A Post-Election Pre-Apocalypse Survival Kit: How to Navigate the New Normal
Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered.
We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.
–Adrienne Maree Brown
The unthinkable has happened… a Trump presidency is on its way. While most of us didn’t believe that a Clinton presidency was the answer to everything, it did seem to hold at least a certain sense of stability, of knowing the ground we stand on. That ground no longer exists.
Or at least that’s one way of seeing it. From another viewpoint, this is the ground we’ve been standing on the whole time—a country that was founded, yes, on lofty and admirable principles enshrined in the Constitution, but also on genocide and slavery.
All of this is true of these United States. And more.
Our karma is deep, and it is complicated.
And it has brought us where we are today, on the edge of handing the presidency (as well as the House and Senate) over to people who are driven by fear and grandiosity, and whose actions have enabled and furthered racism, sexism, xenophobia, and more.
I woke up the morning after the election feeling physically ill.
In these past days, I’ve been trying to process what happened and what is being called of us. The words of courageous friends have inspired me, many of who have years and decades of experiences of organizing and fighting for liberation, in every sense of the word. One of the gifts of this time is that we are helping to expanding each others’ hearts and perspectives. We need each other—this has never been more true than now.
I’m offering this Post-Election/Pre-Apocalypse guide in the hope that it will be of some benefit. You will note that I don’t focus here on the current political situation and how to respond. That’s important, of course, and there are a multiplicity of actions that we need to take in the short-term, many of them centering on how to prevent harm (for example, check out this excellent guide on how to contact legislators).
This article, though, takes a longer view. My guiding question is: from this point on, what do we need to do to survive…. and to thrive?
This is a work in progress — there’s a lot more that can go in here and maybe it will turn into an e-book point soon. I hope that you participate in this invitation to envision a more just world that works for all of us, and how we get there from here. Please consider this an open invitation to engage—use the comment section at the bottom to share your thoughts, feelings, and ideas.
In terms of post-election survival, here are four things I know for sure:
1. Honoring the truth of our bodies is essential.
Mine feels sick… sick to my stomach, aching, shocked. Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling: anger, rage, grief, despair, depression, energy, motivation. It’s all good, and everyone needs to move through them our own timeline. Our job is to be present to the emotions and physical sensations as they arise, notice them without judgment, and then be open to moving into the next moment and all it brings. Feel this truth from the inside out: everything changes…. as Rilke once wrote, “No feeling is final.”
I found a lot of help and comfort in this article on “20 Tips to Release Stress and Heal Trauma After this #&* Election” from therapist Satya Byock.
2. Blame does not help.
This is not the time to find fault with the Green Party, or anyone else. It’s not even the time to blame those who voted for Trump. It is a time to inquire deeply how we can be living in such dramatically different realities. For many of us, today is like waking up inside a nightmare. For others, that’s been their experience of the past eight years and they are elated it’s over. For others, the nightmare has continued unabated no matter who is in office–that is the effect of the unholy trio of capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy. As Adrienne Maree Brown says, “Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.”
How has all this come to be?
I so much appreciate what Charles Eisenstein has written in this article, and particularly that compassionate inquiry is so important now. What if we could hold this question as we encounter each other: What is it like to be you? And really listen with our hearts for the answer.
3. Many of us have legitimate reason to be terrified in the time to come:
People of color, immigrants, queer folks. This is the time to take care of each other, more than ever, in increasingly courageous and radical ways. Learn what it means to be an effective ally.
4. We are a resilient people.
Some of the most progressive and beautiful actions and movements have been birthed in dark times: the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, the Sanctuary movement among churches in the 1980s, the AIDS quilt, and more. See Rebecca Solnit’s excellent book Hope in the Dark for more inspiration. And know this: we will find a way.
I realize the word “Apocalypse” may seem over the top. We associate it with the end of the world, with huge catastrophes and disasters. But “apocalypse” has another meaning as well. It derives from the Greek “apokalupsis” which means revelation; it also comes from the word “apokaluptein” which means to uncover. So in this apocalypse, what is it that is being revealed, what is being uncovered?
