how to stay grounded in challenging times

When it seems as if all news is bad news, it can be so easy to feel despair or turn away.

In those moments how do we find the perspective and grounding to help us stay hopeful and active?

Reading time: 5 minutes

misty river.jpg

On a fall morning by the river here in Petaluma, the distant bank is obscured by the early mist, despite the efforts of the rising sun to burn it off.

I’m flicking through news feeds, which always bring more mist than sunshine. Once again I am trying to incorporate the unwelcome news with my belief that a thriving human future is still possible. Today the news is grim: the murder of a journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Brexit protests in London and more voter suppression ahead of the US mid-terms.

chip paper.jpeg

The bitter aftermath of the Kavanaugh confirmation and the demand for urgency in the IPCC report, are already supplanted. As we say in the UK, yesterday’s news is today’s fish and chip paper.

Unless I’m mindful, the news is debilitating. Mindfulness is a daily practice that helps me to find ground. It helps me to stay focused on the fabulous elements of our human nature, when so much destruction is being practiced by those with power.

What are we aiming for?

I think back to the 9th of November 2016, the day after the Trump election had shocked me and so many others. A friend was on the phone, distraught about the result and fearful of the future for her young son. She was questioning the wisdom of her decision to bring new life into the world.

In her concern, I felt my own deep attachment to a picture I hold dear; the picture of a sustainable, just and thriving future. I felt newly how invested I have been in that picture being realized in my lifetime. Looking back now I can laugh, but I was sincerely tied up in the idea that these changes could be the work of my generation. An idea that we might some day bequeath a whole and healed world to our children. That idea had fallen apart overnight.

In its stead arose the image of the medieval cathedrals of Europe, giant stone constructions of the Christian tradition, places of worship held most holy, capable of holding hundreds together in worship.

building a cathedral header.jpg

As cathedrals took decades, and often even centuries to complete, few people who worked on them expected to see them finished during their lifetimes. Being involved in the construction of a cathedral required a willingness to be part of a process that was larger than oneself.

It was frequently the custom that the Church granted indulgences (forgiveness of sins) to those who would help to build a cathedral. For the skilled craftsmen of course, there was the income to support a family as well. I imagined the family of a stone mason, motivated by these two forces, a generation of cathedral builders, laboring to build a temple in which they would never worship.

This metaphor chimes with another that is inspiring me currently. Margaret Wheatley can not be accused of downplaying the risks of the current crises we face. Nor is she particularly optimistic about our chances of marshalling the collective will to extricate ourselves from the imminent effects of these risks. In her words;

Many of us feel we have no choice but to protect ourselves from the increasing harshness and horrors of the world by withdrawing, staying busy with minor tasks, suppressing emotions of despair, grief, powerlessness. Some seek comfort by denial, creating personal bubbles to shut the world out.
— Margaret Wheatley, Who Do We Choose To Be?

islands of sanity

Margaret speaks to each of us as leaders, whatever the size of our sphere of influence. Her call for us to be “islands of sanity” in a crazy world strikes a chord. It is easy to feel small, unheard and disenfranchised by the corrupted democratic system in which we live. Whatever voice we have, whatever influence we can muster, we can aim to be islands of sanity. Again it is worth quoting her;

[Leaders] give themselves wholeheartedly to prove that, in any circumstances, we humans can be generous, creative and kind.
— Margaret Wheatley

These and the other fundamental qualities we posess as human beings are what will lead us to fulfilled lives, whatever our circumstances, and eventually to a thriving world.

A stone mason may have reflected on a life well-lived and a contribution made, without knowing that the cathedral of his life’s work would ever be completed. His labour, and the raising of the next generation of cathedral builders, is to be his island of sanity, the hallmark of a life of meaning.

What we can do

Our first step is to breathe. Just breathe, consciously. This simple act will bring us out of the fearful projections that otherwise take hold of our thinking. It will bring us back into the present moment, the place from which we can be resourceful and choicefull.

Step two is to take care of ourselves. On some days it may feel as if the only influence we have is over ourselves. Focus on that. And commit to being an island of sanity for yourself.

Step three is to keep the faith in our true nature as human beings. Yes, there are voices that tell us we are competitive, ruthless beings, motivated purely by self-interest. Don’t believe it. Put your faith instead in the deep love we have for this world and the desire, latent in all of us, to live in a peaceful and harmonious way. The culture that we live within might veil those basics, but know they are ever-present. Our joy is to unveil them, for ourselves and others.

Step four is to get in touch with a wider sphere of influence. In doing this, we begin to see how to extend compassion and optimism out to the other people. We can bring generosity, creativity, kindness and the other traits of our authentic human nature to the fore in the presence of others.

Breathing again, I notice the sun starts to burn off the mist. The view begins to clear.

This blog in a nutshell

  1. Times are hard.

  2. Keep faith in our best human qualities.

  3. Fixing on specific outcomes beyond our sphere of direct influence is a set-up for suffering.

  4. Commit to action anyway, whatever it is, and follow through.

  5. Be an island of sanity amidst all the turmoil of now. Touch others with a sense of possibility and a belief in their intrinsic dignity and humanity.

support for your next steps

The Journey of Becoming, the basis of my coaching work, offers us a chance to re-evaluate the stories we have adopted about this world and ourselves. Re-choosing how we see the world is a fundamental first step. From here we can find a truer picture of what we stand for and continue the work of finding our own unique contribution. When you and I sing our song, loudly and clearly, we are a contribution to a whole and flourishing world. Let me know if I can help.

Subscribe for more free resources, blog posts and more to help you sing your song.

Name *