For many of us, this past election cycle triggered a lot of pain, outrage, and fear. Our friends, family, and selves are divided, by turns angry, frightened, sobbing, or all three, amplified by the rage we saw around us and in sensation-grabbing headlines. In the USA, half the population now wonders if they will live through the next four years. Of course, many perfectly nice people voted for Trump despite his more unsavory fans. But those unsavory fans have been validated. The stories already have begun.
- A dancer went into an appliance store. She had always shopped there and been well-treated. On this day, however, she wore hijab, the headscarf Muslim women often wear. She was shocked to find herself followed around, condescended to, and generally treated like dirt. This was before the election.
- A gal in LA going to the market yesterday reported getting her crotch grabbed by a guy with a MAGA hat. He whispered, “Are you scared now, you liberal cunt?” Yes, she was. She took the Bernie sticker off her car.
- Many friends report rioting, threats, and unrest in nearby towns. Children are afraid to go to school.
- Muslims, people of color, LGBT folks, and women all wonder what is next.
- These are nothing. Shaun King is chronicling myriad such stories on his twitter: twitter.com/ShaunKing
Yes, this election is an American problem. But racism, sexism, intolerance, and bias are worldwide problems.
So what do we do? How do we go forward in the face of fear?
Stay in the present moment, focus on the good, and dance–but not just any dance.
Stay in the present moment
I went to a rough, scary school back in Junior High. It was in a neighborhood far from mine. I was a shy, quiet kid who got threatened regularly and hit or beat up more than once. I skipped school constantly to get a break. A few years later, I got a job in that same neighborhood. I had to take the same bus and walk on the same streets. I realized I was shaking with fear at the thought of going back there. So I developed a strategy.
I told myself that 99% of people are normal people who just want to get through their day (this is true). They have no interest in me. They don’t want to hurt me or harass me. I’m also different now. I’m older, smarter, more confident.
I made all that my mantra. I got on the bus, and I went to work. It took a lot of effort, but it helped that my mantra was demonstrably true. When I looked around (staying in the present moment), most everyone was just people, on their way to or from wherever they were going. And honestly, even at school, though I looked, acted, and dressed differently, the vast majority of kids never bothered with me.
Over a fairly short period of time, I was able to relax and stop being afraid all the time. When I got picked up in Cairo by a Muslim Brotherhood cabbie last year, I used the same strategy. It worked. I add long exhales now, and that helps, a lot. But the truth is, most people have their own problems. You are the last thing on their mind.
I know, that 1% of crazies are still out there.
They are angry. And they feel empowered. We may find ourselves in dangerous situations. But the more we learn to release fear, to keep our heads, the better a chance we have of getting away from them. And most of the time, we are worrying about them more than we are in front of them. This is key.
It’s waaayyy too easy to get into a downward fear spiral. It’s familiar ground, an addictive headspace, and it’s very hard to get back out again–and to stay out. But that’s what we have to do. Ninety-nine percent of the time, no one is attacking us. We are actually fine. But we feel like we are under attack. And worry feels useful when in fact it is destructive. Save your adrenaline for real emergencies. The rest of the time, breathe, open your eyes, and ground in the present. How do you do that?
Look around. Feel the safety of your space. Exhale for twice as along as your inhale. Keep doing this. You will feel calmer. Use your eyes. Look from side to side, up and down, focused and unfocused. Keep exhaling. You may feel shaky and weird, but then you will feel better.
People are mostly good. They are mostly trustworthy. What if we remember this, and repeat it to ourselves when we feel anxious? Studies show that we will be happier and have better health. When we focus on the good, we get the good.
Focus on the good
Dr. Kelly McGonigal wrote a thoughtful piece on finding good in this election cycle. She suggests that we do something, look for the good, and be the good.
- Do something: Read about what’s going on and be informed. You can start with Matt Taibbi’s engrossing (and meticulously researched) book, The Divide. You can find this in your library or as an ebook via OverDrive.
- Look for the good: There are good things happening all over, but they are hard to see when bleeding leads on every network channel. For example, Minnesota elected Ilhan Omar, a Somali Muslim woman, to their legislature. That’s pretty cool. Catherine Cortez Masto became the nation’s first Latina Senator. We also have a first Native senator (plus a Native federal judge, and the first disabled woman Senator to be elected (she’s also a veteran). http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/historic-firsts-achievements-election-day-2016/
- Be the good: A friend subscribed to several quality newspapers to support objective journalism. I donated recently to Standing Rock’s legal defense fund. Whatever is important to you, do something to help that thing along. Teach a class, make a video, or donate to a cause. Take some time or some money and put it to work for good. Or just be nicer to people impacted by hate and intolerance. Smile and be genuinely welcoming to people of color, LGBT, women, and refugees. Make someone’s day a little brighter. Little acts of kindness have a huge power to ripple outwards.
Dance (but not just any dance…)
Improvisational belly dance is one of the best things we can do to feel calmer, brighter, and more grounded. Especially when we couple dance with breath, when we let go of our cares and let the body just move and relax with the music.
Play easy music, relax, and enjoy yourself. Even a few minutes will help. And if you take 20 minutes to just play and relax, the effects last for hours. Click the purple button for a free booklet on how to release fear through belly dance. [sdm_download id=”3134″ fancy=”0″ new_window=”1″ color=”purple” button_text=”Release Fear through Belly Dance”][sdm-download-counter id=”3134″]
Take time to consciously relax.
That’s a hugely revolutionary act all by itself. Being kind to others, being kind to ourselves, dancing and having fun, all of these are far more subversive than they seem. Reject fear. It doesn’t feel safe to do so, but that is a self-perpetuating function of fear.
I send you my love and all my strength. I am here, holding you close in my heart, every minute of every day. Remember this.
PS last call for the Compassionate Critique Salon!
Do you crave honest, objective dance feedback?
(Wish it didn’t hurt so much?)
Here ya go!