Finding Your Center in the Storm

It’s election day, and I’m typing with one hand because of surgery on my fractured wrist last week. In case you’ve never tried, it makes typing quite slow and tedious. My current state of being and the election collide in metaphors and the need to simplify what I write today.

  • The heavy sling on my arm feels like the weight of the last four years.
  • The throbbing in my wrist is the incessant desire to understand the alternate realities that people in this country are living under.
  • The forced slowness and awkwardness is like my mind trying to grapple with the impact of what decisions are made this week.
  • My need for frequent stops to rest is like my mindfulness asking me to pause and not react.
  • The new ability to push the shift key down with my left hand is like the new strength that we will need to face the challenges no matter who wins or loses.

Just like my recovery will take many weeks, so will the recovery of our nation take that long and many more. With such great divides in our country it is unclear how to move forward except with an open heart. A spiritual practice of being a force for what’s kind and compassionate will be such an important one to train in without ceasing.

One thing for sure, the strongly divided beliefs that people hold in our country demonstrate with certainty the strength of conditioning on the mind.  Knowing how to get people to question their conditioning is the million dollar question. But even without a grand solution, there is our individual responsibility to exercise our rights as citizens and participate in saving the country that we live in. It gravely needs our help.

How did things get this crazy? I don’t know. But, here’s how can you help yourself and others in these days of uncertainty.

1. Spend time in silence. Take time out from the cacophony of the constant news reports and find your center. Love rests in the middle of your silence and love is a healing balm for these chaotic times.  

2. Deep breathing. You might notice that you stop breathing as you listen to the election results and as the election shenanigans unfold. Counteract the anxiety from shallow breathing by breathing in for a count of five, hold for a count of five, breath out for a count of five, and hold it out for a count of five. This is called an equal breath and can help you feel calmer and more centered.

3. Place a wedge of mindfulness between stimulus and response. There will be many things that will test your nerves and cause a fight-or-flight response in your body. This is the perfect time to stop, take a breath, take stock of what you are thinking and feeling. After a few moments, decide the  best way to proceed. As Victor Frankl famously wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

4. Learn to be comfortable with uncertainty. In Pema Chodron’s book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, she writes that the key to this kind of comfort is to become a warrior—a nonaggressive warrior who hears the cries of the world—called a bodhisattva. Through the tools of spiritual practice we can learn not to be afraid of the uncertainty of life but respond with the warrior’s weapons of lovingkindness, compassion, joy and equanimity—the “divine abodes.” We like to feel in control but, in truth, we have much less control than we think. Marinating in the divine abodes centers you in that which gives you the most strength and resilience possible.

5. Healing the divide. I don’t pretend to have the answer for this one, but I have an intuition about the direction to head. It starts with listening more with an open heart. Listening will help you learn more than constantly talking about your own thoughts and ideas. Be open to others who are different than you. This does not mean condoning or overlooking violence. It simply means that you don’t immediately judge and dismiss other human beings as having no value.

6. Meet hatred with love. A verse from the Dhammapada, a sacred Buddhist scripture, says Hatred never ceases by hatred; But by love alone is healed. This is an ancient and eternal law. There are many similar directives from the Bible. I particularly like “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness” from 1 John 2:9.

I sat in meditation this morning, rang my Tibetan bells, moved through some limited yoga stretches and energy medicine techniques that my injury would allow. My mind and heart feel strong and ready for whatever may come. Join me in the days to come by recommitting to your own spiritual renewal and fortify your resilient heart. We need it now more than ever.