One of the most desirable fruits of the recovery process is a greater sense of serenity and peace. Yet, for those who are recovering from addiction and trauma, each day can bring challenges, both large and small, to one's sense of serenity. Encountering opinions that are different from our own, especially when they bring our own values and beliefs into question, can certainly stir powerful emotions and threaten our serenity.
In the United States, we are nearing the end of a long political season, yet the grueling presidential election process is bound to bring even more opportunities for personal and interpersonal friction. Nevertheless, it is important that we remain involved in the political process and take part in civic duties. The question is do we let politics rob us of our serenity? And if our intention is to maintain serenity, how do we go about doing that?
Recently, I was faced with this very question when I received a politically charged email from an acquaintance. Fortunately, in that moment, I found just enough space and serenity to write my feelings down (instead of shooting off my mouth). My own political views and those of the email's author are not important, no matter where we stand on the political spectrum we will face moments when our serenity is challenged. Here is my written response in the moment that my serenity was on the line:
"A contemplative response (for my own sake),
My initial response to this email was a familiar one; I felt a tightening in my chest and a churning in my gut. The world around me seemed to contract and become very small, very narrow. The gentle breeze and the sun's warmth were lost as my mind fixated on little black letters and the spaces between them.
Thankfully, I happened upon a moment of pause a brief opening of light in that familiar dark tunnel. In that micro-moment of pause came space and I realized that what I was reading and feeling wasn't the totality of me in that moment. In that space, I could reach out and feel the rushing of the river without getting carried away in it.
The space also brought a sense of curiosity and openness about what was happening inside me. It came to my mind that, far from being an exercise in logic, rational thinking, and reasonable dialogue, politics often strike at the heart of our perceptions of ourselves, others, and the world around us. For me, politics are wholly an emotional affair.
Having been happily derailed from my usual emotional ruts, I reread the attached article with a degree of mindfulness. Instead of finding my old friend "anger", I touched into a deeper well of "fear". First and foremost, I could sense the author's fear: fear of differentness, fear of powerlessness, and most of all, fear of change.
It was as if the author's barbed terms were meant to catch on the fabric of time itself and stop the world from spinning out of control. Often, implicit in this idea is that, as a society, we can pull from our past a caricature of security and purity and somehow freeze the present day in its image. Yet, this would be like flying into space, chasing the brilliant shimmer of a desired star, only to find that the star had long since disappeared, leaving only its light to travel through space.
The essence of life is change... to fear it is to fear life itself.
The other emotion I found under my defensive anger was that of "pain". At first this was confusing and uncomfortable. Paradoxically, it is much easier for me to sit with anger than with pain. In anger, I don't have to look at myself, there is plenty for me to blame "out there". However, in pain, I am invited to look inward to find the wound.
As I sat with the uncomfortableness of the pain, I began to see its source... for me, it stemmed from the idea of "separateness". The author uses highly-charged terminology that I think is meant to create a sense of distinction and separateness; an "us-against-them" mentality. It seems to me that the very purpose of the article is to use fear, anger, and anxiety to "call people to arms" and to "take sides".
Indeed, my initial response to the article was to tighten, constrict, wall-off, and begin drawing lines in the sand as an effort to define myself as separate and different from others. Somehow it seems "safe" to separate myself from others, to try and define people and issues in "black-and-white". However, I am beginning to understand that, for me, there is only emptiness to this sense of separateness.
As my approach to the essay began to soften, I felt a compassionate connection to people who fear that their most basic beliefs will be challenged or changed and to those people
who feel a need to separate themselves from others to maintain a solid sense of themselves. I also found in myself tenderheartedness for those individuals who feel desperate enough about their circumstances that they join an imperfect social movement, hoping for something better for themselves and others. In the end, these people didn't seem so different from each other or from me.
In many ways, we are all searching for ground in a world that is inherently groundless. We want bedrock, we want "a sure thing", we want predictability, and we want security.
For me personally, I feel more peaceful these days when I acknowledge my own fear of change and the pain I feel when I attempt to separate myself from others.
I find serenity in just recognizing the groundlessness of our common situation... and out of that commonality comes a feeling of compassion.
(By the way, I'm now feeling the gentle breeze and the warm sun here in Arizona... it's pretty nice.)
Thanks for the email,
Certainly we need people who are politically minded, that is people who are interested in the political process and make efforts to fulfill their civic duties. However, in a world that is increasingly divided along stark ideological lines, we also need people who are politically mindful. When we can mindfully respond instead of emotionally react, our political efforts can come from a place of inner meaning and truth. In that mental and emotional place, our political activism can be devoid of harsh judgment and filled with deep wisdom- something this world desperately needs. During this political season, let us cast our vote while maintaining our serenity.