Famous psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl states, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms— to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” –Man’s Search for Meaning
Frankl’s voice speaks to me today, wisdom gleaned from surviving one of the darkest moments in recent history. They feel very relevant now, as a deep divide in perceptions and values has emerged in the United States after the election results. There is a feeling that the common denominator on both sides is fear, uncertainty and disbelief and no real sense on either side of how to bridge this dialectal gap.
Frankl witnessed first hand the unusual and cruel circumstances of Nazi concentration camps. He so eloquently describes how some people still choose kindness, compassion and dignity amidst the unthinkable. For example, giving away already inadequate rations to help someone perceived as worse off. They refused to be dehumanized by inhumane acts. They chose a different storyline than despair.
Frankl knew that creating narratives from the events of our lives, including finding meaning in hardship, is a defining feature of being human. And he knew that choosing what course that narrative takes, especially during difficult events, is empowering and shifts us away from hopelessness and despair. It is the choice that is empowering and it can’t be taken from you.
Call me naïve, a hopeless hoper, but I believe in silver linings. I believe the silver lining or opportunity in a crisis is in fact our ability to find one! That is resilience, meaning the ability to bounce back. Ask yourself right now, “What do I have control over?”
I’m going to give you the answer: You have control over your thoughts, your feelings and your behaviors. That’s it, and that is a lot. It is empowerment in the face of powerlessness.
Practice: Mindful Presence, Wise Mind, And Right Action
The best way to cope in crisis is to remain present with what is happening and the gateway to presence is always through our senses.
Take time right now to notice colors, hues, and the light in the room around you.
Take in the sounds in the room. Now expand to hear sound outside the room. Notice the temperature and the feeling of the surface you are sitting on, supporting you in space.
Connect to your breath right where it is, allowing it to be just how it is without trying to change it. Notice what it feels like to bring acceptance and non-judgment to the breath. Notice if you can soften the belly and deepen your breath. Take a few deep breaths.
What is the story line you have been telling yourself today?
Labeling our thoughts shifts us from being identified with them to witnessing them. This shift calms the emotional cascade that is the result of our thinking. And calming the emotional cascade calms the sensations in the body.
Mindfully labeling our thoughts and feelings gives us space to step back from a negative feedback loop and calm down our bodies. From a calm body, wise mind can arise, meaning the sense of clarity, peace and centeredness from which our deepest intuitions and wisdom are heard.
When we create the time and space to reside in Wise Mind, even just for 5 minutes, we can see a path to right action. We intuit or “deeply know” what it is we must do in our personal lives and in the world. We hear a call to action that feels absolutely certain to us.
It could be joining community in expressing concerns or it might be taking a media break.
The action might be big or small, but by feeling in control of our behaviors, towards ourselves and towards others (even those on the “opposite” side), we become empowered, powerful and can continue to impact and change our world.