Allowing Balance

I'm politically liberal, and I live in a particularly liberal part of America (Boulder, Colorado), so I acknowledge I live in something of a bubble. Now, I might be wrong about this, but I am guessing that unless you were an enthusiastic Trump supporter and are surrounded only by enthusiastic Trump supporters, you've been aware of and perhaps been challenged by the feelings that have come up after the election. The levels of acrimony, conflict and distrust in our country have soared to heretofore unseen levels, and I can see that it's affecting people, irrespective of where they're living or their particular political affiliations.

If you've found yourself struggling with surges of unpleasant feelings and emotions since the election--despair, hopelessness, anger, disdain for those who think differently from you--know that you're not alone. Even if the outcome of the election was to your satisfaction, we tend to resonate emotionally along with other people, and emotions, throughout our country, are running extremely high.

However, there are ways to moderate the effects that everything that's going on has on your sense of balance and center. Here are four techniques that I find helpful.

1. Limit or eliminate media, especially commercial news media and social media.

The major problem with most media in our culture, be it old media like newspapers, magazines, and television, or new media like Facebook and Twitter, is that it's commercial in nature--it derives its revenue from advertisements. On a fundamental level, you get the information you want--football game, sitcom, news, whatever--by trading some of your time and attention to someone who wants to sell you something.

All of these forms of media make more money the more eyeballs they can aggregate onto their content. And what grabs and holds our attention tends to be things that stimulate the emotions. Thus even the so-called "news" media, ostensibly reporting "facts," has an incentive to report things that excite the emotions (i.e. generally "bad" news) and to do it in such a way that it amplifies rather than depresses those effects. This is why so much news seems so sensationalistic: because it is.

Furthermore, the effectiveness of an advertisement is much higher when it reaches a psyche that's out of balance. A centered person will tend to be more shielded from the emotional manipulations that are part and parcel of how advertisements work. So commercial media has an incentive to keep you from center.

Please note that I'm not asserting some grand conspiracy. Rather, I'm pointing out something that simply emerges naturally from a for-profit model in a competitive environment. The media that aggregate the most eyeballs and deliver them most effectively to their advertisers will make the most money. And that will naturally tend to be the kind of things that incite high emotions. There's a reason media companies pay such enormous sums for the broadcast rights to sporting competitions.

Media in which the costs of participation are particularly low (in both dollar and effort terms) tend to be the most poisonous of all. Twitter and Facebook can be particularly destabilizing. It costs someone nothing to write a repulsive tweet or an agitating Facebook post, but the emotional effect on an audience can be profound.

I recognize that staying away from news media can be especially challenging for people. "But how will I stay informed?" people ask. I've asked this question a lot myself. I've found it really helpful to ask, of any story I'm considering reading in the news media, "In what way does this piece of information impact my life?" If you take that perspective, you'll quickly notice that the vast majority of what fills our newspapers, magazines, and television screens is nothing more than unsettling noise. It has no real bearing on our lives at all. But our limbic systems evolved in a world in which any information we were given from an outside source ("There's a pride of lions in the tall grass over there!") was apt to be immediately salient to our lives and, often, to our very survival.

2. Take a hot bath.

If you cut down a tree, it's no longer a tree; now it's just wood. If you kill a cow, it's no longer a cow. But water is ever and always water. On a profound level, water is substantially imperturbable. A placid pool of water has the ability to wash off the harsh vibrations of a frenetic world.

Submerging ourselves in water will tend to smooth out and slow down volatile emotions, and relaxing in heat is extra calming. (Hence saunas, hot tubs, and steam baths.) Also, there's never really anything much to do in a bath--you're pretty much forced to slow down and stay in one place for a while, which alone can help settle the system. (If you're inclined to read in the bath, bring along a book, not your phone or tablet.)

A bath is a really simple form of self-care. Don't be afraid to indulge yourself.

3. Go for a hike in nature, especially among mountains.

The natural world has its own vibrational patterns. The more unspoiled a natural space, the less human energy there, the easier it is to experience nature's energy. Thus a hike in a forest is more calming than a walk in a park, and both are better than jogging down a busy street.

The Earth is a giant sink for negative energy--there's a reason we call generally unflappable people "grounded"--but there's something especially powerful about mountains, places where the ground becomes figure, as it were. Maybe it's that mountains demand our conscious attention. Too often we lose sight of the Earth as we walk upon it, but you're not going to fail to notice the slope you're walking up.

It takes no special training to let the ground ground you. Just go somewhere where your attention can let go of the ephemeral comings-and-goings of humans and meet nature in all its stability and beauty.

4. Center and breathe.

Once you learn to do it, the ability to center is something that's with you literally everywhere you go. If you find yourself succumbing to deep levels of stress for whatever reason, give yourself permission to step out of the situation for just long enough to find your center and breathe for five to ten breaths. It takes little time, but the effects can be profound.

The techniques (if you can even call them that) that I offer here are all extremely simple to do, but the effects can be profound. If you find yourself struggling, try them. They can only help.

One final thing: during these trying times, do not intentionally scrimp on sleep.

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