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The Pain In The Room

The Pain In The Room

There is always pain in the room.
— Peter Frost

Good afternoon, world.

It is November 9.

Half of the United States has just chosen Donald Trump for their next president. 

I want to begin this piece by saying that while I am not (yet) an American citizen, I have spent my entire adult life thus far living in this country. I moved to the US when I was seventeen years old, absolutely enraptured by the spirit of hope and optimism that could be found here. In the United States, you are encouraged to dream and to challenge and to push and to transform, something that I found unbelievably appealing and inspiring. While I cannot fully and completely relate to those who were born and raised here, I do feel deeply connected to this country and plan to spend the remainder of my life here. In addition, I want to recognize the privilege of my identity as a heterosexual white woman, afforded many rights that others who are equally as deserving are unjustly denied. It is in the spirit of love for this country, a belief in the potential of our world and our people, and an utterly unshakable mission to help those who need it, that I share the following words. 

Okay. Exhale. 

First, I invite us to feel this moment however we need to. 

For those who feel that they have lost, your pain and fear and agony and frustration and anger and shock and despair are valid. 

For those that feel that they have won, your excitement or energy or joy or enthusiasm or cautious optimism are valid. 

Emotions are powerful. Embody them. They are our teachers, helping to guide us towards action and change. 

They also are temporary. Feel them while they are here. They will pass, in this instance, and then they will return in new forms with new depths and breadths, and then they will pass again. Robert Frost is attributed with this famous aphorism which sums it up quite perfectly: "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."

This is our new world. We woke up to a new planet today. That is undeniable. Be gentle with yourself as you attempt to learn the shapes and curves of this new world.  Let us care for ourselves in these first days, these first moments of our new reality, in any way that we feel serves us. Perhaps that means connecting with others who share your feelings, perhaps that means sitting alone at home in comfy clothes. Cook yourself a beautiful dinner. Ask for someone to hold your hand or give you a hug. Listen to music. Read all the news. Read none of the news.

Your feelings are valid. 

Second, I invite us to seek to notice the pain in the room

We all have pain. All of us. 

Here is some of my pain, a very abridged list: 

  • I am heartbroken that my friends' children are waking up crying that they do not want this president 
  • I am appalled by the sexism and racism and hatred and rhetoric and lying that has been displayed over the course of this campaign
  • I am despairing over the abrupt shift between the hope that I felt yesterday and the pain that I feel today 
  • I am terrified for all individuals who feel as though their safety have been ripped away from them 
  • I am yearning to be alone, away from everyone to hold space for my pain, and also to be with others, in order to feel our pain together  
  • I am scared to share these words, because I cannot know the depth of anguish that many of my fellow human beings are feeling, and my last intent would be to diminish that very-justified fear 

This is mine. It's easy to for me to see, to understand, to feel, because it is my own. But what is your pain?

We must choose to seek out the pain in the collective room of this country, and we must listen to it, and we must learn from it, and we must attempt to compassionately accept and respond to it. That pain, although it might go against our very deepest values and most strongly held convictions, is as valid to the holder as your pain is to you. Your pain is real, and their pain is real. This is undeniable. 

I have seen a lot of anger and hate coming from some of both politicians' most passionate supporters this morning.  That is certainly a natural part of the emotional response to this unexpected event. But we must move past it, as quickly as we can.

Hatred can never win, because it destroys all parties who play the game. When hatred is invoked, it burns everything to the ground. 

I know that, right now, this must seem like a Herculean effort. I feel that way, too. Some years ago, I made a solemn vow that I would spend my life attempting to love all beings and to bring more love to the world. And the past twenty-four hours have seen me fail, deeply, in that vow, because: 

I have watched in dismay as I saw hatred arise in my heart towards the "others" that made this happen. 

And that sentence perfectly demonstrates the problem with hatred. And why we must so vigilantly choose paths that move us away from it. 

Hatred is what divides us; in this case, separating me from people I love who happen to believe different things than I do. The people who chose the "other", whoever that other is, are our friends and neighbors and colleagues. The very great majority of them are good people who are in pain, too. 

Hatred transforms us into victims who believe that those "other" people "make things" happen to them. It denies the reality that we are all in this together, that we all had a chance to participate, that we all tried or did not try or chose or did not choose. It denies my involvement and participation, and most importantly, it creates a shield that I can hide behind, a shield that does not require that I take on the hardest, most critical task of all: attempting to wisely and compassionately understand my fellow human beings. 

We start with looking for the pain for the room and attempting, in some small way, to understand that pain - because it is the first step that we can take towards renewed hope. 

We must choose to connect to our deepest values that are feeling absolutely violated at this moment - liberty, safety, love, freedom, compassion, and so on - and ground ourselves in those concepts; but we must also force ourselves to choose to see that many of those "others" are actually those who hold those same values equally dear, just in a different manifestation. They are loving, caring, smart, and hopeful people who, just like me and you, want to be happy. 

Instead of veering, so easily and naturally, towards judgment, we need to choose to direct ourselves towards connection. We must reach out to those who do not share our opinions. Connecting in our common humanity is the only way in which we can hope to survive, to come together, to transform this moment of pain into one of transformation. 

