As I bore witness to and experienced within my own being the events of last week’s election and the days following it, the archetypes that surfaced for me within this collective happening were those of stillbirth and what I have historically termed a “tectonic plate shift” or, more simply, an earthquake. As with any significant loss of something that has been deeply valued, cared for, protected and anticipated, there follows an often tremendous grief process that must be metabolized and integrated. What is also a pretty widespread response to the unexpected shifting of the ground upon which one stands, are states of fear, terror, confusion and disorientation. What I have seen and heard over and over, are many folks whose connection to the collective includes these grief and disorientation processes struggling to allow these processes in their fullness. With the public narrative moving quickly to call for the building of bridges and reconciliation, it can be difficult to stay with the unfoldment of one’s own grief and re-orientation in its own time and space. Yet, nothing new can be gestated, built or even considered while such states remain so raw, tender and unmetabolized.
In the midst of last week’s en masse limbic system activation, I was deeply moved by a clip shared by Terry Gross’s guest David Bianculli on NPR’s Fresh Air. This clip was from Fred Roger’s (of “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” fame) 1969 testimony on Capitol Hill when Congress was in a decision-making process regarding whether or not to fund Public Television. As I listened to the clip driving home in the dark at the end of a long day and a long week, tears fell as I heard this voice, so familiar from my own childhood, sharing the words to a song he wrote for his show called, “What Do You Do With the Mad that You Feel?” Here he was, in the midst of another period of great tumult and division in this country, sharing his love for and truth about the mental and emotional well-being of children in the fiercely gentle tone and rhythm that was his hallmark, in a room filled with press and congressmen in suits sitting behind elevated wood buttresses designed to intimidate. I share the entire 7-minute clip here so you can see for yourself how Congressman Pastore, running the inquiry, responded to Fred Roger’s approach and, in my estimation, his very being:
The few rather male-focused and binary-gendered references aside, what struck me so profoundly is a statement Mr. Rogers makes about half-way through the clip in which he states, “If we, in public television, can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, then we will have done a great service for mental health.” This is the very thing I want to underscore here…that your feelings, whatever they may be, are absolutely yours. They are worthy of being named by you to yourself and to others who are “safe enough” in your life to bear witness in an honoring and respectful way. And as you name them and share them in safe enough spaces, they become more metabolizable and more manageable.
In addition, I would also add that they are worthy of being felt within the body and expressed, also in spaces where they will be met with respect and tenderness. To help with this process, you may need to first reconnect with your body as you feel ready to do so, since the shock of both sudden, unexpected loss and a tectonic plate shift, have a way of disorienting and sometimes dissociating us out of our bodies.
Here are a few body and sensory suggestions to help with this process of beginning to reconnect with your tissues:
- Stay close to the ground – Tectonic plate shifts usually include aftershocks and, as such, the safest place to be in the days and weeks following such a quake is at ground level. Taking time out to connect more of the surface area of your body with the earth, ground or floor can be a simple way to do this. Allow your breath to flow as it needs to, noticing parts of your body that may be trying to hold themselves up still in resistance to gravity. If it feels okay to do so, allow your muscles to release a little bit more into the support of the ground with each exhale.
- Increase proprioceptive input – Proprioception is the brain’s map for where the body is in space. When we are feeling more out of our bodies, it can be difficult to sense our own tissues. Proprioception is primarily available through “heavy weight, heavy work.” More specifically, passive proprioceptive input can be offered through the addition of weight or compression on the tissues, such as a weighted ball or blanket, rolling on a foam roller, or wearing compressive clothing such as T-shirts or leggings with a high spandex-like “squeeze” factor. Active proprioception is achieved through joint compression through activities such as yoga or qigong, cardio, and walking, especially on hilly terrain or up and down stairs.
- Allow sound to move as part of your expression – Sound has a tremendous ability to restore movement and vitality to tissues that have become sluggish or immobilized. As you engage your feeling and felt sense states, allow sound to also emerge as part of your expression if you feel comfortable doing so. This sound may emerge as a howl or a growl, a familiar tune or a single tone. It may feel strong or weak in its intensity and/or it may have a repetitive pattern to it. The more you can simply allow it to move through you, rather than trying to make sense of it or interpret it cognitively, the more you may be pleasantly surprised to discover what an effective, free, and ever-available resource you have right there within you.
- Engage smells that are calming and soothing – Olfactory inputs, unlike the other basic senses, are sent directly to the part of the brain that processes smell. As such, smell can be a powerful factor in both triggering past traumatic material as well as anchoring ourselves to calming and grounding self-states in the present. Identifying pleasing smells, be they in the form of a candle, tea, food, or essential oils, and accessing these with consciousness, can be a significant resource to bring us back into our bodies.
With any of these suggestions, it is important to stay with what feels interesting and resonant within yourself and to allow your exploration to unfold from there. Any time you choose to make more of a connection with your body, you are likely to feel more of whatever is moving through your tissues. If this feels overwhelming, you may also choose to move back out of your body and this is a completely valid choice, as well. If you need help or support in metabolizing what surfaces through your tissues, seeking out a friend, therapist, trusted spiritual leader or facilitated body or movement class (i.e. yoga, qigong, tai chi, dance, etc.) may also provide the additional support to allow this to happen with less overwhelm. Above all, please be gentle with yourself as you are a precious being on this planet who has been through a great something.