I’m tired of this conversation, too. In fact, when I went to bed on the eve of the election, I was almost as excited to be free of the daily, in-our-faces Trump triggers as I was to celebrate our first mother as president.
I would love to move on to the many beautiful, progressive conversations we were going to have when Bernie was elected, or even the slightly-less-progressive-but-still-headed-in-a-comfortable-direction conversations we were going to have under Hillary.
But it seems we are meant to engage in rather different set of dialogues, for a time.
Though we’d hoped to be discussing creative ways, programs, and policies to increase our nation’s social and environmental justice, we’re now bracing ourselves for the battles we may soon be fighting simply to protect the progress that’s already been made.
Though we had hoped to be connecting with one another from a place of confidence and relative emotional security, knowing that at least some of our values were being represented within the new administration, we are now watching in horror as one position after another is filled by those who actively work against the values we uphold and strive to perpetuate.
Though just weeks ago, our hearts were filled with hopeful enthusiasm and dreams of much-needed revolution, many of us are now scraping the bottom of our psychic and emotional barrels, searching exhaustedly for the energy to rise above the sorrow, violation, and fear we feel.
This new reality of Trump at the top feels so daunting and uncomfortable, in fact, that if we’re not careful, we can easily fall prey to hopelessness, despair, victimhood, and paranoia, which make it nearly impossible to access creative solutions, empowered decisions, and healthy responses to the challenges before us.
Fear is crazy-powerful like that. It’s a dangerous lens through which to see the world, and an even more dangerous emotion to filter our thoughts through. Unchecked, it has the potential to freeze us in a state of emotional paralysis, cause knee-jerk reactivity, increase our cynicism and complacency, and render us ineffective and unclear during a time when our strengths, creativity, and conscious engagement are needed more than ever. Clutched within fear’s grips, our sense of reality shifts to accommodate our primal need to self-protect and fiercely guard the ideas and people we love.
Through the lens of fear:
- Even the most loving and trusted family members, neighbors, and co-workers no longer feel like allies, but adversaries, bullies, and traitors.
- Our curiosity and hope give way to feigned certainty, stubbornness, and sarcasm.
- We perceive threat and danger in once safe-feeling places, which greatly diminishes our openness and willingness to brave connections.
- Our options appear limited and our prospects for thriving, slim.
But fear is not always a truth teller. It’s not a goodness perpetuator, a peacemaker, or a consciousness cultivator. Fear is a trembling, terrified child who’s lost his mama and is too freaked out to remember his own name. Or, as Elizabeth Gilbert describes it:
“Fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL: He hasn’t slept in days, he’s all hopped up on Red Bull, and he’s liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everyone ‘safe.'”
In the wake of this messy, fear-invoking election, it feels absolutely essential to me that we lessen the grip of fear on our hearts and minds, not because everything’s fine and dandy, but because fear’s powerful, constant presence keeps us from seeing straight, and we need clear vision more than ever right now.
How do we go about this? How do we lessen the understandable and constantly-fanned fears of an entire nation so that we might be as effective as possible in standing strong, doing good, and creating change?
By focusing not on the fear at large, but the fear within our own hearts and homes. By honoring all this fear as a necessary and purposeful attention-getter, but ill-equipped and unqualified as our leader.
Fear points to our greatest vulnerabilities. It shows us exactly where we are tender and most in need of growth and healing.
When we learn to honor and tend to our fears without being ruled by them, we become powerful instruments for change, and more capable of leading with love.
Here are a handful of ways to keep fear from running the show:
1. Witness the trembling child within.
Though we may feel completely consumed by our fears at times, we are not. There is always a part of us that is not afraid, but witnessing ourselves feeling fearful. With practice, we can learn to access this wise, centered, divinely-connected part of who we are anytime we’re feeling anxious or unsettled. We can show up for the trembling child within us and comfort her with the gentle, reassuring presence of our higher self.
Try it for a moment. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and realize that you are not only the trembling child gripped by her fears and worries, you are also the one that sees her. This is the strongest, truest part of you. This is the part of us all that is most capable of healing our hearts, our communities, and our world.
