The hardest thing to do in moments of deep distress is to stay fully present.
It’s hard because the human brain and body learn quickly how to answer attacks they can’t escape: they help us survive by taking us somewhere else, anywhere else but here.
As I’ve mentioned, my brain recently took me away from the current administration by reminding me about The West Wing‘s Jed Barlet. This is a great thing. It’s just not the only thing.
“When navigating difficult relationships, what’s the difference between neutrality and numbness?
“It’s easy to confuse neutrality with non-variability. Non-variability is often achieved by developing a thick skin—becoming less reactive by keeping more out. And we may become increasingly numb in our quest to never let anything that anyone says get to us. But a higher expression of neutrality connects us more, not less, with the difficult situation. And we may experience intense emotions, or even abrupt and wild swings. But we always return fully to the moment, releasing any hooks to our recent experience. From this position of neutrality, we are able to write the best next chapter. We are fully alive! Fully feeling. And able to fully experience what’s happening right now.”
We won’t lack opportunities to practice this insight over the next four years. Tomorrow, for instance, I’ll wake up, get on the train to the office, and parse how the administration’s latest orders on crime affect my communities.
I can respond to this challenging now by taking a breath before I begin, interrupting the reflex to tighten up and lock down, insisting on a pause to feel, and disrupting the bio-neurological default to flee the present.
I don’t want to do my work numb, and I don’t want to get to 2020 carrying a hard heart.
Full presence is the hardest thing, and it’s also a gift. As we work to build solutions for the world, I hope more of us will give this gift to ourselves.