to momentarily feel joy and ease of heart. We will be able to interrupt the release of the stress hormones.
Life is short, and right now it seems overly taxing. We all need, always, every little bit of joy we can absorb. The more we practice this, the more beauty we see all around us. Just try it.
*P.S. If you did this exercise, you just learned how to meditate. It is that simple.
It seems that everything is changing very quickly in ways we can’t quite understand and in ways over which we have no control.
This is what I hear most often from my friends who are not political: “Jan, I’m freaking out. What is happening?”
I admit I have no idea how this will play out exactly. I assume that many Americans will continue to disapprove of the President’s impulse-ridden job performance and the radical factions will become increasingly isolated. But I remember believing America would never even nominate the current President, so I have come to understand that these are very unpredictable times. What we all do over the next months will make the difference.
So, how to not freak out is the question. Do you ignore what is going on or do you freak out and take action?
Taking action is imperative, but freaking out is not. There is a way to feel the emotions called up by the very quickly changing landscape, pay attention to the response without judgment, and then take action from a steady state.
I’m not talking about pushing the emotions aside and going numb. That just never works. We feel what we feel and it is best to let the emotions wash through you without callousing over. If you turn away from the reality of what is happening you are in denial and you are not a part of the solution. And, your community and your country needs you.
Think about this. The work that will be required of us as we organize to protect the vulnerable among us will be very demanding. If we don’t feel the fear, the anger, the hurt, we won’t have sufficient motivation to put in the work that will be needed. This is going to be hard. We need to feel discomfort or we won’t strive for the change that will be needed.
However, if we let the strong emotions push us around we can become shrill, stubborn, and offensive. Instead of going numb, letting strong feelings constantly be in charge will cause us to burn out.
We can simply be present in the moment, sit and witness the emotions come up and, without judgment or fear, accept what is real here and now. We can consciously choose to take action based on compassion for the people who are potentially in danger, and consciously not focus on the anger for the perpetrators.
People in danger need our help. The perpetrators should not be getting the limelight. Don’t give them the airtime in your head or in your movement. Be vigilant about the destructive actions, pass on the ego trips and the personalities.
The practice, the practice of mindfulness, the practice of meditation can get us steady as we consistently shift our focus to the present moment to do the next right thing. Our outward actions might seem exactly the same as someone who has their emotions twisted by the personalities in charge. The difference will be that over time we will be able to sustain our work. We won’t callous over or go numb. We won’t burn out. We will stay steady inside.
There is hard work ahead. You’re going to feel how imperative it is to stand up and fight for what you believe your country should be. You are also going to have to be able to be in it for the long haul. This is going to be a marathon not a sprint, a marathon that will be run on sand that will shift and change with virtually every step. Take care of yourself with gentleness so you can be nimble and effective in the fight.
Many people are telling me they feel distressed these days. People are struggling with the elections results. Some are depressed by the holidays. Put those two things together and some folks are feeling pretty uncomfortable.
I get it. As a therapist I always had some clients who experienced the holidays as an painful reminder of how they and/or their families did not fit into the idealized familial unit. After an election there are always people who were on the loosing side.
When you add the unique qualities of this election cycle, the level of stress jumps higher.
What is always most helpful is to feel a sense of our own effectiveness, a sense of our own agency in the present moment. Feeling like a victim pushed around by outside events is, in every case, distressing.
I think we need to ask ourselves one basic question. What is the best way to work with the current social climate so that I add value to the world and to my life?
For me it comes down to a very simple question. What can I do today? What will be required today?
I can never answer those questions well if I am not really present in the moment. If my mind is telling me scary stories I will miss what is right in front of me that requires action, or requires me to wait until the most helpful time to take action.
So, it is a problem when we are telling ourselves those scary stories about ___________ (fill in the blank). Those stories are truly just stories, that is, they are not happening right now. Those stories raise our stress levels, make us anxious, and make us feel overwhelmed. Those stories obscure what actually is needed in the present moment that will help us be organized and effective when the time for action arises in the future.
It is incredibly valuable to develop the ability to see, and be in, the present moment. Right here, right now, what can we do? What actions will be less helpful now? When do we need to let the strong emotion wash through us, and when do we need it to guide us? We stay in the present and we can see more clearly.
There is a method to help us focus on this moment, here and now. It is a developed skill, and like any other skill, we have to practice. If you want to play Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, you have to first play scales. Every day. If you want to be able to be fully present in each moment you have to meditate. Every day.
So, sit still every day and focus on your breath. Search for a mediation online. (I have two on YouTube for beginners and experienced meditators: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfGBf9QVFcg&t=68s and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnJP-SEaiuU)
When you sit and focus on your breath, you actively ignore the scary stories. Just like playing scales, eventually you get good at it. But stick with it. It takes time to develop the skill.
