“Relax and breathe,” the nurse instructed me just before giving me my flu shot. “Boy that was easy!” I responded.
What good advice for all of us these days. Relax and breathe. Just as I needed that flu shot to help me face the threat of the flu virus, we need to be healthy in mind and body to face the challenges ahead.
On the one hand, we cannot remain in a constant state of fear or perpetually poised for action. We cannot afford to neglect the basic needs of our lives and our families. This is not indulgence. Basic self-care is essential to carry us through the coming days, weeks, and sad to say, possibly years of adversity. We do need to relax and breathe and feel gratitude and joy for what is still good.
And on the other hand, we dare not become so complacent, so comfortable, that we lose sight of the fear that has overtaken our Muslim neighbors, the immigrant community, people who depend on Obamacare, and so many others who are nervously waiting to find out how this new administration will affect us. We need to reach out to those who are isolated and alone in their pain, and respond appropriately.
Several gatherings in the past few days opened my eyes to the wide range of emotions people are feeling in the aftermath of the election and the many coping mechanisms available. At the Moral Revival Service of Hope and Transformation, I heard a clear call from people of faith to hold onto a vision of a better world, held together by a love that unites, rather than divides. It was a call for compassion.
At a gathering of political activists, I heard the heartfelt desire of many to take action in response to the violence we are already witnessing, and to be prepared for destructive policies yet to come. It was a call for vigilance.
Here at HBT, we want to provide the spiritual and communal resources to help us all be our best selves in the days to come. Here within our walls, we seek to create a holy space for safe sharing, for hearing one another’s pain, for grounding and rejuvenation, and for engaging in effective action.
Finally, a warning. We are all subject to fear and anger. These emotions reside in that part of the brain that functions independently of reason. Even in our own like-minded communities, our anxieties can overtake our better natures. With the world feeling so out of control, we might recklessly hold on to anything that restores a sense of control. Without attention, we might harm our closest family members, friends and allies. We must resist turning on one another, much less attack those with whom we disagree!
Just as we need to remain vigilant to safeguard fellow citizens, immigrants, and democracy itself, so we must be vigilant to resist our own worst instincts. Such vigilance need not be exhausting, if we take the time to relax, breathe, and pay heed to our own inner turmoil. I offer this excerpt from Psalm 33, translated by Norman Fischer, for guidance from those who have faced, survived, and overcome adversity in the past.
Happy is the one who is forgiven
Whose wound is healed
Happy the one restored to your harmony
In whose spirit there is no more deceit
When I held my silence
My bones grew brittle with crying all day
For by day and night your hand lay heavy on me
And my life’s moisture dried up
Through the long droughts of summer
But then I turned toward my mistakes and shortcomings
Knew my unworthiness, did not cover it up
I said, “I will confess all this, since it is so”
And you forgave me for what I am
Therefore let all the faithful
When they find their confusion find you
And pray that the waters of self-delusion
Won’t crest to crush them in their time
You are my shelter
You help me withstand my suffering
I endure it warmed in the winds of your exultant songs
I will instruct and I will teach the way to go
I will counsel, my eye is on you….