Looking ahead to how we navigate this “new normal,” it seems to me that we are edging our way into a new evolutionary state. We are collectively in the process of leaving behind belief systems, behaviors, and ways of being in the world that don’t work. We are in the dying throes of capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy. And yet these things don’t die easy. For many people this is the only frame they’ve ever had for their world and there is a certain sense of comfort and safety within them (even as they have horribly damaged so many).
So it only makes sense that this process is getting rough as those paradigms have been more and more effectively challenged over this past decade (remember Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, the increasing awareness of climate change and mobilizing to address it, and now Standing Rock, and so much more…).
When I talk about this evolution I’m speaking not only of people we might describe as “right wingers” or conservatives. Those of us on the more liberal side of the spectrum have equal evolving to do. If we think we are ‘there’ we are fooling ourselves. When I talk about evolution, I mean it in the sense of “this is what we need to do in order to survive as a species.”
I believe that to move into this new evolutionary stage, and to navigate the new normal that is now taking hold in the form of the Trump administration, we need to become literate in these 3 areas:
- Thinking like a system
- Understanding the workings of oppression, particularly white supremacy
- Becoming intimate with our own body, heart, and mind; learning radical self-care
Please note that this order does not mean #1 is more important than #3. They all work together. I purposefully put them in this order because the tendency for a lot of folks (particularly those of us with some degree of privilege whether that’s through ethnicity, economic class, or something else) is to focus at the individual level.
We say things like, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world,” or “Change starts from the inside,” or “I need to make my peace within before I can go out and work on these issues.” While there is some spiritual truth to each of these statements, they are only true inasmuch as we deeply realize the truth of interconnection, which is the umbrella for everything.
Here’s how I see it.
If you aren’t able to see the connections between things, to understand how the disappearing of the honeybees is connected to climate change is connected to contaminated water in Flint, MI, is connected to the killings of young black men by police to gender violence (and more), then you are missing a huge part of the picture. Your actions will be so much more impactful as you begin to understand and act from a systems perspective which recognizes the threads between things.
If you are a white person who considers yourself a good, spiritual human being and you have an aspiration for a more peaceful world, yet if you routinely push away discussions around race and privilege, you are working against what you say you believe in. Healing is about becoming whole, and healing can only take place when whatever we have disowned is brought back into the process. Until we come to fully recognize and come to grips with the vast amount of destruction that racism and white supremacy has wrought, we as a country will not heal. There is no way around this. It is a process that requires us to be willing to go into deep grief.
If you are well-versed in both of the above but you don’t tend to what’s happening within you on an emotional level, you will act out in ways that are fueled by your wounds and can potentially create more damage. If you don’t take care of your body and run yourself into the ground, it serves no one. If your mind runs wild with fearful scenarios and your own mental confusion, again, this is what you have added into the mix. This does not alleviate suffering.
All three are necessary for our individual and collective healing… leave out any one of them and we stay stuck.
I like the metaphor of literacy, because just like the skill of reading expands our world and empowers us, the capacity to live from a place that is rooted in all three will help us find our way through this time of transformation in the most wholesome and powerful way.
So here’s a very short primer on each of the three, with some resources for where to go for more. There is much more to say, of course – whole books and training programs are available for each, but take this as an opportunity to consider your own relationship with each of these. Where do you need to become more ‘literate’ for the sake of all of our wellbeing?
1. Thinking like a system
Most of us have grown up in societies and cultures that enshrine the idea of the individual. We don’t naturally think either in terms of communities or systems, instead, we view everything from the perspective of our singular and separate existence, and navigate from there.
We tend to look at things in a very linear way, thinking that A causes B and therefore we must get rid of A (or get more of it). We oversimplify, and we don’t recognize the consequences of this oversimplification. We see it at play in how some folks are looking at this election; this is where a lot of blame comes in. “If only Bernie Sanders had run, Trump would have lost.” “If only those idiots hadn’t voted for Jill Stein, Hillary would have won.” This is not really so helpful.
There is another way of viewing the world. I like the way that Joanna Macy describes it:
The greatest revolution of our time is in the way we see the world. The mechanistic paradigm underlying the Industrial Growth Society gives way to the realization that we belong to a living, self-organizing cosmos. General systems theory, emerging from the life sciences, brings fresh evidence to confirm ancient, indigenous teachings: the Earth is alive, mind is pervasive, all beings are our relations. This realization changes everything. It changes our perceptions of who we are and what we need, and how we can trustfully act together for a decent, noble future.
