deborahjross: (Default)
Recently, I’ve noticed more articles on staying grounded in joy and hope, even when surrounded by fear. Perhaps such articles have always been part of the general social media discourse and I am only now becoming sufficiently calm to notice them. But I rather think (hope!) this is a trend. In me, it certainly is. After the initial rounds of fear and trepidation, the constant adrenaline wore off. I’m not naturally a person who enjoys being fearful; from my experience training dogs, I suspect it’s not an appealing state for most of us. Some, I suppose, enjoy the “high” of confrontation, even violence, but I’m not among them. Harming others and myself is not where I want to live my life.

I see also posts affirming commitment to action, often in terms of “We Will Fight On!” and I’ve been resisting the urge to jump on that bandwagon. (Also the “Organize the Resistance” brigade.) It all sounds so necessary, a matter of putting my money where my mouth is. And is just as unrealistic for me as remaining in that state of terrified fury.

As unhealthy.

I am not objecting to others following the paths to which they are led. Resisting fascism and protecting the most vulnerable are inarguably vital to our survival as individuals, communities, and a society. I am thrilled that people have the drive and knowledge to organize such resistance. I will be right there, cheering them on. But I won’t be in the forefront.

It’s taken me a long time, coming from a family of dyed-in-the-wool organizers (labor unions, radical politics, war resistance, etc.) to come to terms with not being one of them. Undoubtedly, seeing the cost to my family played a role in my reluctance. I’ve marched in my share of civil rights and anti-war demonstrations, written a gazillion letters, painted an equal number of signs. But it’s not where my heart is. I’ve seen the joy in the eyes of those for whom this is their passion, their “thing.” I want to hug them all and say, “I’m so glad you’re out there, doing this for both of us.”

The fallacy is that making the world a better place is an either/or proposition. Either I’m out there, making headlines by facilitating events of vast numbers for the people’s revolution (as an example), or I’m sitting at home, knitting while Yosemite burns.

The fact is, any social movement happens on many levels. There’s the outward, banner-headline, political level, one that often requires organization on a national or international level. There is a community level, supporting your neighbors, particularly those in need. Soup kitchens are just as necessary as demonstrations outside the White House, although they serve fewer people. Taking care of ourselves and our families is yet another.

Quiet, mindful actions that focus on compassion, justice, and unity need not be limited to small numbers. In fact, outward activism must be balanced by inner activism. We can all find where we are called to act along that spectrum, and we can move back and forth (or in and out, whichever image works best) with circumstances, experience, and energy levels. What a relief to realize I don’t have to pick one thing or level of involvement!

So what speaks to me right now is remembering joy. The year to come is almost certainly going to be full of occasions for grimness if not despair, so I don’t want to start off that way. I want to full up my “savings account of hope” as much as I can, cultivating those people, places, and things that lift my spirits. I want to never, ever let go of believing we can survive this, kindness and persistence will triumph, and no matter how dark it may seem at the moment, love will win.

I refuse my consent to fascism. I also refuse my consent to despair.
I affirm that I will cling tenaciously – relentlessly – to hope, and I invite you to do so, too.
deborahjross: (Default)
As the days post-election melt into weeks, I observe myself moving from disbelief to despair to relative calm . . . and now to feeling just plain annoyed. I am tired of the news being dominated by one horrible announcement after another, and even more tired of how much attention is paid to the continuous verbal effluvia flowing from the president-elect. I am tired of being jerked around emotionally by a bloviating buffoon whose chief delight seems to be keeping everyone else off-balance. I’m tired of every conversation about the news beginning with “Guess what outrageous thing president-elect/his newest appointee/some member of Congress just said?”

