I have been struck in several recent conversations by how clever our minds are at deceiving us, warping reality to fit our preconceived notions of what kind of people we believe ourselves to be. These cognitive distortions are dangerous when it comes to the spread of COVID.

On one hand, people feel they are behaving responsibly and claim they are doing a great job of following safety protocols to reduce their risk of contracting or transmitting COVID. However, in the next moment, they report on recent outings that are clearly contrary to the safety protocols. More importantly, they seem not to notice the dissociation. Our egos are so good at rationalizing any potential slip-ups to keep us feeling righteous. But, in doing so, they put us, our loved ones and others at risk.

In one such conversation a friend shared with me her and her family’s diligence in wearing masks and social distancing, while also reporting being bewildered by the fact that several members of her immediate and extended family had contracted COVID. I had witnessed on social media multiple instances of potential exposures, so was less surprised than she.

What makes us feel so invincible? Why is it so hard for us to change our behavior to fit the need of the hour?

Habit, for sure. We’re used to spending time with friends and family without masks. The tradition of gathering for Thanksgiving and Christmas are long-standing and, for some, unquestionably required events.

But, I think these cognitive distortions are bigger culprits in putting us at risk. We think, “just this one get-together, “just with this one other family,” “just this one short weekend get-away,” or “I’m sure this person has been safe like me and is fine to spend time with indoors.” We rationalize anything that is potentially risky, and distort ourselves into believing that we’re being safe. And, COVID flourishes .

I was frustrated this morning reading about a gay circuit party happening in Puerto Vallarta this weekend for NYE. With the Puerto Vallarta hospitals at 100% capacity and cases rising across the US, who would think it a good idea to fly to a huge dance party with hundreds of strangers without social-distancing protocols? It could be another super-spreader event like the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota.

Was this newsletter meant to cheer you up and help you feel more hopeful for 2021? Well, I’m not doing a good job of that. But, hopefully it invites you to be mindful of how your mind is also playing tricks on you. This is a human brain problem, not something specific to a subgroup of careless, thoughtless people.

What are you rationalizing as safe? What are you ignoring to feel okay about your activities? What distortions are tricking you into feeling like you’re being a good global citizen?

I know it’s easy to judge the actions of others, like the anti-maskers and the Rona ravers. But, more helpful is to see the seeds of their behaviors that are also in you. Instead of us vs. them; try a more accurate, we.

I’ll be exploring mindful ways of coping with COVID in two workshops coming this month (details below). I look forward to seeing you all soon in 2021.

May You Be Safe. May You Find Peace.

Every fall one of my students, Ashley, always dreads having to give a presentation to the parents of her incoming elementary school students. Leading up to the presentations she feels her chest tighten and her breath shorten. Sometimes it feels like she can’t take a breath, and that makes her even more anxious. She worries that her nervousness will make a bad impression on the parents.

Ashley’s breathing difficulties are common among people who are stressed and anxious. Anxious breaths tend to be fast and constrained to the upper lungs. Scientists have shown that this fast, shallow breathing triggers mechanisms within the amygdala, your brain’s threat monitor, similar to those triggered by anxiety.

Ashley studied with me to learn how to use mindfullness and controlled breathing to calm her anxieties. She shared the results of her practice with me:

“This year was my most successful presentation, in large part due to mindfulness and controlled breathing. Every time I felt a wave of nervousness I noted, “Nervousness is here,” and practiced controlled breathing. It calmed me down. I did this several times in the hours leading up to the presentation and experienced a wave of calm each time. Once the presentation began, I felt more at ease than I ever had before. When I felt nervous during the presentation, I would take a slow breath, and it calmed me. Since I was calmer, I was more confident answering questions and talking with parents. In the past, I would drive home feeling embarrassed. This year I drove home feeling proud.”

