Overwhelm

There is a vibe of overwhelm in the air.

Do you feel it?

The vibrations are putting me to sleep instead of giving me energy. I feel myself shutting down in the face of the massive issues we are hearing about and experiencing.

Genocide of the Rohingya in Burma; the strongest hurricane recorded in the Atlantic, explosions at petrochemical plants in Texas; the beginning of the 6th mass extinction (dinosaurs being the 5th); the attempted lynching of 8 year old biracial boy by white teens in New Hampshire; on and on and on. People I know and love are directly and indirectly impacted by current events.

In the face of such drastic catastrophe, we need a drastic response. People are ready – we are organizing – we are up to the challenge. Yet, our energy is being ridiculed, distorted, even criminalized. Instead of a reasonable, rational, compassionate, and drastic response, the leaders of the USA are taking “business as usual” to an extreme. Trump is rushing a tax break to the wealthiest 1% in this country. He is cutting basic services and safety nets. He is opening up more oil pipelines. He is playing god with climate disaster – “I’ll take care of it”.

The question of how we are going to stay awake has been a very real one since November 2016. I know I’m not the only one struggling against the overwhelm.

The change that we’ve long known is coming is now upon us. We must prepare, we must take action, AND we must live in the moment. The tension between these three is part of what is causing the vibration of overwhelm. It is critical to acknowledge that my impulse to turn away from the pain and suffering of the present is connected to my social and economic privilege as a white, middle-class, protestant, heterosexual, cis-female, English-speaker. I know very well that many of my friends have been feeling this overwhelm for years/decades/centuries. They have built up the skills, communities, songs, prayers, and tough skin needed in the face of such suffering.

It is time for me to get better at balancing action with self-care, and just be-ing.

I sit on the ground. Bees buzz around my knees. Crickets sing a constant chorus. Moths and dragonflies dance in the rays of the sun. I wonder… Will my grandchildren experience this delight? What kind of world will they inherit? I sit with sadness as I know without a doubt that major changes to this planet will happen in the next 25 years.

All spiritual practices offer guidance to get through tough times. I am not alone in turning to spirituality to answer big questions. Buddhism teaches that suffering comes from our positive and negative attachments. This rings true in my life. I feel attached to life as it is now – eating the foods that are pollinated by bees and living in a place that is “sparsely populated”. I am also attached to negative feelings about Trump and how harmful his policies and words are to people and to the earth (even while I know these problems we are experiencing stem from an economic system that requires growth and resource extraction, not Trump persay).  

These attachments are causing me suffering. If I can notice my feelings, then let go of them, the overwhelm disappears. I am able to see more clearly what this moment requires of me. Having a regular time of sitting meditation and prayer is crucial for this process of noticing and letting go. Thich Nhat Hanh has powerful teachings on the practice of mindfulness. These mindfulness practices can also support my children as they go through so many strong emotions of anger, fear, jealousy, competitiveness. The Chopra center shares 4 simple tools for practicing mindfulness with kids.

Mindfulness and social justice go together for me. Mindfulness allows me to be in with the pain and injustice in the world instead of turning away. It allows me to show up in solidarity for social justice movements. Now is an important time to put this tool to its full use.

I also find powerful wisdom in the Native American concept of a gift economy. In Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book “Braiding Sweetgrass” she tells stories from her life as illustrations of what it means to be in a giving and receiving relationship with the earth and with each other.

As I learn these powerful lessons I am finding ways to share them with my children. Recently, my family took a hike into the forest behind our house to do an ecology lesson. After we had read the lesson, observed lichen, moss, and their relationship with trees, we then made an offering of fruit to a giant birch tree. My son asked, kind of embarrassed, “Mom, why are we making offerings of fruit to the earth? Then we won’t have as much.”

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An old maple houses wood fairies!

I answered, “It might seem that way. Yet, giving and receiving are connected. When we open our arms to give, then we can also receive. When our arms are holding tight to what we think is ours, then we aren’t open to receive the many gifts that are being offered. It isn’t only about the things we can see and touch, there is so much there that we can’t see.”

I would do well to take my lesson to heart. I hold tight to what I see as “mine”, afraid to let go, afraid to trust the mystery of what will unfold. If I can perceive what is happening not as loss, but as reciprocity, then I release my grasping and clinging, and my overwhelm.

What I perceive as “mine” is not even truly so. In many ways it has been stolen and extracted and gained through the pain of so many others. The market economy, private property, individualism, and competition obscure our vision of what it truly means to be human, to be connected to each other and the earth, to give and to receive. Perhaps in all that we stand to lose right now, the lesson is that there is really so much more to gain.

If I can learn this lesson well, then perhaps I can be with these difficult times, instead of turning away.

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About Angela

Hey y'all! I'm the mother of two young kids. Our family lives in rural Vermont. As a mama with a lot of unearned privilege I am compelled to live in solidarity with the oppressed in my community and in the world. I'm doing my best to equip my kids with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to do the same. I've dedicated the last decade of my life to social justice work, and in the last couple of years started ACT For Social Justice and The Root Social Justice Center. Find out more about my work at www.act4socialjustice.com and www.therootsjc.org

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