It’s one thing to be appalled and frightened by the statements of politicians now in power. There’s a time to focus on politics and a time for other parts of my life. It’s quite another to have my thoughts and days hijacked by irresponsible sensationalism. Not to mention counterfactual (aka “lies”) distortions. Remember the meme of the person who can’t sleep because somewhere on the internet, someone is wrong? When my brain gets taken over by provocative statements, that’s where I am, duped into a cycle of research and refutation. It’s a gazillion times worse if I give in to a lapse in judgment and actually reply to one of those folks-who-are-wrong. That never ends well, no matter how many times I persuade myself into believing otherwise. Social media do not, by and large, promote genuine discourse, but I get sucked into trying. Of course, the responses only get me more wound up. That’s my responsibility, because I know better. But I really would like to be able to glance at the news or visit a social media site now and again without having to fend off the lure of the outrageous.

Why is the fruitcake (and surrogates) dominating the news? I swear, every time he twitches a finger (especially in proximity to his cellphone), it makes headlines everywhere. On his part, the tactic of controlling the dialog by throwing out pompously outrageous lies is nothing new. That’s how he dominated the primary debates. He got billions of dollars worth of free air time during the general campaign by poking one hornets’ nest after another. Now he’s doing it on an international scale. And the news media buy into it every time, battling the hydra that grows a hundred heads for every one they whack off with facts. We’ve gone from sucking all the oxygen out of the room to sucking all the oxygen out of the news sphere and now the world.

I draw the line at sucking all the oxygen out of my head. Okay, I’m not hopeful that the media will take my suggestion to just ignore any sentence that includes “Trump” and “Tweet,” nor am I a good enough nerd to reprogram my computer to do that for me. Nor do I want to shut myself away from news of any sort. For one thing, I know myself well enough to admit that would be too anxiety-provoking. I will likely do better when I become better at not responding to trollishness.

But right now, mostly I’m annoyed to the point of being downright pissed. I recognize that anger can be friend or enemy. It’s energizing, which can be exhausting if I spend too much time wound up, or focusing if I master it. If I give in, I run the risk of descending into petty insults and ad hominen fallacies. Or I can use it to point the way to improvements in my own attitudes and behavior. What’s getting to me, and why? My anger can show me the line between things best shrugged off and those that call for action.
deborahjross: (Default)
I have long understood the dangers and seductions of overwork. I’ve frequently coped with stress by balancing my checkbook or going over budget figures. Or reading and replying to every single email in my Inbox. It needn’t be intellectual work: scrubbing bathrooms or reorganizing closets works just fine. All these things involve attention to detail and (to one degree or another) restoring a sense of order to an otherwise capricious and chaotic world. I come by it honestly; when I was growing up, I saw my parents, my father in particular, plunge into work in response to the enormous problems our family faced. He and I are by no means unique. We live in a culture that values work above personal life and outward productivity over inner sensitivity.

“Work” doesn’t have to result in a measurable output. Anything that demands attention (preferably to the exclusion of all else) will do. Reading news stories or following social media accomplish the same objective and have the same result: they put our emotions “on hold.”

As I’ve struggled to detach from the waves of upsetting news, I have noticed an increased tendency in myself to overwork. It occurs to me that I reach for those activities in a very similar way other folks might reach for a glass of liquor or a pack of cigarettes (or things less legal). Or exercising to exhaustion, or any of the many things we do to excess that keep us from feeling. There’s a huge difference between the need to take a breather from things that distress us and using substances or activities in a chronic, ongoing fashion to dampen our emotional reactions. The problem is that when we do these things, we shut off not only the uncomfortable feelings (upset, fear, etc.) but other feelings as well.

The challenge then becomes how to balance the human desire for “time-out” from the uncertainties and fears of the last few weeks and not numbing out. In my own experience, the process of balancing begins with awareness of what tempts me, whether I indulge in it or not. Is it something that can be good or bad, depending on whether I do it to excess? (Exercise, for example.) Or something best avoided entirely? (Some forms of risk-taking behavior, like unprotected sex with strangers.) If it can be both a strength and a weakness, how do I tell when enough is enough, or what a healthy way to do this is?