This month, I will offer a special workshop where you will learn breathing techniques that help calm your nerves so that you’ll feel more at easy and are able to sleep better (details below). This is a great tool to have in your mindful toolbox, and something you can easily share with your friends and family. I hope you’ll join us.

In the meantime, “It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life for me, and I’m feeling good.”

The trial and verdict of the murder of George Floyd has stirred up our collective emotions around racism and fairness. For too long, we white folks have taken the more comfortable road of avoidance, which has allowed the perpetuation of violence and discrimination against our friends of color. I understand. It’s uncomfortable facing the truth of white supremacy, and our role in it. The anti-racist books I’ve read and documentaries I’ve watched this year often leave me angry, sad, distraught, overwhelmed, at a loss, ashamed, and guilty. Avoidance is undoubtedly a more comfortable path.

But then I think, “if just reading about these injustices leaves me feeling this upset, what could it possibly be like for the victims? How do they cope with a past, a present and a foreseeable future full of discrimination?”

I also recognize that in my pursuit of a peaceful life for myself, I am becoming less tolerant of things that cause distress. White privilege gives me the option of ignoring the pain caused by racism, as I can put down the anti-racist work I’m doing any time that I feel unwilling to bear the discomfort it evokes. The victims of discrimination don’t have that luxury.

In order to face hard truths, of any variety, those of aging, loss, uncertainty, poor health, etc., we need to get better at dealing with difficult emotions. The next Applied Mindfulness will explore being with emotions that we’d rather not feel.

When you’re less vexed by challenging emotions, then you’re able to face difficult situations with greater skill and compassion. When you’re lost in struggle, compassion for yourself and others seems to be nowhere in sight. This mindful work will help in not only reducing your own pain, but set you up to be able to be an agent of helping alleviate the pain of others.

Let’s lean into this together.

I was listening to a dharma talk by Sylvia Boorstein a couple of weeks ago, and she was telling the story of a friend who had been diagnosed with cancer; it was pancreatic cancer. And her friend was asking Sylvia’s advice about how to handle what she was going through. 

Sylvia was reviewing the mindful approach of acceptance, even accepting things we don’t like. Sylvia suggested that if she had a hard time with acceptance, at least try not to be mad about the cancer. Then her friend replied, “Well, I am mad about it. I’m definitely feeling angry.” 

“Well then,” Sylvia continued, “try not to be mad about being mad.” But her friend added, “Well, I am mad about being so angry. I don’t want to be angry, so I’m upset with myself for being so angry. I noticed myself thinking, ‘why me? Why is this happening to me?’ It doesn’t seem fair, and that’s why I’m angry.”

Sylvia encouraged her friend to keep stepping back and accepting whatever was there, not simply the cancer, the treatments, the nausea, the hair loss, etc., but also the reactions like her anger and her frustration with her anger. 

On a subsequent call her friend said, “You know what? The other day as I was in one of my self-pitying ‘why me?’ riffs, when I suddenly thought, ‘why not me?’ Cancer happens to people. I’m a person. Cancer happens more to older people; I’m an older person. Why would I think that I should be one of the ones who gets off the hook? And, this thought of ‘why not me’ actually softened my resentment towards the cancer, and made me feel less angry about having my reactions about having cancer. It helped me to accept my humanity including this part of my humanity.”

I loved hearing this story. Acceptance is one of the most powerful tools we have in our mindful toolbox for reducing suffering and building peace. But, it’s hard. We are so conditioned to react aversely to something the ego deems as unpleasant or unwanted. Our minds are so good at creating the ideal of how the world should be, how others should behave, that it creates upset when the world doesn’t show up as we planned. And we have all heard that “why me?” in our own internal dialogues over things much less dire than pancreatic cancer.

Why not me? Yes, I’m human. Our humanity is a mix of pleasant and unpleasant. Of course, some challenging, unwanted experiences are sure to come my way. Why not me?

