The Things That Help
On Showing Up in the Midst of Heartbreak
“We best rescue each other in daily heartbeats.” — Scherezade Siobhan
War. Tornadoes. Rising temperatures. Displaced people. Mass incarceration. Increased poverty. People sleeping on the streets. Another shooting. Ongoing pandemic… And then there is us: Trying to live our lives. Pay our bills. Take care of our families and friends, and hopefully, ourselves.
A client recently asked me how to keep going with life when things felt bleak or uncertain. I have my moments, too. As a matter of fact, I recently said out loud during a webinar that what my heart wants is “To forgive myself for not saving the world.”* Now, my mind knows that is ego talking. It is arrogant to think I can do any such thing as save the world. And yet… when the pain of the world grows so large, and the suffering around us so immense, the pain cracks us. It is natural to want to save something.
So what do we do? What do I do? I take a breath. I find my center. I remember that I am but one cell in the body of the cosmos and that every cell has a function and a place. What helps me reconnect to my function and my place? What helps me keep engaging with a world in pain? A world that feels simultaneously on fire and drowning?
There are five things I revisit on a daily basis: Meditation. Mutual Aid. Creativity. Learning. Nature.
Meditation is a continual return to breath, to centering, to stillness. Meditation helps me to return to a sense of being, rather than my frantic wish to do. Meditation offers the reminder that there can be stillness and breath, even if only one minute at a time. Meditation is a reconnection to a world that is not “productive” and hurried. Even if thoughts or emotions race the whole time, meditation helps us to slow down.
Have trouble meditating? That is fine. There are guided meditation apps that help. I’ve got some videos up on YouTube. And if all else fails? Simply sit and breathe for five minutes. Don’t worry if your body aches, your mind races, or your emotions heave. The point is to be with what is. Make some space. And then breathe some more.
Mutual Aid is the exchange of resources for mutual benefit. It is the sharing of skills, goods, and help and the reminder that together, we have enough. Do you have extra food? Carpentry or computer skills? Money? An extra bed? Can you connect folks to each other? Drive someone to an appointment? Can you help build a community garden, or tutor kids, stock a pantry, give away books, lend some tools? Can you organize your neighborhood to check on elders? Design a spreadsheet to help other disabled folks during black outs or fires? Provide basic medical training or get some? And conversely, what do you need?
Mutual Aid reminds me that we are interconnected and cannot survive without each other. That, like it or not, we live in interlocking communities. When things feel too big, this reminds me that there are a myriad of small ways to help or be helped. We don’t need to wait to be saved.
Creativity is the act of tapping into the flow of life. This includes baking, cooking, building, gardening, singing, dancing, painting, writing… Creativity reminds us that the whole world is constantly in the cycle of creation. Plants are resting in the soil, or sprouting, or blooming outright. Birds and insects are building nests or pollinating.
Creativity is everywhere. On days when it feels as if the world is filled with nothing but destruction? Put on a favorite piece of music, and dance.
Learning is the process of taking in and assimilating information. I study every day. I watch interviews with professional film makers and read articles by prison abolitionists. I study the craft and business of writing. I follow naturalists on Instagram and woodworkers on YouTube. I listen to friends, colleagues, and family. And I practice, every day: spiritual practice, listening practice, writing practice… Learning keeps me open, curious, and humble.
Learning is another way we share in this world.
Nature is all around us, even in dense cities. Nature reconnects me to all that is and reminds me that everything is interconnected and interdependent. Soil. Rain. Air. Birds. Sky. Flowers. Insects. Trees. I don’t wait to get out into the woods, or desert, or ocean. Connecting with the natural world on my daily walks through the city is a key part of what supports me in being healthy, happy, and whole.
So, how often do you connect with plants, animals, water, or trees? How often do you pause to enjoy the sky or the sound of birds?
All five of these practices are touchstones and reminders that there is beauty in the world. There are humans, animals, and insects creating amazingly glorious things. There is music in the air and earth beneath my feet. And in the sky are planets, stars, and a large, bright moon. And in my chest is a heartbeat, same as yours. Our heartbeats tell us we are alive, together, on this glorious spinning world. We breathe together with all that lives.
We conspire—even in the midst of suffering—to reconnect with each other, and this varied and marvelous world.
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*If you are interested, the webinar was Mark Silver’s Spiritual Truths about Resistance.