I want to start with a poem by Danna Faulds. She is cited a lot in the mindfulness community and I find her work to be supportive, especially right now:
the ruthless mind may dig to find what is lacking
but we are the love we long for
we are the love we long for
no end and no beginning
bigger than our deepest fear
fresh and clear in every moment
it’s love that makes us whole
I really needed to start with love, because I’ve found myself on the other side of that coin this week, starting around 6pm Tuesday evening. Trigger warning here: I am going to talk about the Presidential Debate. If you need to stop here, please take good care of yourself and do just that.
If you’re ready to hear more, come along now. Within 1 minute of the beginning of the debate, I was swearing! I regained my composure only to lose it again and again. My brow furrowed, my stomach hardened into a fist, my whole head lizarded forward like a scolding, enraged librarian. It might be really entertaining to watch viewers of this debate, all of us, all over the world, and witness the collective circus of reactivity it stirred. Would we see some shouting for decency, pointing to their armchair rule books, others planning out how to shelter from a torch-carrying mob, maybe others giddy with locking and loading? Before the end of the program, we were muting the interruptions, because we could! If only that remote worked all day long… Well, this meant we missed the rest of the charade. Thank god my wise husband suggested going for a walk, while I continued to spew about how wrong this was and how right that was. Then he calmly asked me to just let it go. What a relief. I had been suffering from the bullying, name-calling, continuous interrupting and lying. My body felt it all. Sticks and stones cannot compare to the searing imprint of harmful words. A survivor of both sorts of abuse says that the black eyes are easier because they actually heal. I had forgotten that I had the choice to let this go, for the moment.
When we succumb to fear we cannot access love. Our ability to love, to speak, think and act from our hearts, is what we all really want. Everyone. Each person, no matter what they say or do, thrives in the environment of love. Some people have had very little experience of being loved or loving, and for all of us, it might sound impossible or silly to prioritize love sometimes. Fear can mask our longing for love. Love can feel vulnerable, so we might learn to protect and even hide our potential for learning to love.
When we live in fear, our physiology changes. Muscles tense, heart rate and blood pressure increase, the functioning of all our systems (digestive, eliminatory, reproductive) decreases, thoughts race as we seek safety, as quickly as possible! Unfortunately, we may not make the best choices when we simply want to dodge the fire. Imagine a car swerving into yours, and the way you would react. Your body would seem to be way ahead of your mind, moving to your stress response (fight, flight, freeze or submit). Sometimes this stress response can be great at getting us out of immediate danger.
Once that danger is averted, we can and should calm ourselves as quickly as possible, so the body can resume its healthy functioning and begin to heal from any injury. Only by returning to a calm state, can we even have access to the parts of our brains that are able to make healthy, long-view decisions. The quick response can work well in the moment, powering down all other systems, like Scotty on the Starship Enterprise, to meet the danger. Once the true danger has passed, we need to turn the valve the other way, and get to work with real strategies for dealing with life (or Tribbles).
One tricky part of all of this is catching ourselves before we do harm. Thoughts speed up and the mind seeks weapons of defense and/or harm. Words fly, bricks fly, maybe nastier things as well…we have to catch ourselves. This is where we have to remember that we have choices. The hormones of stress response can mobilize us more quickly than a sale at Lulu Lemon, but with self-awareness we can resist harming and the intoxication of righteousness. My body experienced Trump vs Biden as a real threat. My swearing at a television may seem harmless because only my household can hear me – only those I love so much I live with them. Why would I harm them? My reactivity pollutes my own body with adrenaline and acetecolomyne. Why would I harm myself? My name calling and rage are the best I can do sometimes, and they might be just what I need, for a short time, to get mobilized into a long-term strategy. I can’t do this while my body is still dysregulated.
On Debate night, the walk was key for my recovery. I needed to get back into my body and reclaim it as my vehicle for loving. I also needed the calm presence of a person I trust. My husband’s simple words, “Let it go.”, reminded me of the way I want to feel. I want to feel safe, calm and able to love. I want to reach for compassion when I only feel aversion, to see past my biases and actually see the other person. I want to remember that we all want love but may have learned some backwards strategies to try to get it.
If my husband and I had both stayed in reactivity, we could have nastied ourselves into a mini-mob, snatching campaign signs from neighbors’ displays. If we had encouraged the replay of traumatic events, we would have experienced the physical flooding of hormones again and again. How many times have we revisited our break ups or being laid off from work? There is some fascination in replaying these, maybe disbelief or shock, and we try to understand our lives. I do encourage purposeful exploration of past experiences, but with a skilled facilitator, at the right time. The right time is NOT when the body is dysregulated or reacting to difficult things. The best supporter is also likely not in your family or bubble.
The next time you peer into those environments that trigger your reactivity, try to stay “awake” and notice how your body feels. Your self-awareness could mean everything. You may be lucky enough to have a calm person nearby or the wherewithal to reach out to one. Feel the lure of righteousness, or the familiar ground of victimhood, and contemplate the way you want to feel instead. Can you come back into your body with ownership? Can you take a deeper breath, relax your muscles, even consider a tiny smile, just on the inside of your mouth? Try putting a hand to your heart, letting yourself and your heart remember what matters most to you. What makes you whole? For the moment, don’t worry about what just happened, but come to the present.
Start “fresh and clear in every moment…bigger than our deepest fear…we are the love we long for… we are the love we long for”
In time, maybe we could all remember that we can be that love we need. That love is “bigger than our deepest fear”.
I want to offer the support of yoga therapy as well. Your body has wisdom, a deep knowing, of love. I can help you feel freer, more loving and open. These are troubled times and it’s easy to forget that love is always there, just waiting to be remembered.