Building Those Muscles

In my last blog post, Acting As Healer, I said that “in my work as a healing practitioner I can readily embody my values. But I noticed how easily my skills fell away when I got triggered over a conversation about the recent election results. Can I Act As Healer when I strongly disagree with the person in front of me who is expressing sentiments very different from my own? It is as if making a hard turn in gale-force winds to come to my place of presence and connection. I am working on building the muscles for that, as I believe it is what our world needs.”

While the world certainly may need it, I realize that I need to “build those muscles” of presence and connection for myself most of all. The challenge of dealing with my own anger and disbelief in these times compounded by my efforts to be a support for others in their pain can leave me exhausted and numb. Ill-timed exposure to a news story can send me from happiness to despair in an instant. I don’t want to live these next years in despair. I don’t want to turn away from my brother, knowing his political stance. And the loss of self-connection and sense of belonging that happens when my heart closes only adds to my pain anyway.

My muscle-building priorities, disguised as self care practices, are helping me hold a more even keel.
1. Mental gate-keeping. I limit exposure to the daily news feed, instead turning to sources of inspiration and reassurance for support. Jeff Salzman’s podcast The Daily Evolver offers me some intellectually heady but helpful philosophical context. I recite segments of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ piece, We Were Made For These Times, like soul-soothing mantras. I read the teachings of spiritual teachers and masters, Pema Chodrun being one of my favorites. I cling to the good news offered by Yes Magazine and other positive news sources.

2. Be present. Every day, as often as I can remember, I pay attention to gravity. That’s it. Gravity is always there, holding me gently and securely in place. When I notice gravity, I am noticing that I am right here and that in this moment I am okay.

3. Do something. When I sit around and do nothing I am much more apt to gravitate toward despair. Doing something in support of my values, whether it is taking a walk or visiting a friend or calling a congressman, has the effect of lifting me up. However big or small, it feels like a step in the right direction.

4. Embody compassion. In her book Compassion: Listening to the Cries of the World Buddhist author Christina Feldman writes, “Compassion doesn’t always call for grand or heroic gestures. … A word of kindness, a loving touch, a patient presence, a willingness to step beyond your fears and reactions are all gestures of compassion that can transform a moment of fear and pain.” (It is no stretch to see the elemental correspondences—love it!) Seeking to embody compassion I practice these responses as often as possible, especially when it is easy, so that they may come more readily when the situation is challenging.

Feldman writes, “Compassion speaks of the willingness to engage with tragedy, loss and pain. Its domain is not only the world of those you love and care for, but equally the people who threaten you… and the situations of anger and hatred you recoil from. It is here that you learn about the depths of tolerance and understanding that are possible for each one of us. It is here that you learn about dignity, meaning, and greatness of heart. As a rabbinic text encourages us, ‘in the places where there are no human beings, be one.’”

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A few of my favorite Clarissa Pinkola Estes sanity-supporting lines from We Were Made For These Times:
“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.”

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.”

“When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.”

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