There are things we will need to do soon. There are things we can begin to do now. But we need to clearly see the best paths of action.
Meditation won’t magically make everything better. Meditation makes us better able to handle situations and trends that are really very difficult. Mozart’s 41st is very, very difficult, and yet people play it because they practice.
So, practice ignoring scary stories. You will be able to attend to what is truly needed.
The election results caught everyone by surprise, even the victorious Party. Those of us on the losing side felt we were in a bad nightmare, with our values ablaze, our great country on fire.
This reflexive reaction that America is coming undone is too easy.
A little more than half of us have been brought up short. We are afraid of the consequences of the irresponsible rhetoric that defined the President-elect’s campaign. We are in fact frightened by the campaign promises that were made repeatedly over fifteen months.
But in order for America to come undone we would have to sit down and do nothing. Those of us who worked very hard for a different outcome must now work very hard so that our vision prevails in one form or another.
If we love our country there is nowhere to run except toward the fire. We need to move towards the groups who were very clearly targeted, scorned, and may be in harm’s way. We need to stand up for each other.
The President-elect did not win the popular vote. There are more of us than there are of his supporters. And I suspect that if we include the far left who did not vote, we would increase our numbers more. We can effectively organize to meet the challenges that will come. We can, but only together.
I warn against becoming a caricature of the far right. If we demonize the President-elect and his supporters, then he has partly won the battle. His personna is not important. The issues are important. They need to be our focus because they directly impact our fellow citizens. His voters are angry already. Let’s not poke that hornets’ nest.
Let’s do this with dignity. That doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to be angry, or feel difficult emotions due to any repressive changes made. Those of us fully invested in the political process need to grieve. With dignity we can let those emotions shake through us, see what is actually unfolding, and keep moving.
We absolutely have to stand together. It is my belief that those of us who did not want this result got to this place because we fought among ourselves. We had an effective circular firing squad. Enough. I will work alongside people for change that I do not agree with politically. The issues that will help people move ahead are most important. We need to put on our big kid pants and work to help the most vulnerable among us.
We can go high. We can have dignity. We can help one another. We can make a course correction.
Just don’t turn your back on that fire.
It’s a hectic crazy world. In the U.S. we are bombarded by constant stimuli telling us we need this and we need that. It’s very easy to begin to believe we can’t be really fulfilled if we don’t have a new whatever.
What to do. How do get fulfilled? One thing that we can consciously do to cultivate contentment is to give of ourselves. Give back. Give something away. That may seem paradoxical, but it is probably the most reliable way to feel better about everything in your life.
There have been times that I have felt so grateful for my life that I wanted to just give back, without getting anything in return. Ultimately, I found that isn’t possible. Whether I was volunteered for an organization, could give financially, or was just helping a friend, the sense of connection and completion that I felt was way beyond what I gave. Always.
I think the trick is, I wasn’t trying to get anything. This joy just flowed back to me because it is the natural way of the world. When we give we feel connected. When we are connected, we feel a sense of well-being.
On Facebook, and Twitter, and on any media, we like to see the stories of people giving to one another. We feel even better when we are the ones doing the giving.
Try consciously being as generous as you can with your words and your actions. You will feel contented consistently.
I have read that 40% of adult Americans have, or have had cancer. My recent diagnosis and treatment made me part of this least desired group.
The rest of my life will include testing and vigilance, but my pathology reports indicate that my life will not be cut short by cancer. I got very good results.
Since my diagnosis, I have felt immense amounts of love and support from those walking this same path. Some have survived and are in treatment. Some are in remission and some are not. Some have not survived.
Of course, I am very grateful and relieved. At the same time, I feel a real depth of loss for those I have come to know who did not get the positive report that I got. When my results came in I found myself crying, but for them, not for myself.
Life is precarious, and always temporary. A cancer diagnosis may mean death, or it may not, which leaves one with a deeply disconcerting uncertainty. This diagnosis shocks the system in a predictably unpredictable way. We seem to share various responses of being stunned, ours minds turning to mush, chunks of time are forgotten, denial sets in here and there, then the denial lifts and there is fear and tension.
Some of us get a reprieve. Some of us don’t. Walking on the same road, facing the same fear, gives me a much deeper sensitivity for those who suffer through this illness. I really, really wish everyone got the report that I got.
Waiting sucks. Waiting for a friend who is late is annoying. Waiting to hear if your life is being threatened by cancer is indescribably horrible.
I can pretty it up and talk all spiritual, but it is really hard to wait to see if you have cancer.
