I’ve been struggling for days to come to some clarity about how to hold the grief many of us are experiencing as a result of the election. Personally, I’ve gone through waves of deep sadness, a couple restless nights, and about 36 hours of believing that at some point I’d simply wake up from this dark dream. I’ve felt despair. I’ve felt incredibly motivated to engage. And at times I’ve felt strangely numb. Then suddenly, about 20 minutes ago, my fingers started typing out a set of instructions for myself which seemed surprisingly coherent and helpful. In navigating whatever you are going through, I hope these instructions help you too:
- Examine the function of thinking & behavior in this moment: are you co-regulating, catharting, necessarily processing grief, anger, fear that needs to be processed (either with others or on your own)? Or is this unnecessary rumination, driving you into the ground? Another way to look at it is: is this moment serving to bring you back into balance, encourage connection (even in grief), and increase awareness/compassion, or is it fueling divisiveness, pushing you further out of balance, and diminishing your capacity to take care of yourself and others and/or get through the day? It could be the same angry words, the same tears, the same painful phone call. The underlying motivation is what matters most.
- Notice what is actually happening now. In this moment there are many things you don’t know about how the next administration will look and what will happen. Most of what you are fearing is not a present reality. This is not a call for complacency or apathy, simply a way of bringing in present-moment awareness, so (again) you don’t diminish your capacity to act and engage with the world by spinning out about things not currently true. At the most basic level, when the nervous system is stressed, it may be helpful to reflect on your physical safety. Am in danger right now? The answer is usually no.
- Read whatever you can read, engage however much you can engage, expose yourself to the suffering of others even when their situation seems remote and hard to understand—but only to the point where it stops empowering you and starts burning you out. In other words, exercise your compassion up to, but not beyond, it’s limits. Who can you actually help when you have nothing left to give?
- Remember, underlying the tragic choices that many people made in this election is a deep fear and separateness, a justifiable sense of having been abandoned by the system. Every day you come into contact with other people. You may not be a political visionary or a world leader, but each moment of connection is an opportunity to plant a seed of empathy. Each store clerk, passing jogger, and delivery person is a human being. We all want and deserve kindness. You have the power to see the heart in each person you come into contact with (attune, listen, feel), and in so doing weave new threads into the fabric of shared humanity which is so in need of repair.
- Use your community. Spend time with people you love and trust. Don’t let your sadness be a reason to isolate.