In Times like These (Again)

Well, friends, today is election day in the United States. We don’t know what the result will be or what the future will bring, especially since the current American President has been sending messages undermining the integrity of the election for months and has not committed to the peaceful transition of power that is inherent in democratic governments. There’s a very good chance nothing will be settled tonight, tomorrow, next week, or maybe even next month. And there is a lot on the line, not only for Americans, but for the whole world. This, coupled with the rise in COVID-19 cases in most parts of the world, means that this is an incredibly anxious time in the midst of a year that has already been unprecedentedly anxious for most of us.

Back in March, when North American jurisdictions were beginning to implement public health measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, I posted a few practices that can be helpful in cultivating calm, discernment, and hope in anxious times. In light of the heightened anxiety of today, I figured it would be helpful to bring these practices forward again, as a reminder of some of the small things that can help keep us in sound heart and mind during the coming days.

Without further ado, here is what I wrote in March:

  • Get the feelings out: In my experience, articulating how I’m feeling and why I’m feeling it is extraordinarily helpful when I’m feeling anxious or afraid. Journaling is a great way to do this. Or, if you’re an oral processor, ask a trusted friend to listen for a set time.
  • Put it in perspective: It’s often easier to jump to conclusions or to our worst nightmare scenarios than it is to see things as they are. Taking the opportunity to put things in perspective is a helpful way to turn down the volume on our fears. Some ways to do this are: “The Story I’m Telling Myself is…“, which is an exercise designed to get us our of our heads; and the Three Good Things and Three Hopeful Things practices, which remind us of the blessings in our life.
  • Pray: Once we’ve identified our feelings and put our situation into proper perspective, we can offer our cares and concerns to God. If words fail, or as a complement to them, praying through Psalms can be helpful. A few that are particularly appropriate for anxious times are: Psalms 23, 27, 34, 40, 62, 116, and 121.
  • Meditate: Meditation is a go-to practice for dealing with anxiety, but I find that unless I do some of the practices I’ve mentioned above first, it can be counter-productive and just ends up being me sitting in my worries and racing thoughts. But as part of a well-balanced diet of spirituality, there really is no substitute for the calming influences of meditation, including Mindfulness Meditation, praying The Jesus Prayer, or creating Mandalas.
  • Rest: The pace of twenty-first century life is simply unsustainable. While public health interventions like self-isolation (for those who are ill or close contacts of those who are sick) and social-distancing (to help slow the spread of pandemic illnesses) are certainly challenging, they also offer us an opportunity to stop the go-go-go and rest for a while. It’s okay to give your body and mind a break. In fact, it’s often the best thing you can do.

When it comes to times when everything seems to be happening at once (and all of it troubling!), there are no ‘answers’ or magic spiritual bullets that will make it all go away. These are legitimately difficult and anxious times. But, part of the advantage of being in a spiritual tradition is that it gives us a long memory, a memory that includes the experiences of those who have been through similarly challenging and anxious times, and the tools they relied on to get them through them.

And so, my friends, I encourage you to do what you need to do to be good to yourselves. Get out your thoughts and feelings, put them into perspective, pray and meditate, and rest.

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