In a time of intense political and social illness, many of us are doing what we can to face a bombardment of challenges often without releasing inner distress. Such holding, often without recognition, is harsh on the heart, and can be a form of self-inflicted violence, contributing to disconnection, chronic fatigue, shortening of breath, and a shortening of life. This, I worry about! Within such intensity, we believe the relief we need is outside of us, which is only partly true. The other part of the truth is that the immediate release from the distress we often feel is more in our control.
Nora, a white woman I coached in 2016 for several months and an experienced meditator and business consultant, came to a session in high distress over a list of wrongdoings by President Donald Trump. After a bit of settling, I invited her to close her eyes and to give her attention to the exhales of her breath. Once she settled and her full body appeared to be breathing, I said, “I want you to bring the image of President Trump into the center of your heart and mind and tell me, as you look at him, how you feel inside and what you want.” Nora replied:
I feel agitated and nervous. I’m trying to stay away from my head, so I’m scanning my body for a safe place. Fear is present. Something feels like a threat. Yes, I feel afraid for myself and for others. [long pause] I can see him—Trump. My chest and the palms of my hands are hot and sweaty. [long pause] I want to push Trump into a chair, put my hands on his shoulders, and put tape over his mouth. I want to say to him: “You cannot move until you understand the impact of your actions and your responsibility. Until you get this, you cannot be the president.” [long pause] I want to hold him here in this room until he gets it, and he may never get it. I want to protect him from himself, like a parent would do with an out-of-control child. I see many wise and caring people surrounding him, to contain him with care, and to heal him and all of us. [long pause] I can feel my spine more. [She was sitting up straighter]. I feel clearer, more open. I’m clear about what needs to happen. He needs to be contained because he cannot contain himself, yet he is an ominous threat. [long pause] I need to contain him, not attack him, but to not let him hurt others. I want to pour love on him until he changes, and he may not change. Maybe he stays here in this room for the rest of his life. Maybe he wouldn’t change, but everyone else would be safe. I will pray for him, for his well-being and his peace—for without this, he does not have a chance to feel for others. And I will do everything in my power to organize with others to make sure his harm stops.
Nora’s release from inner distress came not from Trump changing, but from giving her attention to moment to moment present experience. She was able to pause and track what was arising in her mind while noticing the impact it was having on her body. The aim of this inquiry was not for Nora to seek a way to literally restrain Trump in a room; rather, this exercise allowed her to release her distress, to feel the power of her own restraint and compassion, and to align with her deep value of non-harming and wise action. Giving pause gave relief and ripened clarity. With such refined moments of inner freedom, we harm less, connect more, and do what must be done with more stability and wellbeing.
Reflect with regularity: In what ways can you stay embodied and care more for your inner distress while doing what must be done in these challenging times?
Excerpt from Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out, Ruth King