Our challenge in these disturbing and chaotic times is to bear witness. We are being called to the task of unflinching presence in the face of heartbreaking, terrifying and enraging daily events. Already the Trump administration has taken actions that make the heart sink and the stomach churn. And this is just the beginning. If there is one thing for certain, there will be more bad news to come. The sheer volume of distressing reports alone is enough to overwhelm and send us into complete collapse.
Often when we are confronted with bad news we shut down and tune out. We say “no more” and disengage completely. We become prey to the predators of apathy, fall into delusions of powerlessness and disengage from one another. But falling into paralysis, becoming disconnected and not staying informed is exactly what will enable the Trump administration to succeed. So what can we do?
In these times when action is dire, we must call on our three greatest allies, presence, breath and the heart. What is so great about these allies is that they are always accessible to us in every moment of every day, no matter where we are or what we are doing. Breathing Through is a meditation practice that incorporates presence, breath and the tremendous capacity of the heart. It can be done in the moment when we find ourselves overwhelmed by disturbing news or events.
When it comes to our emotions they often get stuck. They become trapped inside us, frequently because we don’t want to feel them; we don’t want to acknowledge that they are there. They are uncomfortable, painful so we push them away. However, by not dealing with or ignoring our pain, we essentially enable it to stick around and work on us in seen and unseen ways. We become weighed down with unprocessed anger, grief, fear or hopelessness and find it impossible to move forward.
So we begin the Breathing Through practice by committing to being present with ourselves. We begin by looking directly at the emotional sensation, however uncomfortable or painful. We allow ourselves to fully experience the emotions within us; we witness our pain. The task is not to change the feeling or try not to feel it. The task is simply to notice and embrace our turmoil with gentle but vigilant presence. In a culture based in distraction and a society that prioritizes comfort, this is a radical act and a crucial one.
Next we bring in our awareness of breath. Although our emotions tend to get stuck, our breath is always moving. There is a gentle taking in and letting go happening in every moment that we are alive. So as we witness our pain we call in the ally of breath. We visualize and feel the breath coming in and flowing out. We sense that with each inhale our breath flows through our pain, and each exhale encourages the feelings to move.
This is where the heart comes in. In many eastern cultures the heart is referred to as the mind, it is the center of our emotional intelligence. The pain that we feel, the sorrow or fear often resides within or around the heart and chest. As we become aware of our emotions and tune into the breath we visualize the heart. When we inhale, we picture our breath flowing into us, down into our hearts, swirling and integrating with our pain. When we exhale, we imagine the breath flowing out the front of the heart, out of our chest, carrying some of the sensation along with it. We continue this practice for as long as needed, encouraging the feelings to flow through us rather than plant within us.
When we allow what is alive in us to flow through, move and transform we develop our capacity to feel. Essentially this training is emotional warriorship. In our society we are taught that to feel is a weakness. That to be emotional is something to be ashamed of, something that we should suppress. But to feel is to be strong. To breathe with our pain and allow it to flow through us without flinching, without backing away is warriorship. In these distressing times and in the face of the Trump administration we all must be emotional warriors-in-training.
Self-care and awareness is imperative with this practice. Each of us must get to know our own boundaries. If we try to take in too much at once, collapse is inevitable. The heart will say, “Too much, I have had enough” and we will give up and our resistance will fail. So we train in expanding the capacity of the heart, but we also practice tuning into ourselves so that we know when we have reached our limit. We take a step back when needed, practice loving-kindness with ourselves, and process what is already within us so that we can return and begin again. The more we practice in this way the more our hearts expand and strengthen.
When bearing witness is balanced with compassion and loving-kindness we tap into the powerhouse of human consciousness. Our greatest gift is our capacity to be present, our ability to be self-aware. That is what distinguishes us as human, what makes us so unique. Each of us can use our innate resources of presence, breath and heart to support ourselves in the face of the next four years. Every moment is another opportunity to step into presence. Every breath is a chance to transform our suffering into action. Every heartbeat is an opportunity to rise up to humanity’s full potential as emotional warriors.