Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Day Meditation: "Water is taught by thirst"

With the outcome of the Presidential election to be decided within the next 24 hours, I am trying not to be afraid today. I am not Republican or Democrat or Libertarian, Green or Liberal. I don't take a pure party line. I've always voted for the candidate who best reflected my principles and whom I felt would best serve our country. 

But because I'm not omniscient and cannot possible know for certain who would best fit the bill, I also trust our democratic system. I trust that our collective consciousness will prevail. What may be "best" for me, may not be "best" for the majority of my neighbors. I believe in a higher power.  I have voted in countless elections and trusted, and I have never felt the sense of impending danger ... until today.

So I'm sitting with this feeling of panic and anxiety today. Where does it come from? It is that familiar feeling of being helpless, out of control. Why? Have I ever really been in control of our country's politics? No. Have I ever been harmed irrevocably by decisions that were by our president? Not sure.

I have felt this feeling before, although not related to politics ... I felt this way when my marriage was ending. And I felt this feeling when I knew my job was in jeopardy due to downsizing. This anxiety is not fear of something I know; it is fear of change — of the unknown. The feeling stems from my conscious self trying to reject the reality of what is actually happening. The tightness in my body is conflict between reality and my ideals.

I can honestly say that I have never felt this fear about the election of any other president. Regardless of the outcome of today's election, there will be shifts in the world as we know it. Some changes may seem adverse. Other changes may appear to be beneficial. But there will be changes in our country. I cannot know the extent of those shifts in legislature or attitudes, but tomorrow there will be a lot of people who will be upset and disgruntled. Many of my neighbors will be sullen or outraged. Some might even turn their deep-seated fear into violence. There will be people in countries around the world who I will never meet who will take the results of our election as an insult or threat or a joke or a sign of weakness.  So there it is: My fear. And the only way I know to overcome fear is to face it, and give it a name.

 How did we get here?

Yes, Trump and Clinton differ many ways but there seems to be a common denominator: fear. Trump played off our fear of terrorism and our fear of economic depletion and our fear of politicians. Whereas Clinton spoke to our fear of having a president who was a misogynist, a liar, a cheat. Is it any wonder I'm feeling nervous right now?

To face my free-floating anxiety, I have to become grounded in facts. Although I'm not a political expert, here is what I know: Today did not just "happen". 

A billion actions, both intentional and unintended, occurred to bring together the two candidates on today's presidential ballot. In part, we ALL created this day. Whether we supported a candidate or an issue directly or by omission, we helped manifest this reality. There were many, many causes and conditions which had to "ripen" in order for today's election to take place. I'm not aware of many of them, but one comes to mind. 

Whether you watch and read it or not, we support a media that makes billions of dollars off of outrageous talking heads and controversy. Although Clinton did not exactly shy away from coverage, Trump, in particular, used his outrageous personae to dominate both traditional and social media. But no matter how loud and persistent the voice, these media channels are only successful if there is someone to receive and react to the message.  

A record 84 million viewers tuned in for the first Trump v. Clinton debate. (To put this in context, the 2016 Superbowl drew approx. 114.4 million viewers. The 2016 premiere of The Walking Dead drew 17 million viewers.) I don't know how to calculate the revenues earned by the various news and social media sources from this election cycle, but I suspect it too is record-breaking.  In short: Controversial candidates = Greater interest = Larger viewership/readership = Greater advertising revenues. 

But before I vilify The Media and all of us who enable train-wreck TV, I need to consider another perspective. Because where there is a negative outcome, there is always a positive side.

Could this toxic election season serve a more wholesome purpose?


In a 2011 Psychology Today article entitled The Moral of the Morbid, Eric G. Wilson, Ph.D. posits that our attraction to discourse and disaster is necessary to our mental health. Citing Carl Jung, Wilson writes: "[Jung] maintains that our mental health depends on our shadow, that part of our psyche that harbors our darkest energies, such as melancholia and murderousness. The more we repress the morbid, the more it foments neuroses or psychoses. To achieve wholeness, we must acknowledge our most demonic inclinations."

If Jung is right, then our current political climate may actually be healthy in that it is allowing to surface — rather than suppress — our collective fears with the darkness (such as climate change and terrorism) in our world today. Witnessing the chaos played out by both Democrats and Republicans may be what we need to shock us into a deeper desire for a kinder, gentler, better America.

"When we agonize over what has cruelly been bereft from us, we love it more, and know it better, than when we were near it," Wilson writes. "Affliction can reveal what is most sacred in our lives, essential to our joy. Water, Emily Dickinson writes, is 'taught by thirst.'"


Today, after witnessing the train wreck of this election cycle. I thirst for leaders who are wise, compassionate and filled with integrity. I also acknowledge that I (and everyone else in our country) has played a part in affirming the present situation. So now the questions are:  Where do we go from here? How do we encourage and reward integrity in our leaders? What can we do differently to ensure that our thirst for peace is sated?













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