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In an offhand comment before class the other night, a student shared this insight. (Thanks, Marina!) Roughly paraphrased, she said:
There is a particular anxiety gripping most of us right now that has to do with anticipating the inauguration this weekend, and the uncertainty of what will follow. After it’s over, we might actually feel less stressed, not because things are going to get better, but because we will be in the difficulty, as opposed to just waiting for the difficulty to begin.
My therapist says that anxiety is an anticipatory condition. Its potency lies in the vast unknown of the future. When we don’t know what the future holds, but we expect it to be good, that’s called excitement. When we expect that it will be bad, that’s anxiety. Lately anxiety has been the constant thrum underneath each thought, each conversation, and each breath of many of us.
Right now, we are bracing for impact.
I keep thinking of the metaphor of a car crash with a drunk driver, in which the sober victims are badly injured because they braced for impact, tense with awareness, while the inebriated driver walks away unscathed because they were loose with ignorance.
All signs point to the fact that a Trump presidency, coupled with a conservative-dominant House and Senate, is going to be a trainwreck for many of us. For poor people, Black people, queer and trans people, Muslims, immigrants, women, we are all at risk of harassment, financial loss, bodily harm, or even death. This is a terrifying prospect, and I don’t mean to imply that we should minimize it.
I’m not advocating for a lack of awareness. If anything, we must maintain and even increase our resistance. Vigilance is required. My question for us now is: can we find a way to be aware but still loose? Can we anticipate without anxiety?
If we are to survive in the long term, I believe that our strategy must also involve softness. Chronic bracing for impact is a surefire way to drain your energy, tax your nervous system, and deplete your strength. Softness, spaciousness, looseness must all be part of our practice, otherwise we run the risk of burnout.
In this system, in the words of Audre Lorde, “we were never meant to survive.” Let us not harm ourselves from the inside out. We have a long road of resistance ahead of us. I plan to be on it for the next four years, eight years, seventy years, but I know I can’t do that if I’m constantly stressed. We can’t afford to lose any of us, so how are we going to take care?
Hold yourselves and each other with softness. Find spaces where you feel safe and spend time there. Care for each other. Care for yourself. Spend time with trees and grass and sky. Breathe slowly. Cook dinner with friends. Without rejecting your experience of anxiety, create opportunities to discharge the stress. Do so with softness.
P.S. I'm teaching a workshop series in a few weeks on how to use yogic practices to manage anxiety. I'd love to have you there. Click here for more info and to sign up.
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