In the last few days more than one person has asked me how I cope with the upheaval – political, environmental, etc. – of this past year. How do you survive a psycho-social hurricane? Here are a few thoughts/tips I find myself considering as we transition into this New Year:
- Remember the truth of your good heart. There may be people in your life who can’t or won’t reflect this back to you. But underneath all our conflicts and disappointment, and their attending protective defenses that are hard for folks to like, is a basic goodness you can trust. Appeal to it, nurture it, talk to it. You’ll feel better when you do, and the people around you will notice and may even express appreciation. This might look a little different than the hilarious parodied efforts of Stuart Smalley. Less of a goofy self-centric pep talk, and more of an opportunity to re-find the parts of yourself that offer fuel for life’s tumult. In short, we need some conscious sense of our basic value to live a life we value.
- Take breaks for spiritual rejuvenation. Every healing tradition upholds the need for retreat. When we’re retreating from chaos or simply the banal distractions of everyday life, we’re more likely to notice our basic goodness and that of others. Find a place that’s relatively peaceful, with healthy food, and little to do other than walk, meditate and just be. The hurricane may feel less overwhelming after, more filled with meaning, and might even inspire a wish to skillfully respond.
- Find friends and communities where you are received with warmth and respect. We’re relational creatures, and we need – even the stalwart introverts among us – kind and caring others who can listen to us with an open mind. This might be a spiritual community or even a local coffee shop with a barista who smiles affectionately when you walk in. Breaking isolation with kindly others is one life-long way to get restored when our personal and collective hurricanes become too powerful to manage alone. It may feel totally counter-intuitive if you’re exhausted, but it will give you a needed reference point for what helps.
- Go against the cultural stream by taking things slow. In case you’re a serious “do-er,” I’ll just clarify that this suggestion is a little different from putting things off. Part of why we’re in a hurricane is that we’ve reached a cultural zenith of overstimulation. We’re encouraged to do too much and too quickly. Thich Nhat Hanh encourages his students to have a day of mindfulness. This is one way of describing the intentional process of slowing everything down so that we notice more. Give yourself 30 minutes to just drink your coffee, another 30 to just walk to the post office and deli, and at least 30 minutes to ask yourself what you most need from this coming year in order to feel that you’re living a life that you care about.
- Be willing to give up one or two things that get in your way of living well. For me, this is a near-nightly fix of news or Netflix, among a few other things. For you, it might be a commitment to a person or community that once served you and others well, but over time has been infused with a sense of fear, resentment, and obligation. Time swiftly passes, and while there’s so much good that comes from honoring commitment over the long term, we all need to discern what helps or prevents us from living fully. I encourage you to notice what you need to be in a life you value, and equally to notice what you’re ready to let go of. It might be a relationship to a substance, an experience, or a person. These courageous acts of renunciation are never easy, but always worth it. And if you’re gearing up for a change, remember to cultivate as much compassion for yourself and others as possible. It’s an investment that can’t go wrong.
Sending you love and blessings for a happy and healing 2020!