When I have tried practicing with “why not me” over the last couple of weeks, it quickly has softened my upset. It has also helped me shift my perspective from the ego that feels thrown off course by whatever ill wind happened to be blowing at the moment, to a place of appreciation that the painful circumstances that I am dealing with are so manageable compared to what many face. It puts me in a mindset of being able to handle the problem, rather than feeling victimized by it. 

Think of something that has been bothering you this week, or trace back in your mind to a moment when the “why me?” dialogue showed up. Retrospectively apply “why not me?” Explore. Maybe you’ll find appreciation for some of the smaller difficulties you’re facing, recognizing that it’s not pancreatic cancer.

It is not surprising to hear yoga teachers espouse the benefits of the practice. Sometimes, it feels like I’m a PR machine for yoga, reporting the latest research that shows how it helps eliminate stress or reduce bad habits, or deal with anxious thinking. Or, reminding students in class that this particular pose helps with digestion or remedies low back pain. Whatever it takes to get students into their practice, I’m happy to pass along. 

But my love of yoga and belief in it as a system of mind/body evolution doesn’t come from any research; instead, it comes from my first-hand experience with it. I feel like I owe a lot of my happiness and current place in life to yoga. Yoga has worked its transformational magic on me, and continues to do so. Yoga provided a means for developing insight into my habits of mind, and how those habits kept me stuck in fear. So much of my striving for success and accomplishment was simply a reflection of the fear of not being acceptable as I was, without a long list of impressive credentials to cushion my inherent flaws. Being at the top of the class, at the top of my field were just manifestations of insecurity. 

Developing acceptance of yourself as you are, acceptance of others as they are, and acceptance of life as it is marks a true gift of yoga. Sure, it also makes us stronger and more flexible and more balanced, but those superficial benefits don’t have near the impact of acceptance on our overall sense of peace and contentment. Sure, it’s nice to ache less, to feel stronger and more able-bodied, but can feel sublime to simply be content with what is. 

As I continue to evolve, both internally and externally, through the practice, I have made an intention of sharing this practice with others, that they may also know the peace that acceptance affords. 

The tricky thing is, however, is that yoga is a practice, not simply a body of information that once you’ve been exposed to and understand manifests directly into your experience. You have to continuously use and develop the tools of awareness to cultivate insight into what is driving your thoughts, actions and words. In other words, it takes effort. It takes commitment. It takes time.

But, if you can take my word for it, effort and commitment and time that are SO worth it. I can’t imagine someone being disappointed that they decided to invest more energy in their yoga practice. How? Take more classes, is the easiest way. Start your own home practice is upping the ante, as it is making you the responsible driver of your yoga ship. Read yoga-related books and immerse your mind in the principles of the practice. Learn the yamas/niyamas (ethical guidelines on which the practice is framed) and practice them. 

If you want to reap the benefits, you have to apply the effort. I hope you will consider how you might increase your investment in your sanity and well-being through this peace-giving practice.

I am just back from a wonderful adventure through parts of New Zealand and Australia.  Throughout or trip, my husband and I kept noticing how friendly everyone seemed.  Granted, much of our exposure was to folks working in the service industry, as we interacted mostly with waiters, shop-keepers, and the like.  However, even the people doing airport security or driving public transportation were remarkably kind.  When have you last seen a TSA agent smile and joke with you?

We wondered about the source of this friendliness.  Steve thought it might be related to the absence of gun violence in NZ.  Though New Zealanders own a lot of guns, gun-related deaths are rare, especially compared to what we see in the US. I imagine that the high quality of living probably contributes to a more friendly demeanor among New Zealanders.  They have free health care, so no one is worried about going broke over medical bills.  I’ve read since returning that levels of racism are low in New Zealand.  The population is relatively small (5 million) and multi-cultural.  Though white people make up the majority, they come from a variety of backgrounds.  New Zealand is a relatively young country, so there is less a sense of established “us vs. them” groups. Its population is highly mobile, so they have the custom of meeting and integrating with new people.  New Zealand also has some of the lowest corruption rates in the world.  Another thing to keep in mind is that tourism is a big part of their economy, so the social norm of greeting strangers warmly has an economic benefit. Some propose that New Zealanders are friendly because the indigenous Maori are friendly.

