It’s been a big week for our country.
I want to open with three true statements:
- I care about your well-being.
- I believe health on one level (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) affects all other layers of health.
- I will make recommendations here about how to find some ease, clarity and empowerment in a confusing time with no assumptions about or investment in how you voted (or didn’t vote) or why.
Root down, rise up.
“Root down and rise up” is what Janine, one of the healers in my community, reminds us during yoga practice. In order to grow a pose, we must first find stability. In class last Thursday, she led us into tree pose, which is a one-legged pose. At a certain point, she invited us to close our eyes, experience the darkness, and imagine we were keeping our balance amidst a strong wind. The pose was so much more difficult with eyes closed! “Root down, rise up” she encouraged. To me, the exercise was a perfect and powerful metaphor for life. In order to weather any storms and navigate through darkness, we need to root down.
How to strengthen your roots?
First, tend to your emotional well-being:
- Spend time in silence, tuning into your own body. In order to get out of the chaos of your mind, put your feet on the ground, close your eyes, and explore any one of your senses: listen to the layers of noise/silence around you; sense the air against your skin, watch your breath, etc. Do this even before you launch into your prayers or journaling. Being in your body allows you to settle into a place of receptivity and openness.
- Without any judgment or rush to change or “get over them,” identify any feelings that are moving through your body. In your mind, just look and say “hello” to them. It is so important that you validate and give room to whatever your feelings are. They may be less pretty than you’d like, but you cannot control what emotions rise up in you. You can only look, watch, and validate. Emotions are our bodies’ way of making sense of the world. Overriding them and ignoring them will not help you move through those feelings. To the contrary, they will only become more persistent if you try to override or stuff them.
- Identify what is yours and what isn’t yours. Since we are energetic beings, we easily absorb the energy of people around us, even the energy of the ethos. Fear is in the ethos right now. Let go what doesn’t belong to you. Visualize moving emotions that aren’t yours out of your space. We only have power over what is “ours.” Trying to manage what isn’t “ours” is disempowering and ineffective. Acknowledge and validate what is yours.
- Notice especially where there is resistance in you. You may be resistant to a certain outcome, a certain person’s reaction, etc. What we resist persists (and causes suffering) and so acknowledge your resistance. Validate it. In your mind’s eye, imagine you are breathing space into it.
- Turn into yourself, rather than away. In my Year of Living Mindfully series, we keep coming back to these two powerful ways of turning in: Ask yourself with love, “In this moment, what do you need?” and “In this moment, what can I do for you?”
- Push yourself to move out of fear and into gratitude. The two cannot co-exist, since fear and gratitude are governed by areas of the brain that cannot be active at the same time. Especially when you are lost in a swirl of “what ifs,” force yourself to come up with a quick “TOP 5 reasons” to be thankful. Top 5 reasons you’re happy to be alive. Top 5 reasons you’re thankful you have a son. Top 5 reasons you’re grateful to have legs. Whatever. Grow your gratitude to get out of fear. You’re at your least effective (and causing harm to yourself) when you’re in fear.
Second, tend to your physical well-being:
- Go to bed earlier than usual. Sleep not only restores our physical health, but also helps us recuperate from emotional trauma and wear and tear. This 2008 study found that out of 591 subjects, 17-50 % of subjects with insomnia persisting two weeks or longer developed a major depressive episode. Lack of sleep has a major impact on our moods and ability to cope with stress. Allow your body to rest and restore.
- Drink water. Lack of hydration stresses the body, making it less resilient.
- Cut out foods that throw you off your game. You know what they are – the same foods and beverages in that you indulge in when you’re stressed. We reach for sugar, caffeine and alcohol to numb out. They keep us from being in touch from what is really going on with us. Try, really try, to do #5 above before you indulge.
- Along the same lines as #3, reduce inflammatory foods: foods with dyes, sugar, preservatives, foods you know you can’t digest well…inflammation inside results in loss of sleep, lack of resilience, crappy moods, etc.
- Keep your blood sugar balanced. Imbalanced blood sugar makes everything worse. Eat meals with fat/protein/plant, starting with breakfast. Do not wait until you’re symptomatic (headache, shaky, moody, etc) to eat.
- Nourish yourself with restorative grounding foods like soup, stews, roasted root veggies, grass fed organic red meat – even organ meats if you are willing. These foods help shore up our adrenal glands which take a hit in times of stress. Get out the crockpot, my darlings!
Third, strengthen your roots by reiterating what you believe and what you stand for.
I remember as a young Catholic standing up every Sunday at mass to recite the Apostles’ Creed. I always felt the power of this public proclamation. In times of confusion, grounding yourself in what you believe (rather than what you’re against) can bring extraordinary clarity and focus. Note that over time, what you think you believe may have evolved.
This weekend, I spent time listing my beliefs and this “proclamation” is providing a way through for me. Just to help prompt your exploration of beliefs, these are some of mine:
- Love my neighbor as myself.
- As within so without. What I want to create and bring into the world must begin with me. If I want to eliminate blame and fear in the world, I must search myself for how I perpetuate it.
- Words are powerful. The words we speak create our reality. The words others speak create theirs. What comes out of our mouths has tremendous power for healing or damage.
- What I focus on grows. If I spend my time looking at things that horrify me, I will spend my life in horror. If I spend my time immersed in what inspires me, I will spend my life inspired. In times of confusion, I seek out the wisdom of reliable sources, people, artists, thought leaders I trust. This doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention to what is happening around me.
- What I resist persists. A corollary to #2. Instead of being in resistance, I try to instead focus on a concept I teach in my nutrition workshops: “crowding out.” If I want to eat less pasta, for example, I don’t forbid myself from every having pasta again. Instead, I crowd it off my plate with other healthy foods I love. Fighting something creates resistance. If you don’t like something, how can you crowd it out with something you love?
- As a person of power (by virtue of socioeconomics) it is my responsibility to help empower the disempowered.
- Expand, especially when my impulse is to contract. This means I make myself consider another side when I’m sure I’m right, look at my resistance and fear, question my beliefs and potential blind spots. We all have them.
- Love wins.
Once you are grounded and have more clarity, it’s time to rise up, my friends. Getting grounded is kind of like a shower, by the way. Just because you’ve done it once doesn’t mean you never have to do it again. What do you want to bring into the world? What is the world you’d like to inhabit? Focus close to home, at your work place, any sphere that seems most accessible to you. What lights you up? What comes easily? Do that. Let your actin give you heart. We are not necessarily all activists, but we all have something to give. Give your gifts without worry that they are not enough. This is our responsibility and our privilege.
The same questions that I encouraged you to ask yourself, turn outward and ask the same:
- What do you need?
- What can I do for you?
Did you know that plants become more nutritious when they grow in harsh environments? For example, drought-stressed strawberries contain more antioxidants and phytonutrients. Foods like lettuce and fruits can be nutritionally enhanced by cold, light, and water stress.
Consider this a stressful time that is pushing you to become stronger and develop qualities that make you more effective in the world.
Welcome the discomfort. We just never know what good may come.
I’ll leave you with this:
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.