When we’ve lost ground, how do we feel, what do we do? When our stability is undermined, and we are left not knowing what is next and how we’ll respond to the changes to come, how do we reorient ourselves to a new reality in which our reference points no longer exist?
“It’s OK to freak out, grieve, and vent for a while. Then we can get back to work, as always, for the good.” —Norman Fischer
We can all relate to losing ground, particularly after the recent election cycle. It may happen where we least expect it, with our families and our friends or, where we’ve come to expect it, in our companies, communities, our country and the world. When it’s a tremor, we re-orient more quickly, looking for options, things to feel positive about and ways to continue ‘life as usual.’ Tremors may throw us off temporarily, but they don’t stun us in a way that creates substantial disorientation. When an event or change is seismic, however, the effects are more profound. We need time for recovery, to reflect and assess what this means for us, what course of action we will take, and most importantly, how will we take grounded action?
Vulnerability and uncertainty is seldom experienced as a pleasant place to be. It triggers our survival centers, calling us to (re)action in order to re-create safety. We may go on autopilot, ruminating relentlessly about the uncertain future, projecting worst scenarios, or becoming vigilant and reactive to the views and actions of others which confirm our worst fears. Actions fueled by vilification are effective at masking fear and vulnerability, but result in unskillful actions and results. In this way, “How do I want to act differently from that which I am in opposition to?” is a wise and consciousness-raising question.
“As best you can, don’t pretend you aren’t scared, sad, angry, and shocked. What is a problem is to avoid what you feel and then, as humans tend to, work it out on someone else by vilifying them.” (Susan Piver)
The tension between opposites, and why it matters: Parker Palmer states that the capacity to hold tension creatively is the key to much that matters; “from a life lived in love, to a democracy worthy of the of the name to even the most modest movements towards peace between nations.” The capacity to hold the tension of polarities is the capacity to hold opposites as a part of the whole, and to act from a center that is connected with one’s highest values. As Palmer says, “we can transform our culture only as we are inwardly transformed.”
What of a life lived in love? My son Ryan has taught me the most about love, and not in the idealized fantasy of “my baby.” In fact, when Ryan taught me the most were his teenage years, the times our relationship was most challenged and when I was sure he was switched at birth. I learned that love isn’t about agreeing, or about being friends and getting along and that holding the tension between how he was ‘now’ and who he was capable of being actually opened my heart. I learned that somewhere between idealization and rejection, our connection endured and eventually strengthened and became sweet again. I learned that love is not passive, is certainly not a ‘soft skill’ and that staying open-hearted through conflict requires a warrior spirit.
Committed action requires heart, not as a sentimentalized ideal, but as the center of the core self. When we take grounded action to put an end to inequality and suffering we are coming from an intention of the heart. When we recognize mindsets and actions that threaten to destroy values we hold dear with discernment and compassion, we strengthen this capacity. Acting from one’s heart is not a “cushy” way to respond but a powerful and committed one. It takes tremendous heart to non-egotistically hold the tension between what is happening and our deepest knowing of what is healthy and possible, and take action from that place.
“Things take time, and there’s so much that’s unknown, but I don’t feel despair. Maybe I should, but I think that is significant movement happening, the beginning of many things. (Sharon Salzburg)
Grounded Action: We are in danger as a country of reacting in the same overwhelmingly protectionist way that our bodies do when feeling unsafe. More than ever, conscious and grounded leadership is needed. What gets in the way of this is impatience and the need to control…strong tendencies based in fear.
Losing ground creates the space and an opportunity for reflection, introspection, and connection with what matters to us. Grounded action requires stillness and restraint from colonizing and vilifying others while staying connected to our heart and warrior spirit, that which is able to relate to the elephant. It requires a sincere desire to act consciously while accepting the often fierce emotions that lie in the forcefield beyond the poles of hopeful vision and a hard reality. Great energy and focus comes from this. Through a commitment to grounded action, we can be informed, hopeful and committed to that which both contains the world and inspires us to change it.