One line of research in positive psychology is focused on studying the potential to grow after suffering: it is called post-traumatic growth. This is defined as the positive changes that can occur as the result of the struggle with a severe event. Post-traumatic growth is the consequence of severe trauma, leading to transformation within an individual that is often characterized by new priorities, new relationships, an enhanced spiritual life, and a feeling of strength. 

One of the core mediators (the thing that explains the relationship between two other things) of post-traumatic growth is the way that we choose to focus our consciousness. The ability to transform an experience like this is in part based upon the way an individual rewrites their life narrative, seeking to emphasize those components of their experience that help them to move on, such as looking to find the meaning in their trauma. There is a pattern of consistent cognitive processing that must occur, such as through self-disclosure in a loving environment, or through writing in a journal.

I want to emphasize this, because it is so crazy important: we have the opportunity to select our own narrative, and that decision is core to determining whether or not we can grow from the traumatic event. 

Narratives are delicate and flexible and personal and complex: 

But ultimately, they are defined by our choices. 

This could be the day that you lost faith in America... or it could be the day that you found within you an invincible strength. 

This could be the day that you decided that you would disengage forever... or it could be the day that you choose to engage more furiously than you could have ever imagined.

The way that you choose to perceive and interpret this reality is up to you. 

Third, I invite us to try to embody wisdom and compassion in our way of being. 

In my Master's thesis, I argued that true, lasting happiness comes from choosing to cultivate love and wisdom in our inner selves, and translate that to the world. Part of this argument is based in the reality that terrible things happen all the time, and we need to find a way to be happy in the midst of suffering. The way forward, in my opinion, is through choosing to pursue love and wisdom in our selves and in the world. This argument has never felt more relevant than at this moment. 

Making the first choice about your narrative is the (relatively) easy part. I see it happening already, with posts on social media, and cries for the work to begin, and mobilization and energy and inspiration. That's the direction, but the path is different. The path is the hard part: the commitment to continually attempt to pursue your direction in a way that honors you and honors others. The constant choice to continue to return to love and wisdom, especially when it is most challenging. 

Sister Simone, one of the famous 'Nuns on the Bus', posits in her interview in an interview with the On Being podcast that there is one mistake that Americans often make:

We are but one small part of the whole, an individual in a sea of hundreds of millions of other individuals, but our individuality matters and contributes to the greater whole. And the greater whole needs love and wisdom now more than ever, two things that you can cultivate and express and contribute. This is how we make a difference. 

It is because we have failed to notice the pain in the room that we find ourselves where we are. We find ourselves utterly shocked by the pain of millions of our own human brothers and sisters, which has manifested in this particular outcome. We must start learning to see the pain and acknowledge it, respecting our differences and wisely communicating with one another in a way that is compassionate.

It is terrifying to face pain and to be present for the pain of others. Bringing our attention to this pain, and most importantly, attempting to understand it, is absolutely critical for the next step: attempting to learn from it and to love others not despite it, but because of it. Because it is different. Because it teaches us something. Because that pain moves us, not apart as we instinctively fear, but closer together. Who among us does not reach out to the crying child, to the suffering colleague, the bereft widow? We love, in our bones, for that is who we are as a species. This love is not perfect, and can sadly lead to hatred, and so now, we must also bring wisdom to bear upon it. 

We have been placed abruptly into the middle of an experience of hatred, anger and rage, coming from every part of the country. This moment is painful, but it is our reality, and thus, we can choose to accept it as a chance to evolve as people. The cracks have always been there, and now we can see many of them exposed: the wound is the place where the light enters.

We can always, always, always choose the way that we show up. And we are all facing a very important choice right now, about the way we show up. Hillary Clinton demonstrated it today. Barack Obama embodied it today. They chose to show up and focus their attention on what it means to come together, to respectfully acknowledge one another and our differences, and to attempt to move forward. 

I do not deny the incredible amount of work we have cut out for us. I do not know if everything will be okay. It will take so much effort from so many of us, each finding a little part to play. None of us have any idea what lies ahead. However, I do know that each of us has one power to use in these moments: to choose to embody love and wisdom through this daily work, the daily showing up, the daily perseverance and passion. We can choose to take responsibility for this moment and the moments ahead, all of which are impermanent, but will indeed contribute to some greater outcome. 

I believe, as so many others do, that we are innately good and all inextricably connected. The present moment will test our belief in oneness, in the collective, in the greater good; yet, I believe that we can make choices to move us closer towards the oneness of all beings, if we individually decide that it is so critical to us that we will do whatever it takes. 

We can choose to show up, every single fucking day, with compassion and wisdom, to make a vision of a world of greater oneness possible. We will struggle together to do what it takes. We will protect those who are most vulnerable and most afraid. We will find it in our hearts to listen to those with whom we disagree. We will notice the suffering that we and they are experiencing, and we will honor it; we will notice the goodness that occurs, and we will celebrate it. We will each commit to our best selves, our small contribution, and to rise after the inevitable fall. We will continue our pursuit of evolution towards greater unity.

Action, yes. But this action cannot be acts of hatred or fear or blame. This action must begin with the fact that we are all in this together, walking this path, all a part of a greater whole, defiantly choosing to embody love and wisdom every step of the way, leaning on one another when we feel it is impossible, lifting others up whenever possible, committing to questioning ourselves and to cultivating good heads and good hearts in the face of this new reality. 

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