When is it time to run away (to Middle Earth, to a night club, to answering every single Tweet) and when is it time to come back? Am I able to extricate myself or do I need external help (an alarm clock, a family member)?

What about getting creative with escapes? Instead of binge-watching Stranger Things, how about taking the dog for a long hike and then watching one episode? A bubble bath instead of a drink? Calling a trusted friend before clicking on FaceBook?

Finally, a word on being gentle with ourselves. No matter how resourceful and conscious I am, I’m going to slip. That’s part of human nature. All these numbing escapes work, and that means not only will we reach for them, we’ll keep doing them. Will power alone isn’t enough to break us out of a session that’s gone on way too long (or that fourth drink or second pack of cigarettes). Some days we’ll do better than others. So it’s important to be kind to ourselves and others. We’re all coping with a difficult time, sometimes in healthier ways than others. Beating ourselves up for spending too much time playing video games won’t stop us the next time we reach for the console: it will only give us one more thing to escape from. One of the most helpful things I’ve done is to talk to others about what’s going on with me. If I notice my eyes and shoulders are screaming at me from too many hours staring at a computer screen, that’s a great opening for a conversation. I can ask for a friendly ear, whether I want advice or not. Commiseration and sharing of our different experiences – our failures as well as our successes – makes me more likely to try something else.

What escapes appeal to you particularly these days? Are they healthy (or can they be, if indulged with moderation)? How do you handle occasions of excess? What helps you to stay in touch with your feelings, or to come back to them after a break?
deborahjross: (Default)
Recently a friend voiced her despair about the effect of the elections and the president-elect’s nominations on the future of the planet. She said “fear” was too mild a term. Her conversation kept referencing the Permian extinction event and the destruction of the Earth. I admit I didn’t respond well. I tend to react to emotion-laden exaggerations of complex issues, and that reaction overrode the compassionate thing to do, which was to listen to her feelings. My mind flipped from a conversation about emotions to one about facts. Needless to say, she was not interested in whether current projects are for a target global warming of 3.6 degrees or 4 degrees Celsius.

In observing my own mind, I notice what I do when faced with the notion of looming ecological disaster. I run away to information. In this case, at least, I find it calming. The facts don’t change, but researching the issue and reading the considered opinions of people with legitimate scientific credentials who have studied the matter in depth changes my emotional reaction. I suspect a portion of this runs along the lines of, “Whew, I don’t have to figure this out all on my own!” I’m only one of many who are grappling with the problem.

Clearly, this was not my friend’s process. A little bit of information (the Permian extinction event plunged her into even greater hopelessness. From this I take away something so simple, its profound truth often escapes me: we don’t all cope with stressful news in the same way.

I’ve written about paying attention to what makes me feel calmer or more distraught, and then making mindful choices. Although information is helpful to me, it can also have an addictive quality. We writers joke about doing so much research on a novel project, the book never gets written. Similarly, I can mire myself in one source after another until I go numb. That numb state is a sure sign I’ve either made a poor choice or gone too far.

Blogging about my process, however, seems not to have a down side. I suspect this is because such writing puts me in better touch with my feelings and increases my sensitivity to what is good for me and what is harmful. It has the added benefit of being of service to others who are wrestling with the same issues, searching for a way through the morass of upset feelings to a way forward in what the Buddhists call “right action.”

Reaching out to others, offering my help, sharing my experience and insight and listening to their own, all these things lift me from despair.

What things help you?
deborahjross: (Default)
A few days ago, John Scalzi wrote in his blog, Whatever, “…the Trump administration and its enablers are going to make a mad gallop out of the gate to do a whole bunch of awful things, to overwhelm you with sheer volume right at the outset.”

Pretty shocking statement, huh? That was my first reaction. My second was that Scalzi is very likely correct. All the signs are there…all the signs that in my panic-stricken moments, I want to ignore so hard they go away.