Indigenous people have lived from this place for generations. We have much to learn, or maybe more accurately, re-learn from them.
Thinking like a system gives us a way of seeing the whole picture, of understanding that there is a complex and ever-emerging set of factors in play. It really is like learning a new language, so this metaphor of literacy works well here. As we learn this new way of thinking and seeing, we increase our ability to make better decisions.
After I wrote this and looked at it, I realize my approach to systems thinking can be rather heady. That tends to be my orientation, but even though ‘complexity’ is a keyword in systems theory, there is a simple way to understand it. If you spend any time at all in the natural world, if you have a garden, or if in other ways you watch and listen to the earth, water, sky, and ecosystems, you will understand this way of knowing with your whole body.
…and take a moment to watch this very short video from Peter Senge
2. Understanding how systemic oppression works, particularly white supremacy
So many well-meaning white people refuse to engage in deeply exploring how racism and at a larger level white supremacy has impacted our world. They like to think of themselves as color-blind—which is impossible.
This sits in the larger piece of work which is to understand how systemic oppression (also sometimes called structural violence) operates in our world. This is why it helps to learn something about Thinking like a System before heading into this area.
No one is immune to the effects of growing up in a society that has been designed to reward some people based on their identities and penalize others. And now I’m talking not only about race, but about other socially constructed (and yet very real) identities: our gender, sexual orientation, economic class, physical ability, and more. All of these intersect in each of our lives in unique ways, and inform the way we go through our life.
This comes from an excellent article by Michael Laxer, an activist and organizer from Toronto, Canada:
…systemic oppression is not about individual “guilt.” It is about collective responsibility and an acceptance that, as these systemic injustices are ingrained in our society profoundly deeply, we all participate in them whether we wish to or not and that we often do so entirely unconsciously.
Systemic oppression, be it patriarchal, racist or colonialist also exists whether or not, unsurprisingly, individual members of the dominant group/class wish to think they are a part of it or benefit from and facilitate it.
A good place to start is to consider why you might want to turn away from this perspective (if that’s true for you). What feelings get triggered in you when this topic comes up? How willing are you to sit in a zone of discomfort in order to reach a deeper level of understanding? And how might your own life and world be richer by allowing yourself to really listen to how others have experienced their life? This article is very helpful: White Fragility is Real: 4 Questions White People Should Ask Themselves During Discussions about Race.
A fantastic 8-part video series to understand what systemic racism is and how it operates in our world, with the inimitable Jay Smooth:
White Awake – resources to bring mindfulness, critical inquiry, and embodied forms of practice to white affinity work and the development of a shared culture of collective liberation.
Liberation Theory: A Working Framework by Ricky Sherover Marcuse
3. Becoming intimate with our own body, heart, and mind; learning radical self-care
If you’ve spent any time on my website or with me in person, you know that this is at the core of my life – a dedication to waking up, to awareness as a spiritual practice, and to doing my best to feel and respect my emotions and take care of myself, physically. (Though I have to admit I am typing this as I’m eating a cinnamon roll.)
But the thing is, these practices are not isolated from everything I described above. The way I see it, self-care is not separate from other-care. When we take care of ourselves, we are taking care of others. And when we take care of others, we take care of ourselves. When we build a community that watches out for each other, that makes sure basic needs like food, clean water, shelter, and healthcare are provided for all, we are included in that circle of wellbeing.
So that’s my preamble… I could write much more about this but will simply point you to a few resources that I am finding helpful right now:
Emotional Fluency and Your Inner Playground by Luisa Kolker
My hope is that you’ll approach these three areas not as another addition to your to-do list, but rather as an invitation for exploring a way of being. We already have plenty to do… this is about deepening our human capacities so we can connect with each other and all beings on our planet in a way that will benefit all of us.
I would love to hear how all this lands with you…. Do these these areas of “literacy” resonate for you? Is there something else that we, as a species, need to learn for the sake of our survival and thriving? And what ways are you finding to navigate through this “new normal”? Please leave a comment below…