Whatever the cause of this frenzy of friendliness, I was struck by its effects on me.  I have written before about my experience with homophobia, and the impact it has had on making me more socially withdrawn, as to avoid potential negative interactions with strangers who may be homophobic.  Normally, in new cities, I am more conservative in outing myself by holding Steve’s hand as we walk, or getting too close when sitting in restaurants.  I have an automatic spidey-sense scanning the environment for potential harm coming my way.  However, with all of the explicit friendliness offered to us, I felt more comfortable in my own skin.  I felt less socially withdrawn and more willing to engage strangers in conversations.  The experience of swimming in that sea of friendliness helped me see again how much my own projection of potential danger blocks me from connecting with others.

Friendliness begets friendliness.  This is a bit of a no-brainer, but yet still provides a powerful lesson in noticing our habits.  Past traumas can leave us stuck in a habit mode that does not reflect the truth of our current circumstances.  My past experiences with homophobes has left me gun-shy around strangers.  My fear brain highlights potential dangers, even when the likelihood of those dangers is small.  While I can appreciate how my fear brain is concerned for my survival, I must also recognize that it biases my view of others unfairly.  

Mindfulness helps us discover ourselves again and again, and grow through the practice of observation.  What past hurts are still driving how you interact with the world today?  What message is your fear brain sending?  How are you distorting the present moment by looking through the lens of past harms?  

With these insights, we can start to unstick ourselves from the places where we’re stuck.  Look below to discover opportunities to practice mindfulness to help your continued evolution.  It’s never too late.  We never stop growing.  

Those of you who are students at Namaste Yoga have already heard the news of the studio’s closing.  I interviewed with Kimberly, the owner, shortly after moving to Oakland from New York City fifteen years ago.  We met and chatted on the sidewalk outside the Rockridge studio and hit it off right away.  The studio has since supported my practice as a teacher.  Over the years, I have moved most of my mindfulness training from my home studio to Namaste, and have enjoyed sharing the gifts of yoga and mindfulness with what must be now thousands of students there.  

I am heart-struck by this closing, and I understand that you may be feeling the loss of this sacred gathering space, too.  By happenstance, this week I have been teaching about dwelling in uncertainty, originally intended to address our shared experience of the COVID-19 pandemic.  I didn’t realize the teachings would come in so handy as we face the uncertainty of what yoga will look like in the coming months and years.  It seems evident that it is not wise to gather for indoor group practice, no matter how much we wish otherwise.  (For more details, I highly recommend this educational article on viral transmission).  I hope to schedule some outdoor yoga options this summer.     

For now, I want to offer my deep gratitude to Kimberly Leo, the woman whose vision birthed Namaste Yoga and whose labors brought it to fruition.  I appreciate her unflagging support of me as a teacher, which has allowed me to share the gifts of mindfulness and yoga with all of you.  I also want to shout out to the studio staff who have handled all of the behind-the-scenes details that keep everything running smoothly, especially the managers Mae, Tosha and Emily.  

And I also want to acknowledge all of you students who have walked into my classes and given me the opportunity to share the gifts of these teachings.  I feel lucky to have be exposed to yoga and mindfulness some twenty years ago.  These tools have been essential in my own personal evolution, helping me deal with my own anxieties and pains, and helping me live with more contentment and ease.  I feel blessed by whenever I can share the practices with you.  

Though the physical and virtual doors of Namaste Yoga are soon closing, I am confident our practice of yoga will continue to adapt and endure.  On that note, I invite you to join me at one of my upcoming Zoom yoga classes or workshops.  The pandemic has created a whole new level of stress for many of us.  So, it’s obviously a time we need tools to deal with our anxiety, and ways to receive regular support in our training.  Please read on below for details of upcoming trainings. 

