In Troubled Times: Finding an Inner Guide to Political Action

Like many others, I did not sleep well on election night or the following nights. Shock and dismay had hijacked my mind. I felt as if I had been catapulted into a very dark Twilight Zone episode. My thoughts went hither and yon, partly batted about by a political racket, partly going from shiny/horror to next shiny/horror.

In my recovery from PTSD, I have learned to be protective of my sleep and my inner balance. I quickly detected warning signs and realized that I had to put my own mental and physical health first. Without that foundation, I wasn’t going to be able to make any sense or take effective action. So I set about using my “tool box” to reduce my anxiety. Besides sleep management and calming techniques, I reached out to my family and close friends. I tried as best I could to keep the focus on myself and my feelings, not politics. I took notice of which conversations made me feel better and which did not.

I felt better about myself when there was something I could do for the person close to me. Perhaps this was because I felt less powerless, but I believe it was because I felt more connected. Research suggests human beings are hard-wired to feel pleasure from helping others. Whether or not this is true, feeling valued and needed is a good thing.

So the first “movement” of my journey was to take care of myself and then to reach out to those around me.

Once I was feeling a bit more settled, I started to look around for other actions I might take. This required a great deal of filtering of news and social media. News sources inundated me with blow after terrible blow as events (and nominations or appointments) unfolded. I realized I could spend 100 hours a day on the various calls to action, and that not all of them were appropriate for me. Some would put me right back in the zone of risking my mental health.

How then are we to know how to proceed and what actions will not damage us?

We listen for that sense of rightness, no matter how frightening the prospect. I learned a great deal about this process from hanging out with Quakers. They talk about “discernment” and “leadings of the Spirit.” It’s one of the things that makes Quaker action different from other activism. One is led to take action by the promptings of the inner light, which means that arguments for or against make little difference. This made Quaker abolitionists (for example) tenacious in their cause.

What am I led to do? How will I know when that happens?

I’m still listening, and while I do that, I pay attention to small things that I feel able to do. They may not qualify as “Spirit-led,” but they seem possible. Then I notice how I feel. As an example, I wrote a letter of support to the nearest mosque; I felt lighter and more hopeful after I had mailed it. On the other hand, I felt low and discouraged after speaking with certain people I had otherwise reason to trust. I’m not likely to try that again.

I do not know how or even if this process of trial and reflection, slowly feeling my way, will lead to action on a state or national level. I’m definitely not going to fly across the country to attend a march in Washington D.C. or New York City. Because I’ve felt energized by writing letters, I am more likely to do that again. I’m considering volunteering in person at Planned Parenthood (where I volunteered when I was in grad school, before Roe v. Wade) or the ACLU, but do not yet see a clear path.

Meanwhile, I continue to practice reaching out, and find that the circle keeps getting bigger. By listening compassionately and seeking out safe places to share my own fears, I join a community of light. By sharing suggestions of actions, I become aware of those I might be willing to take, or inspire others to take actions I am not comfortable with. Who knows? Maybe knowing someone who is brave enough (or skilled enough) to do something will show me the way. Or perhaps the way will open in community once I see I do not have to act alone.




In Troubled Times: Finding an Inner Guide to Political Action — 3 Comments

  1. How the LA Times is dealing — use incognito window > pay wall:

    Has Hollywood lost touch with American values?
    Has Hollywood lost touch with American values? Jan. 7, 2017, 12:30 p.m. The contentious presidential campaign was filled with accusations of elitism and bias by the …

    So very very Hollywood of them !

    But it’s true that much entertainment in its century / centuries (as with novel) formula and values is part of the problem, not part of the solution, which is a very unpopular perspective. I know because I came to it in the mid-1990’s and people screamed and attacked.

  2. Yet, when it comes to music, it seems to be a different thing, at least this year! BTW, NY’s Winter Jazz Festival, part of Global Music Fest, was energized with incredible activist – social justice energy — we attended three different jazz events: Latin Jazz, African American Jazz, World Music Jazz — all of them featured Cuban jazz players too. All of them came at these issues without gloss. One of them, Arturo O’Farrill, whose father left Cuba in 1959, was on our local talk NPR prime time show one day last week, and gave a coherent, stirring and passionate address to the audience as to what jazz means in this time of the chaos demon. The host, shocked into silence for a couple of minutes, finally recovered himself to divert Arturo from continuing this kind of straight ahead political and social justice speech that public radio runs runs run away from at first syllable. It was kind of funny, actually. Then he and his group, including two of his sons, blew everyone away, playing a number live in the studio that was ANGRY.

    Then we have this — Washington Post, pay wall — use incognito window in your browser:

    Art is important, that’s for sure! OF course, not all of us, including myself, can do this — so like you, I have to search out what I can do, effectively.

  3. Thank you for writing about this.
    I’ve been feeling a bit of a coward, running away by taking a 2 week break from all news because I wasn’t sleeping. I’ve been watching some news again for the last week, and feel my sleep becoming disturbed and too short again, so I haven’t reached my balance yet.
    It helps to read about other people also needing to take some distance and guard their own mental balance, without giving up on doing some good in the world.