My next reaction was to surrender my mind to a gazillion chattering monkeys, each with her own idea of What Must Be Done Right Now. I can work myself into a downright tizzy in no time this way. Not only that, I can paralyze myself with too many alternatives and no way to prioritize them, jumbling actions I might take with those that are impossible or unsafe (crazy-making) for me.

Any of this sound familiar?

It’s all based on a false choice. I don’t have to either prepare now for the logically impending “awful things” or play ostrich on the river in Egypt. But in order to see other, saner alternatives, I must first evict the Monkeys of Panic so I can regard the situation calmly.

We’re in for some hard times, and knowing that is a relief.

At first, it seems counter-intuitive to say that acknowledging we are in for some dark times comes as a relief. The relief is because instead of nebulous fears running rampant, bursting into exaggeration and melodrama at every turn, vulnerable to any sort of fact-free hype, I’ve stepped away from the emotional storm. I’m facing the problem squarely, as my tai chi teacher used to say. We’re in for some tough times, and likely there will be a whole slew of bad news in the early months of 2017.

When I’m no longer trying to deny or distort the way things are (for example, Trump’s cabinet choices and what is known about them, or what he has said he will or won’t do) I not only become calmer, but better able to see things I might do, alone or in solidarity with like-minded folks.

This is based on a simple truth that in order to act effectively, I need to be sane. I can’t be sane if I’m bouncing off the walls at every headline on social media. I could, of course, disengage entirely from social media and refuse to read or listen to any sort of news. But I don’t want to do that. I want to stay engaged, but in a mindful way. I want to know what I’m up against. Once I stop fighting the reality of what that is, I free myself to use my energy and time in productive ways. I don’t know exactly what form these tough times will take, but I don’t need to prepare for every twist and turn. I can trust my ability to respond appropriately and creatively.
deborahjross: (Default)
Most of us who drink alcohol have sooner or later imbibed too much of it. Setting aside the embarrassing and unhealthful effect of such overindulgence, we then got to experience nature’s own payback: a hangover. Not only do we feel wretched, we grapple with the fact that we inflicted this misery on ourselves by our own choices.

Recently I’ve noticed behaviors (other than drinking) that leave me with a feeling of emotional or spiritual malaise. Not “What was I drinking?” but “What was I thinking?”

When I take note of the symptoms of “spiritual or emotional” hangover, I become aware of the situations, topics, or even people that lead me to abandon my center. While it is undoubtedly theoretically true that no one can make me feel or behave in ways I will regret, in practice my will power needs help.

When I am already anxious, distracted, confused, or all the other things I have been feeling since the election, I’m not at my best. My judgment can be unreliable. Ditto my self-control. If I put myself in compromising situations, I am likely to say things I will regret. The regret stems not so much from external consequences but from how I then feel about myself. No matter how I value kindness, I can behave in harsh, unkind ways when I’m in over my head. Over the years I’ve gotten very good at admitting error and making things right, to the point that I would much rather avoid acting badly to begin with.

Many of us have remarked how social media is both addictive and inflammatory. In a fit of irritation or self-righteousness, we zip off a caustic comment and push ENTER. Then we keep coming back for another dose. It’s an engraved invitation to insanity! Very few of us are capable of going cold turkey, and I’m not sure that’s really a solution. When we return to social media, as most of us will, we will be in exactly the same state in which we left it. We won’t be any more skillful in detaching ourselves or of passing by the temptation to be cruel or snarky. We won’t be any closer to finding communities, people, topics, or environments that help us to feel calmer, kinder, and more hopeful. We’ll be like alcoholics who stop drinking but never address the underlying issues or the consequences.

In addition to being careful about situations that may provoke me to things I’ll regret, I can ask myself what keeps me coming back. Is it the illusion that news (including gossip) will somehow make me safe? Or popular? Or smart? What do I get from visiting those sites (maybe there is something positive)? Is there a grey area in which the positive benefits become negative, and if so, how can I better discern it?