For now, I send you a big virtual hug and wish you and yours safety, health, and well-being.  

What an interesting time we are living through now. Fraught with extra doses of stress and anxiety, no doubt. But, also ripe with the possibility of living a simpler and more easeful life. I, for one, have been faring well, thanks in part to my mindful toolbox. 

It is okay that you are feeling more stressed these days, as you navigate living through this global pandemic. Being sheltered in place, worrying about your health, dealing with financial uncertainty, being concerned about your loved ones, and not knowing when and how all of this is going to end all contribute to being more anxious. When your fight or flight system gets turned on by circumstances like these, it can get stuck in overdrive, and you feel more emotionally volatile. Little things that normally you could take in stride bother you more. Your fuse is shorter, and you get more easily upset with loved ones. Your anxious brain chugs into the wee hours, and you may find it harder to sleep. 

For me, Nature has always been a go-to for improving my emotional state. When I was young, I didn’t fit into the mold of what was expected of a mid-western farm boy. I was teased for how I behaved and didn’t know how to cope with the sadness and isolation I felt. What would help were long walks in our woods, hours spent wading in the creek observing the fish, water bugs and butterflies and the song and dance numbers I would perform for our horses and cows safely secluded in the back-back fields. I also loved to grow things. My grandpa and I were the family gardeners. In fact, my first claim to fame came at age seven when I got my name in the local paper for growing an enormous sweet potato. Today, my garden still brings me joy. It provides a safe haven where it’s easy to feel at peace with the world. How can you be ill at ease surrounded by such beauty?  

Being in Nature also helps me stay in the present moment. It’s important to remember, especially when we are dealing with the unknown, that you only have to manage what is on your plate today. Trying to manage all of your future plates would be overwhelming for anyone. When you come back to the here and now and acknowledge, “I got this,” you can flip the switch in your brain that may be fearfully whispering, “it’s got me.”

I’ve also been feeling very grateful lately. I am grateful to still be able to teach amidst our sheltered state, albeit electronically via Zoom. This month, I will be offering my course on dealing with anxiety, as well as an applied mindfulness course for returning students. You can read the details below. If you need some help coping, please be in touch. I am happiest when I am able to share with others what I have learned in dealing with my own anxieties and upsets. I can attest that these tools work, though they do require effort on our part. 

Hope you are able to get outside today and enjoy some time with Mother Nature. For now, here are some flowers from my garden.   

All of our diatribes against Donald Trump, against his racism, homophobia, mysogyny, xenophobia, greed, ego, etc., all reveal aspects of our common consciousness. Growing up in America, we are all trained in these beliefs to various degrees: that Blacks are inferior to Whites, that gays are aberrations of nature, that men should be the heads of the household, that foreigners are dangerous, that making it in the world means being rich. To deny your own racism, homophobia, mysogyny, xenophobia, greed is to deny your truth.

In this regard, Donald Trump may be the perfect candidate to highlight our nation’s shadow – that aspect of our common consciousness that is there, but often hidden beneath a facade of good manners. His hate-filled campaign has brought to light aspects of our culture that definitely need improvement. Accordingly, his main-stage presence provides a chance for you to look inside yourself and witness the remnants of your enculturated biases. You can see places where you judge others, where you are biased against some group or person, where your ego blocks you from a compassionate response when others are in pain. Can you let DT be a wake up within your own life to the residual hate that you carry. Can you accept that all of the name-calling towards DT could be applied to you, too, and to all of those around you, even here in our liberal bubble by the Bay. Let his presidency be a time to recommit to your chosen values, to mindfully become aware when some form of judgment or harm-doing arises, and to practice acceptance and kindness more broadly and more bravely.

