Many years ago, I learned a First Nation teaching regarding the times we are living in. The teaching went like this:
For a long time, we were sitting on the banks of a river, watching the water flow by.
Then we found ourselves in the river, clinging to the bank to stay afloat.
And now, in these times, we are fully immersed in the currents, struggling to find a way to navigate the turbulence.
I am reminded of this teaching every time I tune into the news and find headlines declaring tragedy and abuses of power. The rights and dignity of immigrants and transgender folks being threatened. Protections for women and their bodies being abolished. Shootings happening daily, even broadcast live on social media feeds.
Like me, you may be feeling the very real threat response that activates in the body when you read about what is happening in the world around you.
It’s commonplace for us to push those responses away, to tune our thinking to something different, especially if we feel helpless and overwhelmed. And it is also important to recognize that our bodies are having real and palpable responses to world events.
Systemic trauma exists. We are embedded in it, regardless of our political views, regardless of our beliefs. And our bodies respond to these messages in very concrete ways.
When the world around us signals that we are not safe, our bodies will valiantly do their job which is to protect us by moving us into survival states.
So how do we navigate the turbulence of those responses? How do we keep our heads above water and our feet forward so that we can find our way through the froth and foam of the daily rapids?
Here is my formula for staying afloat:
I name what is happening. (I am triggered and in a survival response.) Note, I might do this many times in a single day!
I remember that the sensations that accompany this response in my body are part of how the nervous system is communicating with me, not a sign of pathology or something wrong or broken in my body.
I reach for the resources that I have cultivated to help me navigate back to a reminder of safety in my own body. Often these resources are practices that help me anchor to the present moment and an experience of settling. A simple noticing of my exhale. The feeling of the palms of my hands on my heart and my belly.
Sometimes, my resourcing involves reaching out to a loved one or a professional for support. And sometimes it looks like me getting outside and connecting with the natural world around me (feeling my hands in the dirt, smelling the air, listening to the sounds of nature).
And then I endeavor to hold the contrasting experience of this present moment…knowing that I can be both activated by the world AND anchored to safety within my own body at the same time. Trusting myself to hold space for my reaction no matter what it looks like.
And moment by moment, I find that I can come through this particular rapid and catch my breath again. Pausing long enough to appreciate the courage and tenacity that it takes to navigate life’s rough and tumble landscape.