The Picture Does Not Match
It was worth the time invested, as I do have more clarity now. Watching the attack in Washington DC was deeply disturbing not just because of the mob violence and threats to the individuals inside. It was, I realized, the last vestige of an idealized version of our democracy here in the U.S. that I have clung to for a very long time.
George Washington wrote in a letter in 1790 that “The establishment of our new government seemed to be the last great experiment, for promoting human happiness…” I still hear our democracy referred to as an experiment, but if we haven’t moved out of the experimentation phase in over 230 years, at what point do we declare the experiment a failure?
Perhaps it is a permanent experiment, with some aspects continuously improving and others stuck. Brighter minds than mine will have to figure that out, I guess. But my low mood last week was really about external events not matching the picture I hold in my mind. Despite the fact that this country has never lived up to the ideals set forth at its inception, I carried a picture in my mind of a democratic society, where everyone has equal rights, where justice prevails, where everyone has the opportunity to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, where people come together for a common cause, and where there lives a spirit of cooperation, dedication and pride in our country. Despite the fact that this has never actually been the case, I think that phrase about this being a great experiment allowed me to believe that we were close to getting there.
The events of last week, the response to the pandemic and the last four years of a dismantling of ideals and progress have been a wake-up call. By holding that picture in my head, I may have blinded myself to a lot of our shared reality, so despite this sounding like a very dismal topic, it is in fact hopeful. Mindfulness is presence and awareness. By letting go of a fantasized picture of the country I live in and instead looking at it right now as it is, with awareness of its many short-comings, I can make better decisions. I can identify what I can do to help make things better. I can acknowledge that change is needed. I can accept that things are the way they are, not the way I want them to be. While the latter certainly looks better in my mind, it’s not true and I have to accept that. This doesn’t mean that we can’t progress. In fact, this is what true transformation looks like. The old has to fall to make way for the new and it’s messy and frequently painful. Do I like it? Absolutely not. It’s uncomfortable and disconcerting. That doesn’t mean I can’t observe what’s happening, however, with a sense of curiosity and nonjudgment, although I admit I’m struggling with the nonjudgment part of this mindfulness practice.
I’ve tried to focus in the last few days on what may emerge from all of this that is positive or how we can remain hopeful as events continue to unfold. We can be excited that many people are dedicated to change and to making this country a more equitable and just society, with the vast majority of them not being violent extremists, but intelligent activists and thought leaders. We can be grateful that in over 200 years, only one war has erupted in this country over our differences. We can be hopeful that this continues and we figure out a smarter way to understand our differences and consider our connectedness to each other and to the planet we live on. We can mindfully consider our needs as a society, beyond just our own individual needs. If this past year has taught us nothing else, I hope it has taught us that we need each other to solve problems and the price for being too individualistic is not conducive to meeting the demands of the challenges facing us.
While I’m still sad about what has happened and anxious about the potential of more upheaval over the next couple of weeks, I feel better overall understanding that I need to stay present and focused on what’s true, not just on what I wish was true. That’s in much better alignment with my possible actions and ultimately, better serves me and the greater good.
Many of us hold a picture of how things “should” be and this is the source of a lot of our suffering. The pandemic should be over right now. The government should have handled it better. People should wear masks. Sound familiar? The truth is, there is no should. We make it up as a way to feel temporarily better or more in control, but in the end, it makes us feel worse as we experience disappointment after disappointment that all of these people and institutions don’t live up to our expectations.
We can adjust our expectations. We can be open to seeing what is really occurring instead of making up stories in our minds, allowing us to perhaps come up with real solutions to our problems. And through mindfulness, we can learn to accept things as they are while still seeking ways to improve them. It’s not easy to do this. We’re conditioned to listen to our egos and our egos want to keep us in fight or flight mode. But we can calm the ego down by practicing mindfulness. The challenge, of course, is how do we stay mindful when external events feel out of control?
This was one of the questions I asked today’s guest, Janet Autherine, who rose from a voiceless child in Jamaica to a US Federal Judge and outspoken thought leader. She chose to create her own life destiny by focusing on purpose, embracing circumstances and walking in gratitude. Today Judge Janet owns her own publishing company, is a sought-after speaker, self-care activist, and serial author of ‘Growing into Greatness’, ‘Wild Heart Peaceful Soul’ and ‘Island Mindfulness’. Her mission is to empower others through the art of storytelling and the transformative power of mindfulness.
I really appreciated hearing about Janet’s experiences and gratitude for having the opportunity to come to the United States. It was perfect timing to hear this perspective as it points out that we might be living up to at least some of the ideals this country was founded on after all and I needed that about now. I also sincerely thank Janet for inviting us in to her Self-Care Sistas facebook group. I so agree with her that we need to practice radical self-care now and one of the best things you can do for yourself is join a like-minded community during these trying times
We are all experiencing a common struggle across the globe, so we can remember that we are not alone. We can practice self-care and self-compassion to keep our resilience and fortitude strong. And we can hope for the day that all of this is behind us. In the meantime, be kind to yourself, be kind to others, wear a mask and as our guest Janet Autherine suggests, remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Thank you again to our guest Janet Autherine for sharing her mindfulness practices. You can visit her website at janetautherine.com or join her Facebook Group, Self-Care Sistas, to connect with others practicing mindfulness.
It’s not too late to register for the Get Out of Your Own Way Masterclass Series going on now. My new friend Stephanie Reh, the Accountability Evangelist, has brought together 30 top influencers for this complimentary video training series on how to eliminate the beliefs, excuses, and distractions that are keeping you from tackling your most ambitious goals. The series runs from January 11-31 and you can access it by registering on our website and clicking on the banner. My segment, Overcoming Your Internal Doubter, will air on January 23rd, but in the meantime, there are lots of great teachers to share ideas and strategies to help you turn 2021 into a year of progress and success.