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You got this! Spiritual strength in a time of societal adversity

For the spiritual practitioner...this is what one prepares for through practice. We prepare for: Instability. Uncertainty. Weathering the unknown.

Imagine a tall palm. Long and reed like. Towering high and reaching towards the heavens. Now imagine the wind blowing and blowing hard on that palm. It will sway back and forth. It will bend. And bend. It looks like it is going to topple over. But it does not topple. It is rooted. Its core strong. It’s roots are deep. It weathers the storms. It can handle the wind. It defies logic-how is it still standing?

How are any of us still standing? Personal uncertainty grinds us all down: relationships, jobs, health, money, children, parents... We all, too often silently, weather storms. Right now we are weathering a storm as a society. On a grand scale. It is a global pandemic. It is the crisis of uncertainty. Of disruption. Of loss of normalcy. But pandemic does not have to mean pandemonium.

Let us learn how to stand tall through this season of uncertainty on a mass scale and move forward from what we know about walking through our own personal storms.

1. Connections count. In our personal lives we reach for support of our loved ones for comfort and for a sense of stability during turbulent times. Do that now too. Draw a psychological circle around your people. Who can you check up on today? Who might enjoy a batch of cookies? Who might need extra support? Draw closer to your circle. Go through this together.

Feel the richness of your life even within the context of limited mobility and restricted access to our social institutions, artistic institutions, religious institutions. There is abundance there. Let it feed you.

In Hebrew the word for appreciation, מעריך/ma’arich, is related to the concept of lengthening and accessing the value of something in a manner that acknowledges how it grows, and not depreciates, in value. Appreciate your connections. They are your MOST important asset right now.

Ben Zoma says: Who is rich? The one who is appreciates what he has… (Talmud—Avot 4:1)

2. Be a non-anxious presence.

This is a tough one. Especially within a community where keeping calm is not a cultural norm. We extol our ability to freak out. Keep calm? Yes. Keep calm. We are perfectly capable of it.

Managing our personal anxiety is a worthy goal right now. Usually, and I speak as someone who has battled anxiety my entire life, we work to manage personal anxiety for personal reasons. It interferes with our lives and our ability to live in the present, to enjoy the now. It keeps us trapped in the past or in a place of future tripping. We convince ourselves that there is a magic associated with our anxiety. As though our worry and our intrusive thoughts are vital to things going well for us. If we do not worry? Then we assure that everything will go to hell.

So what happens now that we find ourselves, all of us, in a hellish situation? One in which we are living with so many unknowns? Where are schedule is disrupted? A place of instability: on a grad scale. We might be feeling anxious but fear, like Covid-19, spreads. Anxiety can spread too.

Right now each of us can play a role in creating a greater sense of calm and stability by doing the work we each need to do to be a non-anxious presence. It requires stepping up to be a leader: for yourself, your family, your community, your country and the world. And this level of leadership does not require speaking in front of large crowds or taking on lots of work and responsibility. It means doing the daily spiritual, physical and intellectual work we need to do so our individual being is a conduit for peace-the opposite of anxiety. David Fox, scholar of the works of noted rabbi, family therapist and leadership consultat Edwin Friedman z”l, on what it means to be a non-anxious presence and how it can transform social networks.

Maintaining a Non-Anxious Presence: To the extent leaders...can maintain a non-anxious presence in a highly energized anxiety field, they can have the same effects on that field that transformers have in an electrical circuit. They reduce the negative energy in a field by the nature of their own presence and being, as well as by the field they, in effect, set up. This is not a matter of breaking a circuit; it requires staying in touch without getting zapped. Persons can remain non-anxious if they are not present. The trick is to be both non-anxious and present simultaneously.
Progress of this kind requires a different way of thinking about relationship systems. It goes against most leadership training that puts an emphasis on doing something or fixing things, and it puts a premium on leaders’ capacities to differentiate themselves from surrounding emotional processes.
A major sign of being better differentiated is when the leader can be present in the midst of emotional turmoil and actively relate to key people while calmly maintaining a sense of the leader’s own direction. Developing greater clarity about what is happening in a system will always be more productive in the long run than just having empathy for the hurting people in the system and trying to rescue them. People grow through challenge and not by simply being made to feel better about their plight.

3. What will be your victory garden?

Victory gardens were encourgaed by governments world-wide during WWI and WWII to help supplement food and to help people keep calm. Nurturing the earth and growing food have been long aknowleged as a means to help people maintain hope during trying times. For those who can garden, even in a pot, should garden. Grow food for other people, to donate to the food bank. Get busy in the dirt.

But what if gardening is not your thing or you do not have a place time garden?

You could victory knit. Victory cook and bake for other people. Victory walk through your neighborhood and clean up trash. You could victory paint or take photographs with the explicit intent to share them with other people. You can victory donate books, food or money. Victory volunteer in any way you can.

The victory? What is our victory here? The victory is in taking our fear and transforming it into hope. It is a uniquely human trait. We can mold and shape our energy into something that can give other people life. And in the process it provides us with life too.

Rooted connections, being a conduit for peace and calm and growing life with all you have, wherever you are are three of many many ways we can keep on keeping on. Be, emulate, manifest through yourself a flexible tree of life. Be not like the mighty cedar but rather a common reed (Talmud Ta’anit 20a). Flexible. Nimble. Responsive to the winds of uncertainty.

Our core is strong. Our roots are deep. We have weathered storms before. We know what it takes to survive. Not just physically but also spiritually. We already have what we need in our survival toolkit. We have a community. We have a wise tradition. We have our hands and our loving hearts and our curious monkey minds. We Got This!

We Are the Tree of Life By Dr. Tarece Johnson
Together we stand strong like a tree deeply rooted in the foundation of love We are the branches that spread out in many directions reaching for a common place We are the leaves and flowers produced by the rain that showers us with hope We grow unified in our purpose to be beautiful beings of peace We are uniquely colored and shaped and we all bring life to this tree...

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