2. Invite your fears to tea.
Because we’re wired (and taught) to avoid discomfort, we tend to do whatever it takes to make our feelings of fear and vulnerability go away as quickly as possible. We do this (often unconsciously) by employing coping strategies such as avoidance, distraction, righteousness, and heart hardening. But feelings don’t work like that. The more we ignore, repress, and dismiss our big emotions, the more deeply they embed themselves within our psyches. The deeper we bury them, the more they control us without our even knowing it.
A wiser approach is to pull up a chair for our fears and give them some loving attention. Tara Brach describes this as the act of inviting our fears to tea. I love to imagine my wiser, centered self (my inner grandmother) having a tea party with the scared or distraught part of myself (my inner child). The grandmother in me is gentle and caring. She creates a safe, nurturing space for the little girl to pour her heart out and explain everything she is afraid of or anxious about. The grandmother always listens intently, cares deeply, and never shames the little girl for feeling what she feels.
In this way and over time, our inner world begins to feel safe. We are never alone with our fears again once we realize we can show up for and nurture ourselves.
3. Catch your monkey mind.
Ever notice how crazy and all-over-the-place your thoughts get when fear is leading? The way I see it, this is our monkey mind jumping around and trying to find a safe place to land. When we notice our thoughts as thoughts (rather than truths), we can learn to create safe landing places for our unsettled minds.
For example, when I think the thought, “We have no idea what this man is capable of,” my monkey mind is triggered. It starts freaking out and jumping around from one disturbing thought to the next. It’s my job to notice what is happening (again, from my wise inner witness) and create a safe landing place. I often do this by adding an “and” to the end of my thoughts:
“We have no idea what this man is capable of and this country is made up of millions of good-hearted, hard-working people who will fight injustice with all their might, talents and resources no matter what happens. Furthermore, we are being held and supported by forces much greater than any one person or government. I am safe. I am held. This moment is full of goodness.”
It’s not just Pollyanna-like of us to look for the good and positive and true, it’s also healthy, empowering, and socially responsible.
4. Recognize our shared humanity and basic needs.
Though we may disagree with and feel confused by other people’s perspectives and choices, it helps to remember that at the core, all humans share the same basic needs to feel safe, secure, loved, and accepted. Because of our vastly different life experiences, we all attempt to meet these primal needs in different ways. When you feel threatened by someone’s choices or position, remember that they, too, are the product of a wounded, hurting world. Charles Eisenstein describes this idea clearly in a recent blog post. “We are all victims of the same world-dominating machine, suffering different mutations of the same wound of separation.” He also says, “Hate is just a bodyguard for grief. When people lose the hate, they are forced to deal with the pain beneath.”
We are all attempting to meet our needs and avoid suffering. Pain is a much more common motivator than hate. This knowing can help lessen our fears and and ease us back into empathy and curiosity.
5. Remember the messy nature of progress.
Progress is not always linear, logical, or pretty. Sometimes moving forward requires that we take a few steps back and rethink our strategies. Sometimes we have to dismantle and rebuild foundational structures that weren’t quite as sound as we had thought. Sometimes you have to pull out rows and rows of knitting to get back to the dropped stitch that, if left out and unknit, poses a threat to the beauty and integrity of the finished piece. Sometimes you have to stop ignoring the piles of junk in the shadows, flip the light on, and sort that shit once and for all.
That is what I see happening right now. Millions of disgruntled people have felt left in the shadows for too long. There were too many cracks in the foundation to ignore. We needed to lift the veils of idealism and denial, and look reality in the eye with respect and resolve. We must spend more time building rich, fertile, soil before anything healthy and strong can grow and thrive.
Progress and especially healing are often messy and painful. Remembering this can help us to see a broader purpose beyond the limiting lens of fear.
6. Connect courageously and often.
Fear dissolves quickly when we set aside our judgments and assumptions and brave connections. I have interacted with dozens of Trump supporters (and likely Trump supporters) over the past month. From casual conversations while pumping gas and checking out at the grocery store, to admiring the love my extended family has for my children, I’m being presented with constant opportunities to broaden my understanding of and appreciation for kind and loving people whose political positions baffle me.
