Editor’s Desk: When a Shock or a Setback is a Gift

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Today’s news reporting is relentlessly bombarding us with pictures and stories of shocking events such as school shootings, the repeal of protective regulations that safeguard our common good, incidents of racism, and other reports of discrimination. Our serenity takes a hit as it is tossed hither and yon on the relentless, churning sea of front page news.

In preparing for my conversation with Terry Patten, author of A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries, I was struck by a quote he shares from the late George Leonard, a pioneer of the human potential movement, who used the principles of Aikido to guide us to cope with the shock of seeming set-backs. Often the news is meant to elicit from us a strong emotional reaction and he suggests that we can find a gift in our feelings of anger or despair.

Leonard is quoted as saying, “The hit is intended to force you to react, and when reactive you are weakened. You really have to stay present (which usually means breathe and feel and notice) in order for the hit to become a conscious experience. It’s important to get in touch with the totality of the hit, including how it hurts, how you are reacting, even how it may have injured you – or others, or values you care about. But when you find your way entirely into the present moment, you discover that the hit has activated your whole being. It has awakened you, and it is a source of energy.”

Terry elaborates with suggestions for how to find a safe harbor from the storm as we move toward calm and even loving feelings. Terry writes, “We have to find our way to a heart of compassion for ourselves. Noticing our own inseparable divinity and humanity . . . [Support] our self-care and self-compassion to flow. They restore our felt connection to whatever we cared about that was attacked in the first place – and that is a source of strength.”

Terry goes on to remind us that care is not fast-moving like anger. Anger is suddenly right there, ready to mobilize and move – now! He says, “Care is a warm, deep reservoir of comforting strength and sanity that you can steadily draw upon over time. Care for yourself is the foundation. Many of us need to restore our self-care. Without a foundation of self-care, our care for others and the whole easily gets out of whack, becoming unhealthy and draining us.”

For myself, I know how easy it is to get knocked about by feelings of despair, hopelessness, and uncertainty. I appreciated the sane and supportive advice offered by Terry and, through him, George Leonard in these times of fierce commotion.

You’ll be able to tune into my deep dialogue with Terry Patten in July 2018.

– Justine Willis Toms