Mindfulness highlights the fact that whenever you are awake and aware in the present moment, the gift of choice is there, too.  You can choose your next thoughts, your next words, your next actions.  When you are not mindfully aware, then you are propelled by your habits.  In whatever ways you have responded in the past is how you will likely respond again.  Someone pushes your buttons, makes you feel uncomfortable, and your habitual reaction to button-pushing emerges.  

To develop individually and to evolve as a country, you need to wake up to your habitual reactions that are perpetuating the hate, otherization, name-calling, greed, etc.  that you claim to disavow.  These may show up in subtle ways, e.g., avoiding family members who hold views different than your own, tending to veer to the side of the sidewalk or placing a firmer grip on your purse when approaching a person of color, getting caught in the retail frenzy of the holiday season,  claiming color-blindness in regards to racial differences, etc.  

I have always liked this garden analogy.  You hold within you the seeds of love and hate, of acceptance and aversion, of all qualities.  With your thoughts, words and actions, you are constantly watering certain seeds, and thus growing those qualities.  

To stand against racism, homophobia, mysogyny, xenophobia you must be on the lookout for times when you are, even in subtle ways, even unintentionally,  watering the seeds that perpetuate those traits.  And, in recognizing those habits, make choices that cultivate your values of human kindness, equality, acceptance, and generosity.  

Facing the negative within ourselves is challenging, for we don’t like to acknowledge that we are perpetuating the same qualities that we judge in others.  Thus, this practice takes courage to shine light on our own shadow and meet it with honesty and compassion.  

As you approach the New Year, take some time to consider Gandhi’s quote.  What is it you want to represent in the world?  What change to you feel energized to get behind?  What do you see in our country that needs watering?  

I am committed in my teaching to cultivate greater acceptance, of oneself and of others.  Using Gandhi’s quote as inspiration, I wrote a devotional song to share with my yoga classes.  The words and a link to the accompaniment are available below.  

As I was making copies of the words for class, I was waiting in line at the copy store and finding myself upset by the slowness of the young lady working there.  I was cutting it close time-wise, and started blaming her (in my thoughts) for potentially making me late.  Because I had been singing this song in the car on the way to the copy shop, I started singing it in my mind as I impatiently stood there.  The words of the song hit me, and I smiled to myself realizing that here was a chance to let go of judgment, to practice the mindful tool of acceptance, to be compassionate towards this person working on a Saturday morning so I could get my copies, to be the change I wanted to see.  

I hope you take the song with you and sing it.  May it help train your heart to be more accepting and remind you of your ability to CHOOSE to speak and act in ways that align with your values and intentions.  

 

Let Me Be the Change

Let me be the change

Let me be the change

Let me rearrange my heart.

To accept those who differ

To allow what might seem strange

Let me be the change.

We’re all here together.

We all feel love and pain

On the surface we may differ.

But beneath we’re much the same.

 

So,

Let me be the change.

Let me be the change.

Let me choose from love not fear

And not respond to hatred

By adding yet more hatred.

Let me be the change.

Not man vs. woman

Not black vs. white

Not christian vs. muslim

Not left vs. right.

Let me be the change.

Let me be the change.

For

We’re all here together.

We all feel love and pain

So let us, let us be the change.

So,

Let me be the change. {choose love}

Let me be the change. {not hate}

Let me be the change.

Abiding Difficult Emotions

It has been a turbulent week for most of us.  And we may not know the best way to hold the feelings of fear, anger, resentment, and despair evoked by this Trump win.  These difficult emotions can easily propel us into unskillful actions, where we are more likely to cause further harm to ourselves or others.  How do we step above the impulse to just meet fear with fear and hate with hate?

I’m writing to remind you of some of the mindfulness tools in your toolbox that can help you navigate your experience more gracefully and compassionately. 

First, begin with Awareness.  Notice how you are feeling in any given moment.  Painful emotions are uncomfortable, and may lead you to distract yourself from them through a myriad of avoidance strategies, e.g., eating unhealthful foods, consuming mind-altering substances, binge-watching Netflix, shopping, etc.  The mindfulness practice invites you not to run away from direct experience, but rather to be with it as best you can.