What situations leave me with heart lifted and spirits mended? Who or what gives me hope? In what settings do I act my best? Who brings out the qualities in me that I value? How do I seek out such encounters?
deborahjross: (Default)
Like many others, I did not sleep well on election night or the following nights. Shock and dismay had hijacked my mind. I felt as if I had been catapulted into a very dark Twilight Zone episode. My thoughts went hither and yon, partly batted about by a political racket, partly going from shiny/horror to next shiny/horror.

In my recovery from PTSD, I have learned to be protective of my sleep and my inner balance. I quickly detected warning signs and realized that I had to put my own mental and physical health first. Without that foundation, I wasn’t going to be able to make any sense or take effective action. So I set about using my “tool box” to reduce my anxiety. Besides sleep management and calming techniques, I reached out to my family and close friends. I tried as best I could to keep the focus on myself and my feelings, not politics. I took notice of which conversations made me feel better and which did not.

I felt better about myself when there was something I could do for the person close to me. Perhaps this was because I felt less powerless, but I believe it was because I felt more connected. Research suggests human beings are hard-wired to feel pleasure from helping others. Whether or not this is true, feeling valued and needed is a good thing.

So the first “movement” of my journey was to take care of myself and then to reach out to those around me.

Once I was feeling a bit more settled, I started to look around for other actions I might take. This required a great deal of filtering of news and social media. News sources inundated me with blow after terrible blow as events (and nominations or appointments) unfolded. I realized I could spend 100 hours a day on the various calls to action, and that not all of them were appropriate for me. Some would put me right back in the zone of risking my mental health.

How then are we to know how to proceed and what actions will not damage us?

We listen for that sense of rightness, no matter how frightening the prospect. I learned a great deal about this process from hanging out with Quakers. They talk about “discernment” and “leadings of the Spirit.” It’s one of the things that makes Quaker action different from other activism. One is led to take action by the promptings of the inner light, which means that arguments for or against make little difference. This made Quaker abolitionists (for example) tenacious in their cause.

What am I led to do? How will I know when that happens?

I’m still listening, and while I do that, I pay attention to small things that I feel able to do. They may not qualify as “Spirit-led,” but they seem possible. Then I notice how I feel. As an example, I wrote a letter of support to the nearest mosque; I felt lighter and more hopeful after I had mailed it. On the other hand, I felt low and discouraged after speaking with certain people I had otherwise reason to trust. I’m not likely to try that again.

I do not know how or even if this process of trial and reflection, slowly feeling my way, will lead to action on a state or national level. I’m definitely not going to fly across the country to attend a march in Washington D.C. or New York City. Because I’ve felt energized by writing letters, I am more likely to do that again. I’m considering volunteering in person at Planned Parenthood (where I volunteered when I was in grad school, before Roe v. Wade) or the ACLU, but do not yet see a clear path.

Meanwhile, I continue to practice reaching out, and find that the circle keeps getting bigger. By listening compassionately and seeking out safe places to share my own fears, I join a community of light. By sharing suggestions of actions, I become aware of those I might be willing to take, or inspire others to take actions I am not comfortable with. Who knows? Maybe knowing someone who is brave enough (or skilled enough) to do something will show me the way. Or perhaps the way will open in community once I see I do not have to act alone.
deborahjross: (Default)
Like just about everyone I know, I have been feeling anxious about this election. I say "just about" because for all I know, there might be some acquaintance who is blissfully uncaring of the issues and candidates. So for the rest of us, this season has turned in to a series of conversations that always end up on the topic, repeated and frequent checking on news (and polls and election predictions), and most of all, anxiety about what might happen if the other candidate wins. I've dubbed this toxic combination of worry and hypervigilance "Election Anxiety Disorder." (Although Electoral Anxiety Syndrome works, too.)

This is the most fear-driven campaign I can remember, and the first presidential election I remember was Eisenhower and Stevenson, so that's quite a few. Each side holds up emotionally manipulative predictions of doom, gloom, global thermonuclear destruction, moral deterioration, and general Bad Things as a way of galvanizing their followers into action and swaying the opinions of those very few remaining undecided voters. And it's happening on both sides, although the specific threats may be different.

