Whoa! Has 2016 been a h*ll of a ride or what?
Everywhere we turn, we’re hearing, “Please, for the love of [insert deity of choice here] let it be over soon!”
Arghhhh! The stress is starting to take a toll on us all, and our hearts hurt for those who are suffering.
Every worry point seems somehow related to another—and the fulcrum upon which so much seems to spin is the election.
The result on November 8th, possibly more than any other time in history, will shape policy and outcomes on so many of the other concerning issues bombarding the US, and by ripple effect, the rest of the world.
Everyone’s paying attention.
What else is different this year? Well, the way in which this election campaign has been conducted, for starters. Never before have we been able to contribute to, challenge or sabotage a campaign with such lightning speed.
The dizzying speed of knee-jerking reaction has spun public opinion—and bewilderment—into hyper-drive, and the toll it’s taking on all of us is beginning to show. Time reported recently:
In late October, the American Psychological Association released a survey that found 52% of American adults say the 2016 election is a somewhat significant—or very significant—source of stress in their lives, regardless of whether they’re Republican or Democrat.
Discussions are cropping up in places and amongst people who might not ordinarily tread on such volatile subjects together, and the conversation isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.
Have you noticed it taking a toll on you? On your family, coworkers, neighbours?
Same here. This is exactly where our group of apprentices within elephant journal’s Elephant Academy discovered amongst ourselves last week during a group writing prompt. (This is a regular exercise conducted in small groups of ele-apprentices—designed to sharpen our writing and critical thinking skills.)
Normally a highlight of the week for us, this week’s prompt proved to be quite a challenge. We don’t mind throwing a shout-out to our group; we are a loving, mindful bunch, always seeking ways to support each other’s growth—often with humour and gentle encouragement. But this week something was different. The prompt was posted, and as usual, we had five minutes to write and post whatever we felt in response to it.
What followed initially deflated some of us—but not for long.
This is the prompt that unleashed a flurry of anger from our loving little group:
Speak about something in the news which is has hit you lately. Can you see a way to bring wisdom, humor and mindfulness into the situation? How would you do it? Go!
There was an almost palpable collective “Ugh!” from the group. Humor? Lightness? But, but…how? None of us could muster up a single bit of humor without resorting to low-hanging fruit such as comparisons of Trump’s hair to fleeing gophers, stalks of corn on the cob, and the like.
Rather, we found ourselves sidling up to words like weary, helpless, hopeless, crushed, defeated, overwhelmed, paralyzed with the state of the world, and with the news and social media.
Responses to these feelings were varied: some had given up on engaging in discussions with those they didn’t agree with; some had persevered, losing friends in the process; others were finding themselves in unexpected “battles” to throw light into dark areas that just seem to keep swallowing the light and spitting out more darkness. Some couldn’t bear to watch or read the news anymore, others refused to look away, afraid this would indicate their own complicity or condoning of the havoc.
In short, we all felt the toll on us was becoming too great, and were losing our ability to respond in constructive ways.
As we shared our frustrations, and we realized we were all saddened, yet many of us were surprised and somehow comforted to find so many others felt this way—how had we become so isolated within our own worry?
After some discussion, we realized that what we were sharing was the realness of what’s occurring—not arm’s length political analysis, not commentary, but real impacts on us, real people. We’re seeing evidence of this frustration, fear and hostility in so many corners of our lives and relationships…and ourselves.
Within this realization, we quickly identified a common theme among us: we wanted desperately to help this world heal itself.
As empaths and sensitive people, we are compelled to help when we feel the pain and suffering of others. This can become a double-edged sword very quickly if we’re taking on the energy or feelings swirling around these heated issues. We can only hold so much of the wear and tear on our own emotional wellness. But if we can’t just stand idly by, what can we do?
We needed a strategy on how to proceed; a little self-protection. So we put together a protective tool kit for ourselves—reminders for times like this when we’re addled by events on the news, in social media and in relationships—struggling to find common ground in this turbulent time.
Working together, we soon had our armor designed and ready to wear:
>> Breathing and Grounding: Be in the moment. Take long slow deep breaths, while checking into your body and feeling your feet on the ground. This one might be the most useful tool. When that blood gets a-boilin’ and you want to fire something off, be sarcastic, insulting, or worse, “right,” this one will bring it back to earth. You can then make your point more effectively and calmly. Maintaining respect and dignity under fire is incredibly empowering.
>> Step away: Maybe it’s a break for a few minutes, maybe it’s a couple of days. Maybe it involves a fantasy one-way ticket to someplace with no wifi, no politics, and plenty of wine. Maybe there’s a full-service spa with muscular attendants…Ooops, sorry, I digressed a bit. The point is, refill your imagination with thoughts that bring you peace. Find your happy place and check into it for awhile. Whatever chased you there will still be there when you’re ready to face it on your terms.
>> Have a mindful ritual: Take a walk, cuddle your dog or cat, take a bath, do some yoga, watch something silly, have some tea…Whatever works for you to move the energy, release stress and calm yourself.
>> Remember it’s not personal: Even if someone makes it personal, it’s really about them, not you. You are not responsible for other peoples’ reactions.
>> Find lightness in other things: When it seems like a jungle out there and everything feels heavy, find humor and lightness in other aspects of your life. It’s crucial. Laughter is healing to the heart, the soul and to the body.
It will also prepare your mind for the next tip:
>> Don’t forget to point out the good in life, even when things seem so wrong. When we focus too long on the negative it can create blinders, obstructing our view of gratitude and joy…that’s a dark place to be. Make it a point to point out the positives.
>> Put the shoe on the other foot. When we speak our truth, we have to remember other people also feel like they are speaking theirs. Show them, if necessary, how to engage—agree to disagree even, with respect and dignity.
>> Don’t forget to hold yourself accountable: Be informed. Research. Support with facts. Always check in with your tone, your intention and your judgments, biases and assumptions (we all have them). Are you respectfully engaging and providing information, or just spewing opinion? Us mindful folks can be an opinionated bunch, and occasionally even the most Zen of us can jump on our soap box and forget our mindful practices. It’s when we come to the table with facts in a respectful and intelligent way that we have the ability to change the dynamic of the conversation.
>> Be kind. Even if we disagree passionately, we can still be kind to one another, and we can still love each other. When someone is not kind to us, still be kind.
>> Summon your village. Your tribe, your crew, your peeps, you know who they are. The ones that get you. The ones that bring you back to your centre just by being in their presence. As soon as you read this, you knew who they were. They will understand the wordless chaos in your heart. They will hug, laugh and soothe you gently back into yourself.
None of us knows what’s coming next, but we’re gonna need our best game face to meet it head on—and this little self-protection kit is what we’re bringing with us. There’s plenty there for you too, and room for some tools of your own.
Authors: Karen Hubert & Adrienne Dygert
Editor: Caitlin Oriel