Second, cultivate Acceptance.  Allow yourself to be angry.  Allow the tears to flow.  Allow sadness to be okay.  That which we resist persists.  So, let it flow.  Let it be.  Give yourself some space to experience whatever shows up.  Remember Rumi’s Guesthouse and invite it all in, “even if its a crowd of sorrows that violently sweeps your house empty of its furniture…still, treat each guest honorably.”  If you try to control or suppress your emotions, they only get stuffed under the rug to pollute your system.  Better to let them out.  Remember the eternal law of impermanence.  Everything comes and goes.  Allowing your emotions doesn’t mean you’re stuck with them forever.  This, too, shall pass.  You are only asked to accept what is present in this moment.  Ask yourself, “Am I okay right now?  Can I allow my present experience to be here?”

And in the space of acceptance, next Choose how to direct yourself.  With the Choice tool, you have unending options, but you are making a conscious choice how to proceed, instead of just sliding into an automatic habit response.  With difficult emotions, one good choice to incorporate is the Peaceful Pause.  When you speak or act impulsively out of anger and fear, you often are adding more hate to an already difficult situation.  Though it may feel good to the ego to make yourself right by pointing out how the other is wrong or by blaming someone for your discomfort, we don’t need more divisiveness right now.  If you know your words will cause harm, refrain from speaking them.  Can you express your point of view without causing harm, without judging the other person’s experience?  Challenge yourself to speak from kindness.  

It is within the choice tool that we grow our value-based life.  For example, if you have the intention of harm-reduction or the intention of promoting kindness, you can filter your choices through that intention by asking:  Is this kind?  Does this cause harm?  

The Peaceful Pause also gives you space to take care of yourself.  Put your own oxygen mask on first.  Breathe deeply.  Thich Nhat Hanh offers practices for transforming fear, including this simple breathing meditation:

“Breathing in, I know that a painful emotion is present.  Breathing out, I calm that painful feeling.”  

Even with difficult emotions, you have the capacity to soothe yourself within the span of each breath you take.  That breath may not eliminate the pain, but it can soften it, and in doing so, help you recognize your own efficacy in dealing with challenge.  Instead of being the victim of your emotions, you learn to work with them.  

Intentional Self-Care

Now more than ever, it is important to take care of yourself.  Make a plan on how to be kind to yourself.  Get to yoga classes.  Take a hike in Nature.  Cook some healthy food.  Dance!

Below, I share my Wednesday-morning post-election practices that helped me stay more grounded and calm amidst my upset from the unanticipated election results.

 

I woke up at 2:00 am and debated for a second whether or not to check my phone for the results.  I checked.  I was shocked, and felt a mix of fear, anger and disbelief.  My fight or flight response was off and running, and I wasn’t able to sleep any more that night.  Due to a cancelation in my morning schedule, I had a few hours to tend to myself and work with my emotional upset before I had to go teach.  

The fight or flight system releases a barrage of neurochemicals that prepare you to fight or flee.  Our ancestors expended a lot of energy running for protection or defending themselves against a predator or foe.  This energy expenditure would help metabolize the activating neurochemicals, like adrenaline and cortisol.  If you just sit on those emotions when fight or flight is activated, it takes much longer to release those chemicals, and they keep you keyed up and anxious for a much longer period.

I started my day with my usual morning meditation, but then did an hour of Zumba to dance out some of my adrenaline.  I love to dance, and it always helps me reconnect with joy.  

TIP:  Do something you love this week.  Burn some calories to metabolize any residual cortisol or adrenaline that’s still mucking about.  

Nature is also a great tonic for the addled soul.  I next took a long hike in the Chabot Park with Sophie, my dog.  Breathing with the trees, feeling the sun, noticing my feet connecting the the Earth, watching Sophie gallop down the hills all helped to ground me in the present moment.  I noticed that, at least for right now, everything was still okay.  My mind was projecting doom and gloom into future moments, and those thoughts were further stimulating my upset.  But, the truth was that in that moment, I was alright.  