Chronic anxiety takes its toll in physical as well as psychological symptoms. Sleep, work, relationships, all aspects of our lives can be impacted. We may lose or gain weight, depending on which we do not need to do. We definitely spend more time glued to the television or computer. Eyestrain, backaches, headaches, stomach pain, obsessive thoughts, irritability...the list goes on of ways our bodies and minds break down under stress. Recognizing this is what's going on is the first step towards better managing this stress.

Laughing at it -- and ourselves -- including giving the whole mess a silly name, goes a long way.

One of the obvious things to do to help ourselves is to limit the amount of exposure to news stories (and polls, interviews, social media, and the like). This can be easier said than done. Following every tiny change in information has an addictive quality. Our brains become alerted by changes in our environment, which has obvious evolutionary advantages. Fast-changing visual media like news programs and advertisements rely on this response to attract and hold our attention. In the same way our ancestors might have scanned the horizon for any change in the movement of herds of prey animals or signs of a stalking predator, we scan our information horizon for signs of threat (or reassurance, which can evaporate just as quickly as a tiger can burst out of the foliage). So it can be difficult to tear ourselves away from that screen or newspaper, particularly when our lives are in so many other ways attached to the flow of information. For many of us, this constant reactivation and connection with sources of perceived threat fuels our anxiety. However, some people use information as a way of managing their anxiety.

Getting enough exercise can be helpful. For some of us, cardiovascular activities that get our hearts pounding drain the constant levels of adrenalin from our bodies. For others, meditative practices like yoga or tai chi can restore calm. Most of us sleep better when we have had enough exercise. These fall under the general rubric of taking good care of ourselves. Other measures include eating well, limiting stimulants, drinking in moderation if at all, and so forth.

Most of us are not affected by Election Anxiety Disorder in isolation. We live in community, whether face to face or online. We talk about what we have heard and read, especially the things that trigger our fears or are otherwise sensational.Sometimes all this does is give us a chance to vent at the cost of escalating our tension. ("Can you believe what Candidate has done? Did you see the story revealing Terrible Secret From Candidate's Past?") Instead of egging each other on -- or, worse yet, turning the conversation into a contest of who has the juiciest scandal -- we can use these interactions to air our own feelings, defuse our anxiety, and brainstorm solutions.

Just about everyone I know responds well to the change in emphasis. "I'm so ready for this election to be over!" echoes on both sides of the political spectrum. Even if we're not willing to give up our attachment to the outcome, it is a relief to take an honest look at how wearying the whole process is.

Here are some other strategies:
Humor can be a godsend. The stakes may be serious, but we don't have to take ourselves seriously all the time. We admire public figures who are able to take it as well as dish it out at celebrity roasts. Why not find some way to laugh at our own foibles.

Remembering what we can and cannot control. Remember the Serenity Prayer, that talks about accepting what we cannot change? The tricky part is when there are some actions you can take (voting, phone banking, Tweeting insanely) that give you the illusion of control, and perhaps there is some truth within that illusion. Not that voting and campaigning are bad things in themselves, but ongoing election activities -- this leaves voting out -- can become problematic when you buy into the notion that the more you do, the calmer you will be. Everyone's mileage varies. For some, taking those actions like spending days at a candidate's phone bank, gives a sense of satisfaction, having "done my part," and the ability to then set aside the crazier aspects of the election. For others, increasing the investment of time and energy only escalates the tension and worry. The trick is to pay attention to whether it's good for you.

Then again, you can always give in to the Dark Side and stock up on voodoo dolls and stick pins...

Profile

deborahjross: (Default)
Deborah J. Ross

May 2017

S M T W T F S
 123 456
78910111213
14151617181920
21 22 2324252627
28 293031   

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 21st, 2017 08:44 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios