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.