This is a new diagnosis in my practice. And one with which I am, unfortunately, intimately familiar.
Here are the symptoms:
Waves of sadness and despair, with or without crying. A feeling that the solid ground has been pulled out from under you. A sense of isolation from the people in your country. Waking up in the morning okay, until you remember the election results — and the onset of tightness in your chest and grief. It’s like someone you love (your country, your hope, your belief in goodness) has died.
I am generally even-keeled. And also realistic. But I had this sweet thought that the planet was, slowly and haltingly, beginning to move in the right direction — toward love. Toward cooperation. Toward acceptance of difference. Toward an emerging sense of the feminine, creative, nurturing power in all of us. Toward a small slice of hope that we would choose to respect and care for the earth and reign in our greed. And I feel pretty devastated at the thought that we have chosen to move in the wrong direction on so many of the issues that matter to us and the planet.
I am not alone. Half of our country is also grieving. Many are very scared — especially women, traumatized by the possibility of sexual harassment and abuse being accepted as normal. Especially gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer folks — who are terrified of losing their right to be who they are, with full rights and privileges. Especially people of color — when it seems that racism is the new norm, and at least half the country doesn’t seem to care. Especially immigrants — with new threats of deportation looming in the future. Especially those whose priority is saving our planet — with policies that deny global warming and support industry over sustainability on the horizon.
I do not have any simple answers here. I do know that each one of us is needed. That each of us is precious and necessary in the coming days, months and years. And that we need to be bodywise — attentive to our bodies and our collective body politic as we move forward, so that we can sustain what will be needed on the road ahead.
Here are some of my thoughts as we move forward in our days, trying to find meaning and hope amidst the charred remains of a divisive and debasing election.
1. BE BODYWISE.
Pay attention to what your body needs and is trying to tell you. Take care of yourself in the most basic of ways — sleep, healthy food, a good cry, comfort with friends, getting outside into nature (which, amazingly, is still in and around us — resilient in her gorgeousness), laugh at every opportunity, sing and play music and listen, deeply, to your own body wisdom moving forward.
2. WE ARE STRONGER TOGETHER IN EVERY WAY.
This is the perfect time to connect and reconnect with people you love, with those who support the essence of who you are.
3. ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL YOUR FEELINGS.
There is no way “out,” only through. This is like a death, or a really bad breakup. Be patient and soft with your heart. AA aphorisms come to mind…., “One day at a time”, or the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
4. AVOID THE TEMPTATION TO FALL INTO US/THEM DICHOTOMIES THAT DON’T REALLY EXIST, AND KEEP US IN THE CYCLE OF SHAME AND BLAME.
It is hard for me to imagine casting a ballot for Trump. But many people in the country are desperate, wanting change, and reaching for solutions in the ways that are available. These are not bad people — they are our friends and neighbors. We by and large have similar values — and different strategies for finding solutions. We need all of us — women, men, all races, all economic groups — to bring our country and our planet to wholeness. The answer to our issues is not more division — it’s deep listening and reaching across the lines to find common values, while holding on to what is particular, vital and precious within us.
5. FIND AN AREA OF ACTION THAT IS ALIGNED WITH YOUR HEART AND SOUL, AND DO SOMETHING.
Even if it’s small or simple. Use your voice, your time, whatever resources you have. The work itself heals us.
6. WHEN LIFE GETS REALLY DIFFICULT OR PAINFUL, I TURN TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY. I PRAY. I WALK IN NATURE. AND I MEDITATE.
The most healing meditation I have found for that intense ache in my chest is Tonglen — a Tibetan Buddhist practice that transforms suffering into blessing. I’m including here an excerpt from The Book of Joy, where the Dalai Lama teaches us Tonglen.
Tonglen can allow us to become oases of peace and healing.
The Dalai Lama used this practice to transform not only the suffering of the Tibetan protesters who were being injured during the 2008 demonstrations in Tibet but also the anger and hatred of the Chinese soldiers who were cracking down on the protesters. As the Dalai Lama explained, whether or not it actually helped those on the ground, it transformed his relationship to the suffering and allowed him to respond more effectively.
1. BEGIN BY SETTLING YOUR MIND WITH SEVERAL LONG BREATHS THROUGH YOUR NOSE.
2. THINK OF SOMEONE WHO IS SUFFERING.
You can choose a loved one, a friend, or even a whole group of people, such as refugees.
3. REFLECT ON THE FACT THAT, JUST LIKE YOU, THEY WISH TO OVERCOME SUFFERING AND TO BE JOYFUL.
Try to feel a sense of concern for the well-being of the person or group you are focusing on. Feel deep within your heart the desire for them to be free of suffering.
4. TAKING THEIR SUFFERING.
As you inhale, imagine the pain being drawn from their body and dissolving when it encounters the warmth and bright light of your compassionate heart. You can see their pain as dark clouds that are dissolving as they encounter the bright light of your heart. If the idea of taking in others’ suffering is concerning or unsettling, you can imagine their suffering dissolving into a bright orb of light in front of you that is radiating out from your compassionate heart.
5. GIVE OUT YOUR JOY.
As you exhale, imagine that you are sending the person rays of light filled with your love and compassion, your courage and your confidence, your strength and your joy.
6. REPEAT THIS PRACTICE OF TAKING THE SUFFERING AND TRANSFORMING IT BY GIVING YOUR JOY.
If you have done this practice for an individual or loved one, you can extend the practice to others who are suffering all around the world. If you are taking the suffering of someone who is being harmed by others, you can take the cruelty and hatred that is causing the harm and give your love and kindness. If you feel able, you can practice taking on the suffering of all beings and giving them your compassion and your joy. Stay quiet as your love and joy radiate out from your heart.