When I was waiting for the results of the cervical cancer surgery, I felt very confident that the cancer would be contained and removed completely. When I got the news that the cancer is gone, I burst into tears. My conscious mind was sure, some other part of me was not at all sure.
Now I am waiting to have surgery on my breast. I will have to wait 10 days after that surgery to find out if I have cancer. Again.
What I keep coming back to is the fact that there is nothing I can do until I have an answer. No matter how favorable my odds are (and my odds are, mercifully, very good odds) I won’t know until I know.
When I get the results there are about 20 impending things that require me to take action. But I can literally not make a decision, or take an action, until I know if I have cancer.
So, I mindfully witness my thoughts and interrupt scary stories. I do a quick body scan and release tension. I cry when I need to cry. I feel anger when that arises. I talk to friends and family. I talk to the oncology social worker. I practice playing bass.
I meditate. I sit still, I focus on my breath, and I let everything shake through me. When I am not entranced by the scary stories, I can just drop into that stillness, moment to moment. Just a smidgen of that changes everything.
When I meditate I am not waiting. I am sitting.
Yup. That happened. Cervical cancer. Then I had surgery and they told me they got it all. I am 7 weeks post-op today.
After that, I had to see a second surgeon for a “spot” on my breast. Now I’m waiting for the second surgery.
My odds are very favorable, but I have to wait until after the surgery to be absolutely sure.
My life now will always include cancer. I will have to be tested regularly. I am both a cervical cancer survivor, and am also now considered at high risk for breast cancer.
It’s hard to describe how jarring this has been to my state of mind. I have experienced what can best be described as repeated adrenaline rushes, along with tension in my body. My thoughts have ranged from: “This isn’t really happening.” “This isn’t such a big deal.” (Both denial.) To: “Cancer. This is happening. It’s happening to me.” (Not denial.)
It is hard. It is really hard. But, it could be worse. I know I have the choice of how to use my mind, my thoughts, and my attention.
I’m very, very grateful that I was a meditator long before all this happened. I have been able to sit back and witness the shifts between various states of mind, various emotions, then draw my awareness to my breath, and release the tension.
The truth is, in this moment I am just here. I’m with myself in every moment, and I am good company. In this very moment, I can go inside, and let go of whatever emotion is running through me.
It is simple. It is not simplistic. It is not easy. I am going to write more posts on this process. About 40% of people in the U.S. have cancer. We are not alone. We can talk about it.
If you want to learn to meditate, go to my welcome page to download my free meditation. janbidwell.com
There was heartrending news from South Carolina yesterday. Another hate crime, with a large death toll, but this time carried out inside a church.
Violence is not new to the African American community. Violence within an African American church is not new. What is stunning and new is that a woman was left alive to repeat the message of hate.
People are outraged, but people are heartbroken even more. It may seem overwhelmingly difficult to fight back against this hateful message, but we can work to make a seismic shift.
We can make new pathways from those broken places. If we can stay connected to our own hearts, our own pain, our action will be measured and effective. We can have a greater impact than any anger can have, if we hold hands and stand together, mindful of our pain and anger, but acting from love.
We need to see clearly that this young shooter’s hate grew from a culture of hate. Responding with hate only strengthens hate. Compassion and love are not weak responses. It takes almost superhuman strength to respond to this level of hate with compassion. Almost superhuman. Almost. Each of us has the capacity to shift our awareness to our hearts. Each of us has the strength to feel the heartbreak and still love one another.
It is past time to simply step away from hate and step into our compassion. It’s our choice to make.
Change is challenging. Even when making very welcome changes we are, by definition, doing some things differently. What is important is how we approach the upcoming differences.
Currently I am in the process of moving. I’m not moving across town. I’m moving from the Northeast to the Deep South. It would seem nothing will be the same.
But the most important things will be the same. My sense of self, my family, and my friends all will remain the same. I will simply be adding new friends and new routines.
The routines…there is the rub. If the changing routines entrance me I will invariably get unsettled. New house, new area, new schedule, new everything, it would seem.
And then, there are a whole host of unknowns. There are so many things that will either work out, or they won’t. No matter how much I try to figure some things out, I just have to wait and see how thing go.
“Things” will change, but I will be the same. I will still put one foot in front of the other to get things done; I just have to do it consciously, mindfully.
Established routines allow us to do things mindlessly. Change challenges us to stay tuned in, moment by moment. When I approach change this way I can differentiate excitement from fear, or anxiety.
Excitement and curiosity is so much more fun. That doesn’t mean change is easy. But change doesn’t have to be unsettling if we stay mindful, and present, and feel the excitement.