Friends, I am reeling after the election last week. I'm in some deep grief. Not just about the result of the election, but also that half of our country is suffering in ways that have been so untended to and so unheard that they are willing to vote for a person who is hurtful, racist, sexist, and encourages violence and division. Yes, some people feel renewed permission to unleash stored up anger and meanness and we are hearing reports of just such events, causing fear of what is to come. But I choose to believe that people are good, and are designed to seek connection and common humanity, while knowing that humans are also capable of inflicting horrors upon one another. I pray that our deepest fears are not realized.
On Election night, as the results were coming in and I was feeling stunned, I saw this post by my friend Christine on Facebook:
"The five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with ________. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling."
How about you? Are you feeling any of these feelings?
And maybe you're feeling pleased and happy with the results of the election. And yet you are seeing the protests erupting around the country and feeling disconnected or angry at the people protesting. You may have feelings stored up for years about past presidents, the legislature, the gridlock in Washington or your home state, the hopelessness and helplessness at seeing your job disappear, or wages decline, or ....
I'm adding my two cents to all that is torrenting in the blogosphere: holding space for how you are feeling in this moment. While these steps may seem small, in my view, they are essential in developing the capacity for long term action and healing. Because we all know the problems we are facing are massive and overwhelming.
What to do when life is feeling overwhelming, scary, confusing, upended?
When things are tough and I feel muddled and confused, my fallback question is:
How am I feeling in this moment?
Not how should I feel, but how am I truly feeling?
Where am I feeling this feeling?
So often my body gives me a trail of clues. Tense shoulders clue me in that my heart is feeling locked down and protective, and covering up my belly which is full of turmoil and anxiety.
This brings me into this moment, into my body. Part of fear is about past events and about future worries. Being in the moment can bring some relief and calm our nervous system. So many of us are living in a heightened state of fear, which triggers the nervous system into Fight, Flight, or Freeze. Our body system is priming for survival on a daily or hourly basis, living in this adrenalized state far more than it ever was designed.
This is a long game, not a sprint away from disaster. Taking a minute to breathe into these feelings helps calm the nervous system, backing away from the ledge of panic.
The next step, as painful as it is, is to acknowledge, "OK. That's how I'm feeling right now." No need to change, to process, to talk about, to journal, to distract, to run away. Just sit with it this moment, for as long as you can tolerate it. Sometimes, sitting with it long enough, it will change on its own. It might grow bigger, it might overwhelm, it might move around your body. Or checking back in on the feeling over the course of the day you might also see changes.
If you are feeling pain and fear from this election, these circumstances are not going to go away anytime soon. I have many fears for the world, for our country, for our economy, for our environment, for minorities, for immigrants, for women. At this moment for me, I fear getting stuck in fear and anger and depression and hopelessness for the foreseeable future. Tending to my grief and overwhelm are essential for my health and sanity. I would say that tending to our ongoing societal grief and fear, on all sides, from all parties, from all corners, from all income levels, from all education backgrounds, is essential as well, otherwise the same problems will continue without resolve.
Friend, I am sending you love and compassion, for whatever emotional state you are in, wherever you are in this process.
PS, here are some articles that may resonate with you right now.
I wrote this post this past summer about dealing with the grief in the world. I feel the advice is still appropriate.
I love, love, love this writing from Tad Hargrave. It is about death of old ways, rebirth of new possibilities, and staying in grief and heartbreak in order to birth the new.
"I don’t think what’s being asked of us is to get over our hurt and heartbreak of this moment. I think we are being asked to be heartbroken already, to feel the preciousness of what may be slipping from view and weave that feeling into everything we do and wear the heartbreak beautifully for everyone to see. I think we are being asked to create beauty from even our regrets of all that we didn’t see and all of the years we might deem now as wasted. I think we are being asked to do the hard work of lovinga world that keeps breaking our heart."
About building empathy, even for those who voted different than you: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_we_need_empathy_in_the_age_of_trump
Looking for the good in the election cycle: