When the gerbil wheel inside your head is stuck on red alert because of the political climate

“Is it okay to talk politics?” someone in my book group asked.

We encouraged him, and he dove in. You know what bothered me about the conversation, though? It wasn’t that we were on the subject of politics and 45 (yes, I mulishly refuse to say his name, unwilling to make anything about him and his ego), it was that we were in the same rut of outrage, shock, and disbelief that has played like a horrible sitcom rerun over and over in my mind, a sitcom that doesn’t have a happy ending, just overused dialog and stuckness in the problem. A horror version of the movie Groundhog Day that never ends.

A wise friend reminded me that many people are intimately familiar with these emotions. “Some of us,” she told me, “given our identities, have extensive direct experience with the current dynamics of chaotic, exclusionary, and oppressive politics.” That recognition adds my emotional swirl — now I layer guilt on top of my fear and anger. It took this [insert Samantha Bee description of 45 here] to wake me up and prod me to action. I am ashamed of that. As famed shame research Brene Brown suggests, when we’re caught in shame, it’s helpful to write the end of the story in a way that affirms who we are. I’m ready to write that part of my story.

Given my intense internal chaos, I wanted that book group conversation to go deeper into terrain that I haven’t heard yet. I want to hear how others (those who, like me, are rattled and deeply disturbed) are dealing with the emotional fallout of the election and its aftermath.

I get that this political landscape isn’t normal, that it’s frightening and dangerous and that the ripple is beyond what we could have imagined. I’m committed to political action, to doing what is within my power to stem and turn the tide. I’m scrambling to do what I can to change what’s outside me.

Now, I want to know what to do with what’s inside me.

Someone else at my book group made a comment that’s stayed with me — it wasn’t even in reference to politics, but her comment made sense to me.

My book group friend said, “A person can’t create more pain than they’re in.” That struck a chord in me. The current president is incredibly disconnected from himself and also, by extension, from reality. I wonder if he’s in intense pain. Or, perhaps he’s only a manifestation of deep pain that Americans have known for too long.

My reaction to this new landscape is that I’m compelled to explore my inner world more deeply, sometimes just to get my bearings and sometimes in an effort to find the bottom, the roots of what may have led to this societal meltdown.

I yearn for company on that path, which is why I keep seeking a conversation, a forum that talks not just about the election and the aftermath, but about the effect it’s had on us personally. Not just symptomatically — the disrupted sleep, the anxiety spilling into other parts of my life — but I want to know how others are coping beyond political action (or inaction and possibly paralysis and withdrawal).

Here’s what I’m doing:

· As so many transformational teachers urge, I’m becoming the watcher of myself. I’m noticing my own reactions, my own drama, my own scrambling, my own judgment (of myself and others), my own blaming (of myself and others).

· I’m inviting compassion into my observations. Compassion for others, even for those ripping up the political structures that I hold dear — that compassion comes more easily to me than compassion for myself comes. So, I add that to my gentle exploration and notice myself trying to turn on myself in bitter judgement. Again, spiritual learnings return to me: if I can step outside myself with care and presence, I’m not gripped by it and I’ve got just the tiniest distance from my own emotional free fall.

· The most difficult and most agonizing part of this process for me is allowing myself to feel the emotions that are surfacing in me. I want to push them away (hello, chocolate chip cookies!), numb out (hello, Netflix binge), minimize (hello, Facebook kitten videos, see — there is good in the world!), avoid (“please let’s not talk about politics” becomes the refrain in any gathering). But to actually let emotion wash over me instead of spin it into drama, to notice sensations in my body that rise up and to greet them without my conditioned antics — well, that process, when I can find it, that offers me more power and agency than anything else I’ve done.

Zen master and mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says, “In order to heal others, we first need to heal ourselves. And to heal ourselves, we need to know how to deal with ourselves.” His words blend with the phrase “what is personal is political.”

That’s the conversation that I want to have right now: how are you dealing with your emotional cocktail?

What feels healing to you — you personally — right now? Where do you look for inspiration? (One of my friends told me, “We can also turn to others who have been resilient with similar political dynamics. Who are our role models and everyday heroes who can inspire us?”)

Thich Nhat Hanh would also say that community is important in the healing and personal transformation, and I believe that we must come together to move forward. I’m exploring mechanisms to gather community, both for my own healing and for others’. To start, I’m gathering a group virtually and also in person in Fort Collins, Colorado (see this link for details for both groups). Please chime in with any ideas that you have for gathering and healing using the comments below.