Using “Life Preservers”

Wow, and we thought 2020 was challenging! Apparently “It ain’t over yet.” I think it’s worth re-visiting what I said in a previous post:

. . . in the “spiritual” websites I sometimes read, there seem to be two camps: the “doomsayers-but-someday” crowd vs. the “we’ve-turned-the-corner” adherents. . . .

The “doomsayers” claim we’re heading into a VERY rough time when it will feel like up is down, and down is up. When what we hold as true is revealed to be false, and vice versa. When trusted, respected leaders are revealed to be villains, and those we view as despicable emerge as Humanity’s saviors. . . . It will upswing eventually but not without a lot of upset.

Personally, I believe we’ll reach the “we’ve turned-the-corner” point sooner rather later. But clearly we’re still mired in the “very rough time” right now, including a raging pandemic. The next however-long time will not be easy. It will probably be upsetting and maybe even scary. So how do we deal with the upset? Some thoughts . . .

Confession time: Yes, I sometimes get sucked in by the news and the chaos—regardless of my spiritual beliefs, and even recognizing political theater machinations, and fear mongering in the news. It causes me to spiral down into fear with a dash of hopelessness even as it inflames my fury at the widespread injustice and needless suffering. It’s upsetting and draining—emotionally and physically.

Thinking about how to cope with it all reminded me of when I was going through my divorce 40+ years ago. I was so upset I barely ate and lost 25 pounds in six weeks, and my emotions were all over the place making me feel erratic and even irrational at times.

But then I made three discoveries:

  • I read that any emotion that arises (especially during extreme stress) is completely normal.1 Just let whatever comes up, come up, and let it go. Don’t beat yourself up for what feels like “erratic and even irrational.”
  • I discovered the Five Stages of Grief by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross that helped me identify the emotional stages I was experiencing at the death of my marriage and my life as I had known it.
  • I realized—and accepted as OK—that the only way I could get through a day was to identify and do “What’s next” and then “What’s next” after that, etc. No planning, no To Do lists, no intolerable added pressure. Just “What’s next.”

These three things became my “life preservers” that I clung to for dear life. They helped me make sense of my emotions and provided a strategy to deal with my inertia. They were life preservers that not only saved me and kept me afloat, but also helped me counteract the upset and be calmer.

My point: to help us get through these challenging times, we each need to identify and use one or more of our own life preservers. Continue breathing-in self-reflecting and self-healing, and breathing-out society healing I’ve suggested.2 But add to it some feel-good distractions that can counteract the upset, and bring balance to your Being. These distractions can be small or temporary like trying out new cooking or baking recipes, or more long-term like starting a new hobby.

The key is that they are something we so enjoy, and are so distracted by, that we get lost in them (in a good way) and completely lose track of time. The chaos and issues of concern will still be there when you emerge from your distraction, but after a break away from them, you can go back refreshed and balanced.

Will this cure the upset? Probably not—it’s an undeniable fact that we’re facing big challenges right now nationally and globally. But at least our life preservers can help us get through it.

However, two caveats:

  • Make sure your life preservers are calming distractions. Sometimes as a distraction, I play Spider or Free Cell Solitaire on my iPad. It’s easy for me to end up playing compulsively, game after game after game after game. It becomes frenetic and actually increases my stress level, which defeats the whole purpose. So don’t do that. The second it begins to feel frenetic or stressful, stop.
  • Life-preserver distractions are NOT “New Year’s Resolutions.” I view those resolutions to be something that’s “good” for me but maybe a bit onerous. Rather, I view life preservers as feel-good, self-nurturing activities. Something you enjoy doing, something you can disappear into.

So let’s do this . . .

* Identify 3 feel-good, distracting “life preservers” that can help you maintain balance and calm. Include temporary short-term activities and maybe something longer-term like a new hobby or habit.

* Use them! “Just do it!

(NOTE: Consider doing this homework right now because rumors are we’re in for a very challenging few days this weekend and around Inauguration Day.)

One of my life preservers: instead of gulping down my morning Kauai Vanilla Macadamia Nut coffee sitting in our office and scanning political blogs—and getting upset, I can instead savor my coffee while sitting out in the sun on the patio, looking up at the clear blue AZ desert sky, and enjoying the breeze rustling the season’s last leaves on our apple tree.

And since I totally lose track of time and everything around me when I’m in creative mode, I can purposely set aside time to play with my crafting stuff (vs. obsessively, “perfectly” organizing it). Maybe I can experiment with a variety of techniques using my water-based or alcohol-based markers. And I just ordered a “bead embroidery” kit from Ukraine on Etsy—a brand new needle crafting hobby for me. (The instructions are in the Cyrillic alphabet. Ooops. I’m an experienced needle crafter but I’ll probably be watching a lot of distracting youtube videos to learn how to do this.)

How ‘bout you? What short-term and longer-term feel-good activities will you indulge in? Maybe start out simple and easy, and then take on long-term new hobbies or habits as you go along. (A trick to developing a new habit is to tack it onto an existing habit thus creating a pattern that’s easy to remember and adhere to.)

Whatever you decide, make sure it brings you pleasure. Even a little bit of an escape from the chaos goes a long way to balancing your Being.

I think we’re in for a rough time over the next few days, weeks, and probably even months. AND I’m absolutely confident that we’ll get through this. There IS light at the end of the tunnel, including different U.S. leadership and viable COVID vaccines. But also the light is powered by our positive energy and actions—our Light. Generating positive energy like “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” And doing actions like saying prayers and surrounding with Light. And yes, all the other things I talk about here, like breathing in and breathing out activities. THIS is a Path that will ultimately get us to where we want to go as a country and as a Humanity.

BTW—It’s a numbers game. Some estimates . . .

  • 2021 Capitol riot: up to 10,000 participants.3
  • 2017 Women’s March: 7+ million attendees globally on all seven continents (up to 5 million in the U.S. alone)—per Wikipedia.
  • 2018 March for Our Lives pro-gun-control event: 2 million attendees in the U.S. alone (plus attendees at 880 global events)—per Wikipedia.
  • Braver Angels (bridging the partisan gap)4: 6,000 global participants on just one zoom call.

A cynic might say you can’t hold back a flood with one sandbag. But I bet you can with millions of sandbags—if they’re filled and solidly grouped together. The loud “squeaky wheel” rioters may get a lot of news coverage, but there are way more people out here who want this country and Humanity to work. And it will—if we work together in a constructive and resolute manner.


Footnote:

1 Described in First person singular: Living the good life alone book by Stephen M Johnson.

2 See previous blog post, 2021: “Breathing in” and “Breathing out”.

3 The Conversation online article

4 Braver Angels website

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