In my relatively nascent understanding of Buddhism as a Westerner, this is hell. We’re living in a hell realm. The United States is in utter chaos and its residents live in fear and disharmony. You never realize how good you had it until it’s very obviously not good. What’s more: the biennial national agony is upon us — election season. And I happen to be working — and moderating social media — for a political campaign.
This hits my own special snowflake self in at a particularly brutal angle because I’m an empath (a person who is sensitive to others’ energy to the point that it feels like their own). An empath who has degrees in political science, international relations and works in journalism. Color me livid. I’m reminded of the week in 2008 when I was working as a financial journalist in New York City and a major bank failed overnight every day for a week. People were still hurrying along the sidewalks to work, ordering coffee and typing furiously into their Blackberries. Do they not understand? I wondered, with my mid-20s mind. Shit is falling apart and the general public is barely responding!? Before too long, I realized that macroeconomics and fiscal policy were beyond the grasp of most Americans, especially those in the legislature trying to create emergency policy around it.
But this time around, things are different. People understand. It’s hitting home. We’re seeing — literally — our loved ones attacked for simply being who or where they are. We’re seeing years and decades of institutional protection for marginalized groups and the environment disbanded for little to no conscienable purpose. And we’re all connected in a digital world where voices and opinions outnumber original, useful thoughts and ideas. In addition, this digital world can function as a distraction from the real, tangible world in front of us.
For me, self care is vital. After the Supreme Court hearings and the brave testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, I had to tune out for my health. I felt myself slipping down that dark slope of depression in light of the ongoing dehumanization of women. It felt like a loved one had died, when it was actually the expiration of my illusion. Still, I clocked out of news and social media for a few weeks — a luxury, I’m well aware — until this week, when I heard 45 was attacking trans people. So I tiptoed back into social media, largely to show my support for trans folks and reach out to my trans/non-gender-conforming/non-binary friends. I also caught part of a news brief on the car radio yesterday and after about 15 seconds, changed the channel because the sound of 45’s voice and the evil drivel it emitted sent a wave of dread through my being. I still feel a little sick from it. It can’t be just me. So, here are some self-care thoughts and tips for navigating this hell realm. They’re nothing new, but a little reminder can go a long way.
Also! If you’re not inspired to do this on your own behalf, maybe doing it for the benefit of others will motivate you. Sometimes, that’s what it takes for me to be good to myself. Bad vibes spread easily, so keeping yourself in a good state is a contribution to your community and the world. Hugs!
GET TF OFF OF SOCIAL
Even for awhile. Like a day, a week, etc. We’re so connected to this never-ending news cycle of shit and badness that our psyches start to crave it. This is not healthy. Please step away from the screen in general. You’ll feel the difference.
Be around trees and birds and squirrels, if you can. Walk, run, jog, bike. Gaze at the leaves on that tree and the flowers in those gardens.
TAKE A BATH
You stink! Well, maybe. Stink vibes? A warm (not hot!) bath with 2 cups of Epsom salts (which is actually magnesium, which relaxes your muscles), 1 cup of baking soda and a few drops of a relaxing essential oil like lavender can be very helpful. I like to listen to a guided meditation or practice mindful breathing in the tub. If I’m not too distracted by my gushing bathroom radiator.
You don’t have to sit in lotus position and chant OM to meditate. You can sit or lie down and simply notice your breath and your body as it breathes. Following this action rather than your normal, crazy monkey brain is super relaxing for your mind and body. Do it for one minute, 10 minutes or an hour. But definitely don’t stress about it. Your mind’s function is to wander. To be mindful is to notice it wondering and say, “Hey buddy, wanna come back here and hang out with me?”
Maybe you need more than a few deep breaths. Someone guiding your mind to a chiller space can go a long way. I like the Insight Meditation App. There are meditations for any outcome your heart desires. Insight also has talks and cool, chill music. The variety is astounding.
FOCUS ON YOUR HEART
This is a big one for me. When I get anxious, I notice that a lot of energy is swirling around in my head and my brain goes into overdrive. When I notice this happening, I try to take a few deep breaths with my hands over my heart. This is where I want my energy to be centered — in love. When I think and act from my heart, I know I’m coming from the right place.
“Free your ass and your mind will follow” is a quote I’ve heard attributed to George Clinton himself. And I concur. Shake your groove thing in your kitchen, living room, local club, park or, if you’re lucky enough to have one, local ecstatic dance group.
If you’re super stressed, check out some yin yoga practice, which is meant to calm the parasympathetic nervous system that’s responsible for the fight-flight-or-freeze response. Find some on YouTube, at a local studio or on subscription yoga-streaming services like YogaGlo.
You know you wanna pull out some scissors and magazines and create a collage! Or dust off that easel and paint it up. Art puts your brain in a different state. Try to do it for at least 45 minutes for max results. You’re an artiste!
I know all to well the realness of the temptation to just blare Pantera’s “The Great Southern Trendkill” and rage out at this bullshit going on. (And now, I’m questioning the counter-ideological implications of that record choice.) But guess what? That’s just a feedback look of aggression. Try some chill, ambient vibes or nature sounds. Spotify has a ton of cool “Mood” channels to fit your fancy, even it’s just old Weezer or something upbeat. I like Ambient Chill. *Avoid excessive minor keys and distortion* I know it can be hard, but your brain will thank you.