The play on words is intentional and not lost on my political brain. About eight years ago, I abandoned politics and 24 hour news cycles in the name of sanity, health, and wellness. Between my youngest child who was highly sensitive to the news stories on TV, and the constant fighting instead of intelligent and tolerant debate, it became too much to stay positive and have it on in the background as I had most of my life. Over these years, I still took in my favorite columns like David Brooks of the NY Times and Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal. I love the way a column weaves story into current events and helps us make sense of society today, not to mention they get to use more than 140 characters. But my shift was real. I wanted to learn how to deal with my own emotions and pain in my life so I could heal myself and help others, starting in my own home with my four kids, and then work out from there, so I turned to self care, growth mindset podcasts, positive psychology, and books that helped me understand myself better from the inside out. My personal philosophy rose from this mindful journey:
“To create calm and connection with every breath and movement.”
It suits my personality and my gifts and makes me feel confident in my life path. Through it all, I have faith in God that assures me that there is more to this life than my own personal story, but also know that we each one of us is an integral character in the world’s story with the ability to make an impact.
2020 has brought a lot of pain to the surface. We have so much to wrestle with on a daily basis and the national dialogue feels fractured, contentious, and highly activated. This week alone, I’ve been moved to tears by the emotion that comes every year with the 9/11 anniversary, wildfires that threatened my family’s mountain cabin, full of pictures from generations past and 50 year old Clue and Scrabble games. The incredible bravery of the firefighters doing real work to save lives and structures shows us that there are real heroes in this world but then we turn to face the racial tensions in our country that although I will never feel the pain of first hand, I want to be part of the solution that moves us forward to a place that America has never been, but that I am sure in my heart we can go. Add to that a deep and growing concern over COVID and what it is doing to the fabric of not just our physical health, but our mental state as well, and there there is a lot to push through the sieve of my mindfulness practice.
What are the answers? Do we glue ourselves to the news in an effort to stay informed? Do we commit to a break or detox to bring peace to our monkey minds, or is it somewhere in between? Maybe it’s different for each of us, but as I see it, there is a common thread that ties together pain, passion, and perspective that can’t be ignored.
Exposure to the real effects of being human is a brave choice. In this life, none of us is spared painful circumstances, and, as it makes its mark on our lives, whatever our pain points may be, they influence our perspective. If we get real with them and process instead of bury them under a tough exterior, or allow that pain to dissolve into addiction, we allow our pain to give birth to passion that allows for freedom and change. As difficult as it is, pain can be one of life’s great catalysts for transformation that makes us stronger, braver, and a better version of ourselves. Left unresolved, pain in our lives makes us feel unsafe and guarded and we show up differently on the scene of our relationships, connections, and in debates about what makes the world a better place.
Pain —> Passion = Perspective.
When we understand this, we can relate to others, and even politics and policy in a healthier way. In its most gracious form, public policy should be community at work. We don’t have that on a national, statewide, or even a local level today. Power structures are broken, motivated by the wrong things, like wealth and a quest for more power. But when we take it back to our communities and our homes, connection by connection, I feel and see people that want to make a difference. We do it every day with the words we speak and the actions we take on the issues that mean the most to us. It’s part of being responsible for our own feelings and charting a productive course for our lives. The human experience can’t be fulfilled without connection with others, so we are challenged to lift our gaze to see into the eyes of another and allow ourselves to be moved, even changed, by their passion and perspective, instead of quickly dismissing them with a knee jerk reaction. To allow ourselves to be changed by someone else’s story that is different than our own is the greatest form of compassion, and one that it seems to me our cancel culture world needs to embrace now more than ever.
I see a connection today between all that I have learned from my wellness journey and how it connects to the burning torch of public policy, politics, and public opinion. I see ways that I can manage it and help carry it differently than I did in the past for myself, my family, and the community that surrounds me.
The more I understand about creating safety, security, and optimism in my own life through breath work, a mindfulness practice, healthy eating that heals the gut brain connection and helps us get the foundational good sleep that allows us to manage the stresses of life better, I see how it connects to open ears that listen for understanding instead of to react, and increased empathy that allows us to take in another opinion that differs from our own.
