Simple Advice for Complicated Times
Many of us have been experiencing a lot of anxiety and uncertainty over these past few weeks. Sometimes the issues are personal stemming from our intimate relationships or work situations. Sometimes they seem more global as we navigate the stormy seas of a new and unpredictable political administration.
These times make clear to me the thinness of the line between personal and political, because when we are in the terrain of disturbance, the landscape is similar regardless of the cause is. We are living in a field of intense uncertainty. Problems that appear to be personal are, in some way, a product of the emotional atmosphere of fear and strong emotion present our country now. It can be helpful to remember that what we are feeling is not just personal, but an expression of something larger that we are in the middle of.
One of the tools I have found helpful in working with states of fear and agitation is a teaching of David Reynolds, the founder of the short-lived branch of new age psychology known as ‘Constructive Living.’ He offered a three-step teaching for living in disturbing times: 1) Feel your feelings. 2) Remember your purpose. 3) Take the next step.
- Feel your feelings. Reynolds begins one of his books with a wonderful rant about the mystery of feelings. In spite of what psychology sometimes claims, he says that no one knows where feelings come from, what they really are, or how to ‘fix’ them. Feelings come and go. You may have noticed this yourself. One morning you feel panicky and uncertain, the next you feel settled and grounded. Feelings come and go. They are the weather of our lives. Sometimes the sun shines, sometimes the snow comes. Sometimes the shift is gradual, sometimes sudden.
To feel your feelings, means to be present to the weather of the moment. They’re already here anyway. Instead of fighting them, trying to change them or getting lost in figuring out who is responsible for them, you can just feel them. We can simply be present to what is already here.
- Remember your purpose. This instruction invites us to turn our attention to something deeper. Rather than trying to fix our feelings, we let our feelings be whatever they are and turn toward some sense of what it is we want to move toward. This purpose appears at many levels. Purpose may mean what we want to accomplish in the next interaction: ‘I want to communicate my position clearly and without blame.’ Or it might be more global ‘I want to be an instrument of peace in the world.’ Purpose is what is calls you to something more than the immediacy of the moment. What direction are you headed in? A purpose might be prosaic – to find a job that pays me enough money to live on. Or it might be transcendent – to wake up to the truth of life—to move closer to God.
Whatever purpose you find when you turn toward your heart is fine. The point is to touch something more than the weather of the moment – to remember what you’re really here to do.
- Take the next step. This is the step that moves us from navel gazing into engaging with the world. We take some action in the direction of our purpose. It doesn’t have to be the best step or even a big step. The point is to DO something. When we do something, we learn something. Even the wrong direction is fine because we learn what not to do. Every action we take leads us into the world that generously gives us feedback. This world teaches us how to be ourselves – teaches us what works and what doesn’t work. The only thing necessary is to step in the direction our what we truly want, then notice what happens. You don’t have to be right or wise or good.
So, a big thank you to David Reynolds, whom I have never met, as I pass this framework on to you. If you’re intrigued, give it a try and see what happens.