Grass is greening, buds are plumping and daffodils have been pushing up through snow. And war is raging, people are dying of hunger, and the pandemic appears to be far from over. How are we to hold it all?
Sometimes I find myself feeling guilty that I am enjoying a relatively calm life with many moments of joy and serenity when so many around the world, including in the U.S., are suffering. And yet deep within, I know that my being riled up does not add a whit of peace to those in jeopardy. What it does do is add to my own anxiety – anxiety that can add to the anxiety of those around me.
I’ll hazard a guess that you’ve had the experience of walking into a meeting or family gathering and immediately sensing tension in the room, and that you have also had the experience of watching anxiety ripple from person to person, ramping up as it goes. I hope you’ve also had the experience that peace or focus or courage can ripple out as well – that one person holding their center can settle down a whole room. My hope and my prayer is that I can be that person more and more often.
So here’s the $100,000 question: How do we do that? How do we hold our center amidst conflict, suffering and uncertainty?
How Do We Do That?
I think each of us needs to find our own answer to that question, but here are a few things that have been helping me:
Acknowledge your emotions – all of them
When you feel like you are swirling around in your mind and about to be overwhelmed by it all (whatever “it” is), use the tools at your disposal to let your emotions flow. You don’t have to act upon your emotions, but you do need to acknowledge them so that they can move through rather than circle endlessly or ripple out onto others.
You may already have a way of moving through emotions. If not, you might try one of these:
“Spiraling In” or drawing your emotions: https://wingedlifecoaching.com/stuck-in-your-emotions-draw-them/
Welcoming Practice/Welcoming Prayer. Wisdom mentor William Redfield says that “The Welcoming Practice is intended to cultivate surrender to our deeper Self in times when we might be grasped and carried away by challenging feelings and situations that are difficult to endure.” Here’s a link to his guided practice of Welcoming Prayer: https://www.williamredfield.com/practice/welcoming-practice
Prayer of Lament. Lamenting is not just complaining. It is crying out to God/the Universe/All-That-Is in blunt confusion, anguish, anger, grief or whatever else is weighing us down – and then remembering and acknowledging both our own resilience and God’s provision. It is a structured practice of bringing emotions that sometimes feel overwhelming into the light of the Holy One. Lamenting may start with complaining, but it then moves on to a remembrance of God’s care for us: https://wingedlifecoaching.com/lament-its-not-just-complaining/
“Choose the river”
Janessa Gans Wilder’s story has inspired me. In an article in Spirituality and Health magazine, she recounts a night during the 2003 war with Iraq when she was working as a CIA analyst at a Special Forces base in Ramadi. She had gone for a run, and went up to the roof to cool off.
She says: “The base was along the Euphrates River and the first thing I noticed was the stillness. The only thing I could hear was the gurgling of the water and swaying of the bulrushes. The river was gently gliding, an intense blue matching the blue of the sky. I just wanted to float downstream.
Then it struck me that Fallujah was downstream. Not far away the river flows under the bridge where the four guards had been hung and on into the battleground between Marines and Iraqis. Whoa! It struck me how diametrically opposed those two images were: the quiet of the river and the intensity of the war zone. I couldn’t focus on both at the same time. A question formed, “Which one will you choose?” I had been unaware of the quiet stillness of the river amid the clash, and at that moment of peace, the stress and fear of the conflict were gone completely.
I choose the river, I declared silently, almost instinctively, seeing that it was the more powerful force. No matter how many bombs went off, the water flowed on, undisturbed, undeterred, unaffected. I sensed at that moment that, even in the bleakest of human circumstances, there is hope, there is life. We just need to open our eyes and see it.” (1)
Ms. Wilder went on to found the Euphrates Institute, a global network of peacebuilders and changemakers.
Remember that God is Bigger Than Brokenness
In her Ash Wednesday message, Episcopal Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe shared the following inspiration:
“The brokenness of humanity will never outlast the goodness of God’s grace within humanity… When we pray we look full into the face of broken humanity and say, we will not be defined by you, we will not live in fear of you, because we believe in a God whose grace is bigger than your brokenness.” (2)
Let Go of Trying to “Hold It All”
What if we don’t have to hold it all? More on that, and a few more things that help me return to equanimity when I start to get overwhelmed by it all, in Part 2.