TIP:  Get out in Nature.  Focus on the present.  Remember that acceptance is for the here and now.  Can you accept this moment? 

Fear also makes the ego more prominent in our thinking and actions.  I was personalizing the result and fearing what a Trump/Pence win might mean for my newly-legalized marriage, or to my sense of safety as an out gay man, not just here, but traveling to Red States.  

One remedy to get out of the ego, is to connect to common humanity, and remember that other people are having a rough time, too.  By taking perspective, we can often see that what we are calling problems are just blips on the radar compared to what others are facing.  I feel for people of color in rural areas facing a president supported by the KKK.  I feel for people of Arab descent in a country filled with such fear of Muslim terrorist.  I feel for women in a country who just elected a man with reported sexual assaults against women and whose language promotes rape culture.  

Relativizing your own fear can help bring you out of fear and into compassion.  Remember, we are much more the same than we are different.

During this thought process, I remembered the student who had cancelled that morning due to illness.  So, I made up some homemade chicken soup and took over to his house.  

TIP:  Doing something nice for someone else can soften you own aggravated feelings, and help you reconnect to kindness and love.  If not in action, think of others and their situations.  Hold them in your heart with compassion.

Accepting the Shadow

More on the tool of Acceptance.

On the path of self-improvement, we need to notice what needs improvement.  Your ego functions to make you feel like you are always right, always good, always just.  The ego can distort your perception of the world and your role in the world.  Your ego can distort truth to bend it to its own agenda.  It hides inconvenient truths of your short-sidedness and your own wrong-doing.  

All of our diatribes against Donald Trump, against his racism, homophobia, mysogyny, xenophobia, greed, ego, etc., all reveal aspects of our common consciousness.  Growing up in America, we are all trained in these beliefs to various degrees: that Blacks are inferior to Whites, that gays are aberrations of nature, that men should be the heads of the household, that foreigners are dangerous, that making it in the world means being rich.  To deny your own racism, homophobia, mysogyny, xenophobia, greed is to deny your truth.  

In this regard, Donald Trump may be the perfect candidate to highlight our nation’s shadow – that aspect of our common consciousness that is there, but often hidden beneath a facade of good manners.  His hate-filled campaign has brought to light aspects of our culture that definitely need improvement.  Accordingly, his main-stage presence provides a chance for you to look inside yourself and witness the remnants of your enculturated biases.  More generally, you can see places where you judge others, where you are biased against some group or person, where your ego blocks you from a compassionate response when others are in pain.  Can you let DT be a wake up within your own life to the residual hate that you carry.  Can you accept that all of the name-calling towards DT could be applied to you, too, and to all of those around you, even here in our liberal bubble by the Bay.  Let his presidency by a time to recommit to your chosen values, to mindfully become aware when some form of judgment or harm-doing arises, and to practice acceptance and kindness more broadly and more bravely. 

The Stories We Tell

One of the central tenets of mindfulness is that it is not so much the people and events in our lives that cause our distress, but rather our reactions to those people and events.  When you find yourself wigging out about DT and the next four years, notice the story you are telling.  

Question your story objectively…

  • Is it true now?  
  • Am I exaggerating how bad it will be?
  • Can I really predict the future?
  • How likely is it that what I am fearing will actually happen?

Wake up to your story, and notice you can choose to change your story to one that aligns more closely with the objective truth of the moment.  Use the fear story as a wake up to your values.  How can they manifest in the scenario you’ve envisioned?  Tell a story that incorporates your intentions and values.  This can help you move away from a fear-driven life, and towards one motivated my love.

I’ll close for now.  I hope these words are a benefit to you.  

May you be safe.

May you be healthy.

May you find peace.

Namaste,

Domonick