Handling Pre-Midterm Elections Anxiety
I chose this photo because it accurately represents my mental state when I think of the coming midterm elections. I don’t know where or when it was taken, or who is in it. But you get it, right? The hair trigger tempers, dry tinder itching for a lit match. High tension. Zero trust.
This is no way to live, so how do I dial this anxiety down? I hate to admit it, but I don’t always want to. I find myself actually curating things that amp the anxiety up. I doom-scroll. If climate change is my ‘worry du jour,’ I watch YouTube clips of cars and houses floating by on the shoulders of the Fukushima tsunami. Or I find equally horrifying Katrina footage.
If the subject of the worry is political, then I cue the January 6, 2021 videos. I go looking for any authority out there who’s as scared as I am…someone to confirm my fears about the upcoming midterms.
(Did you catch that? I go looking for it…anything to actively worsen my own anxiety.)
But if there’s really a storm coming (whether geological or political), scaring myself to death beforehand is not the answer.
What is this all about? And how can I be a better citizen while also becoming a more balanced human being in the face of national, even international, planetary turmoil?
A reliable tool for me has always been meditation — noticing thoughts. Watching the mind like you’d watch a gorgeous little waterfall feeding into stream that trickles by on a hiking trail.
Do you know anyone in the presence of a waterfall, who says, “Wait — oh my God, that drop of water! It has to go!” Or, “We have to fix these rocks over here, first.” Or, “No! Look, on the other side. That’s what’s causing all the trouble.” None of us do that. We just stand there. We watch. We sniff the air. We listen.
The ‘work’ of meditation is exactly the same.
But that’s on a good day, when you can actually make the jump from “What are we going to do about potential violence during the midterm election?” to “This is a thought, a drop of water in the stream of things.”
That’s the ideal. But of course, rather than standing by a waterfall, our meditation can feel like being on a gerbil wheel. In a cage. In the basement. With the lights off.
No problem. Just turn the lights on and watch the process.
For instance, this morning, I watched the mind run, run, run on the wheel, from videos of forest fires and floods, to the survivalist aisle at Home Depot, to Oh! Oh! I know! I can man the phone banks! to googling the requirements for Canadian citizenship, to my feet hurt, to This is boring I wanna lie down, to Do we have enough oranges, I forgot to get them when I went to Keyfood.
Believe it or not, that is as successful a meditation as the waterfall/bliss one. We watch. We stay clear of judgment. We notice the Everyone-Everywhere-All-At-Once of it. And we hold the gem of it in our hand, the gem of That’s just what mind does, all day, all night. It’s not who I am.
Who I am is the one watching the gerbil with compassion. Who I am is the one watching the waterfall. Who I am is the one right now, typing on my laptop, sitting on the hard, wooden stool in my meditation room, and wearing my favorite green fleece jacket over comfy jeans and t-shirt, and my favorite socks on my feet.
Use the solution.
So, if you’re flipping out with anxiety about the state of the world right now, come back to this moment, and your own body in it. Come back to the breath. Even if your body and breath are hyperventilating. Notice it. The act of noticing can sometimes put just enough distance between you and What’s Scaring You. Also, get curious. If this anxiety were a color, what would it be? Where does it live in your body? What shape is it? Stay in the room with your feelings. Get to know them.
It’s hard. I know. But stay in the room. It will make a huge difference.
The venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese monk who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Take care of troubling energies like you would a crying baby. Don’t leave it alone inside of you.” Here is a deeply moving short teaching on that subject.
In order to heal the world, our country, our marriage, our body, we must cultivate our consciousness of how the mind works. We must train to stay in the room with our beliefs. We must breathe and breath and breathe through our many fluctuating states of being.
If we practice diligently in this way, we become stronger in the changing winds of politics, steadier in the crises, less prone to fear of the future. And we’re more present to the whole of our own lives — the joys, the challenges, the boredom, the blessings.
There are forty-seven days until November 8th. There will be an infinity of days after November 8th. I will take responsible action, doublechecking that I’m registered to vote. I’ll educate myself about the candidates. I’ll do what I can to dial down the snark and the rhetoric.
And I will be watching my thoughts, releasing attachment to them, waving as they flow downstream.