Are you aware of a constant low-grade hum that’s always present? The tension of that hum seems more pronounced right now.
Across from my kitchen table, there’s a pastel drawing. It’s a cornucopia, a horn of plenty drawn by me, years ago while I was in a pastels class. Seeing it this morning makes me smile.
With Thanksgiving fast approaching, we’re ready to reflect and appreciate life’s abundance. We’re eager to be with family and friends, to share a meal, hear a few stories, and laugh. We’re gearing up for the first snow. We’re thinking soup. We wonder how we got so lucky.
Yet when I turn on the news to catch the weather while waiting for my coffee to brew, tension begins across my eyes as a war correspondent tells of the latest tragedy in Israel, and images of crumpled children from last might’s news flare up in my mind. My chest is tight, my breathing’s quickened.
If we’re engaged with the world at all – we go to work, watch the news, play with the kids, take walks, go to church, participate in our community – we can’t help but see and hear and feel all that’s going on in the world.
Not just the abundance of fresh vegetables and smiling friends and beautiful fall colors, of course, but the reality of brutal wars and wailing children, extreme weather that devastates families, and persistent and pervasive illness that drains energy. Even the smile of a homeless man reaching for a cup of coffee as I pull onto the highway this morning for work.
Initially, I take it in and simply focus on my to-do list. Yet I am both grateful and agitated, the tension remains steady. I tuck my confused feelings away as I work.
What are we to do with it all? How do we take the fullness of life in and process it? Tension arises, it lives in our bodies, and today my eyes are tight and there’s a set to my jaw.
How’s it possible to feel the full spectrum of life – good and bad, beauty and horror – all at the same time and not simply burst open?
Feeling guilty about our blessings – it’s wasted emotion and energy.
Knowing that we are blessed and acknowledging those blessings lightens our spirits and keeps us from losing heart.That lighter spirit creates the space to look at what’s harder to feel, more difficult to reconcile.
War and violence will never make sense. We will feel anger, sadness, despair, disgust, fear.
Come to understand that you’re not alone in feeling these emotions. What’s going on all around is difficult to feel and reconcile. Abundance and need, joy and sorrow.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed, go numb, come out fighting, or just get stuck complaining, as if it were someone else’s responsibility. What helps is staying present to what’s happening – as it’s happening. You’ll be better able to navigate and process it all.
It’s just not easy. Joko Beck’s wise words help, “Trust in things being as they are is the secret of life.”
To unpack this wise statement involves the simple practice of granting ourselves our human experience: to notice and feel sensations and feelings without getting hooked by them into a story – of any sort.
When you feel grateful, feel fully grateful. When you feel irritated, feel irritated. It’s then that we can summon the courage to look at the fullness of our emotions head-on, to ask ourselves the hard questions, and to develop an open heart – a heart of compassion, even wisdom.
An open heart can heal the world.
What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on dealing with it all. Drop me a line here.
ABOUT THE CREATOR OF The Leadership Pause
I’m Dr. Chris Johnson, psychologist, executive coach and author of The Leadership Pause: Sharpen Your Attention, Deepen Your Presence and Navigate the Future available on Barnes & Noble, Bookshelf, and Amazon
I drew content from my book in crafting Calm the Chaos for Busy Professionals, an online course, and Are You Willing to Go First: Conversational Keys to Leadership Success, two of my popular course offers.I publish The Leadership Pause newsletter bi-weekly on LinkedIn. If you’re not already subscribed, click the Subscribe button to follow me too!