It’s essential to remember that Trump wants us divided, not unified. This “us vs. them” mentality is one of the surest ways to keep us feeling fearful.
7. Focus on what you do have control over.
Uncertainty is a breeding grounds for fear, if we let it be. We are always more comfortable when we feel mostly in control and reasonably sure of an outcome. When it comes to this new administration, we have no idea what to expect, but a great number of indicators that trigger our sensitivities and cause us to worry.
Though we may feel out of control when it comes to the state of the world and our place within it, it helps to remember that control is largely an illusion anyway. I agree with Sean Stephenson, who says that the only two things we have control of are our interpretations and our reactions. This simplifies matters greatly. In any given moment, we can simply ask ourselves: How do I choose to interpret this set of circumstances, and how will I choose to react?
8. Prioritize self-care.
Self-care is never more essential than when our sensitivities are heightened and our fears triggered. Much like the weeks and months postpartum, extra care is required during vulnerable times in order for our strength to be restored. Making a commitment to honoring your needs — whether that means getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, checking in more frequently with those you feel well supported by, or spending time alone — is one of the best ways to stay centered and keep fear buckled safely in the back seat rather than driving our lives (thanks again, Liz Gilbert).
9. Find or build your circle of support.
Our fears lose their strength when we speak them aloud in a circle of caring, non-judgment, and support. A wise (unknown) person once said, “Some of the most comforting words in the universe are ‘me too.’ That moment when you find out that your struggle is also someone else’s struggle, that you’re not alone, and that others have been down the same road.”
10. Ask your higher power for help.
You need not be religious or even certain about where you stand spirituality in order to “qualify” for Divine support. In fact, it is often true that the hard times are when we realize our deep need and/or craving for spiritual guidance and connection. Surrendering our lives to a loving, creative power greater than ourselves doesn’t mean giving up and becoming passive, but recognizing our limitations, noticing our interconnectedness, and honoring our hunger for meaning and purpose.
Marion Woodman’s words have proven true for me time and again, “At the very point of vulnerability is where the surrender takes place – that is where the god enters. The god comes through the wound.”
11. Shed light on shame and comparative suffering.
Our fears are being fed right now not only by the media, people’s strong opinions and reactions, and the ever-evolving picture of what we’re up against for the next four years, but by shame, perfectionism, and self-doubt. I’ve observed many big-hearted, well-intentioned people wanting to take a stand or speak out, who end up hesitating and keeping quiet for fear of offending someone or being shamed for their relative privaledge.
Brené Brown helped me see this phenomenon as comparative suffering, which is the tendency we have to measure our hardships against the seemingly greater or lesser hardships of others. This common occurrence is counterproductive, divisive, paralyzing, and keeps us playing small. It causes us to feel afraid not only of the original source fear, but that we will be misunderstood and judged by the very people and causes we feel inspired to support and protect. It damages our self-trust, devalues even the most generous gestures and contributions, and leads us to believe that unless we know the “perfect” response, we’re better off not responding at all.
“Comparative suffering is a function of fear and scarcity,” says Brown. Perfectionism is the last thing we need right now, says I.
Though our fears may be many and overwhelming right now, it’s still just fear we’re feeling. Every one of us has faced our fears countless times and refused to bow down in submission. We have risen above them. We have risen despite them.
Yes, Trump is a dangerous man in a powerful position, and no, we don’t know what the future holds. But we give him way more power when we allow him to divide us, muddy our awareness, and dim our light.
‘Tis the season for shining,
“What if this fear caused the makers to stop making and the singers to stop singing and the lovers to stop loving…that would be another tragedy.” ~unknown
Announcements and Offerings:
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*Note: Only respectful comments are shared on this blog. Though I welcome thoughtful, kind arguments against my viewpoints, hateful, senseless and tastelessness comments will not be tolerated nor published.
**Photo credit goes to the amazing Jote Khalsa.