I have a deep desire to create safety for others who need to find their voice and be heard, because I understand how raising my voice and shining a light into the corners of my life where pain existed melts it away and creates freedom and connection.
Because everyone has a different life story, we all have different opinions that come from different places, born from the joy and sorrow in our lives. But as we heal ourselves and find gratitude for the blessings we have been given, we learn to feel safe in our own space. The next step is to open our ears and lift our eyes to see the experience of someone else, let it in, and in some cases even allow it to change us.
It is so important to understand that even though my passion isn’t your passion, because my pain is different than your pain, I can listen, and, out of your passion, develop compassion and understanding for how you have arrived where you are today.
Then we can come closer to agreement, we can agree to disagree, and if we commit to listen without judgment, empathy is born. We don’t need to compare and judge, or have an undying need to convince, we need to talk openly, have the courage to let the world hear our voice, and listen for understanding rather than to form a response.
Some of the pain points that have affected my life, helped develop my passion, and created my perspective, are addiction, co-dependency, autism, and divorce. My joys come from parenting, movement through sports and the connections that have defined my life in that space and still do today, and understanding the simple pleasures that make any day full…sunrises, water, movement, human connection, solitude, coffee:)
Tolerance comes from recognizing our own pain and how it has affected us, developing compassion for the pain of other human experiences, and finding gratitude for the joy that life has brought you.
How can we recognize our pain points, work through them in accordance with our values, and allow this work to shape our life, rather than bury them under the rubble of our path for it to erupt later and create societal problems that need to be addressed on a widespread basis? As we become more understanding of ourselves, we empathize with others and see with our own two eyes that every issue has more than one side…in fact, every issue has more than two sides!
There are very few absolutes in this world. The ones that do exist in my mind center around physical and emotional safety. Maturity is being able to live in a world of multiple truths. Seeing things in polarity is a attempt to control life out of fear that we will be smaller or less significant if we are wrong, or that we can’t adapt or handle the unknown. We have to get to a point as a society where we create enough emotional safety within ourselves and as a community to be able to consider different perspectives without reacting out of anger and absolutism.
Is it possible that there is both a need for better forest management and that global warming exists and contributes to the increased fire risk? Can you be utterly outraged and sickened by racism and police brutality and still support honorable law enforcement? Can you eat vegan while your neighbor looks for something to BBQ and still find connection around the dinner table? Can you believe that there are ways to support the immune compromised community in the face of a global pandemic and still embrace the idea of individual freedom, deep health, and people’s need to provide for their families, and commit to their work? Or at the very least, can you understand that someone has a right and reason to see an issue from a different lens than your own without stomping out their humanity?
Just like none of our lives can be summed up by one choice or action, the totality of our humanity is not encompassed in one belief.
Taking in all sides of a story instead of dismissing the one that doesn’t flow naturally for you is a challenge, but I believe it is all possible with the honest work that comes with choosing love over fear and living the mindful life. With mindfulness, we learn to deactivate our fight or flight response so we have less need to see the world in black and white, and also feel deeply the roots of our own uniqueness and autonomy. Mindfulness teaches us to let go of the desire to conform for fear of not fitting in because we know that when we fit with with ourselves first, strong relationships will form from there. It takes away the need to be surrounded only by like minds, and instead lets us feel the vitality that can come from healthy debate and challenging thoughts rather than the anger that rises when we feel threatened by something new.
In the end, I am far more interested in your kindness, generosity, acts of service, and respect you show the world than your politics. I see a future where we are inspired and able to open our hearts, minds, and homes to different opinions, where we can sit around the dinner table and learn and connect with each other and be inspired to take this sense of connection and understanding to a deeper level and to the ballot box no matter how you are going to cast your vote. That’s where mindfulness meets the gratitude that we can find for this great American democratic experiment that is not over and evolving every single day. I was blessed to be raised in a family that taught me civic responsibility through action, I haven’t missed an election since I was 18 years old, and I’m proud of the mindful call I have answered in response to life’s challenges. Believe that your energy and your voice are an integral part of this American life, and then work to make it true. Democracy is a privilege that takes our expression and participation, so take a deep calming breath and find that sweet spot where you are able to listen, learn, and let your own voice be heard.