They think that intelligence is about noticing things are relevant (detecting patterns); in a complex world, intelligence consists in ignoring things that are irrelevant (avoiding false patterns)
― Nassim Nicholas Taleb
I’ve managed to pretty much ignore the media frenzy leading up to the election. But waking up to the election results, I was consumed by the mayhem that followed. It was everywhere. Everybody had something to say. And I couldn’t help but chime in. By the end of that first day I was already overwhelmed by the onslaught. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t write. So I looked to things that I know calm me to see me through that dark moment. I walked Sammy and Zach, I took refuge in a good book, followed by a long session of meditation then I went to bed. Those things that saw me through were my informal mindfulness practices.
Who thinks of walking the dog and readying a book as mindful? But if you do them on purpose, paying full attention to the moment, what else are they? I’ve written a fair bit about mindfulness: see “Surrendering to what is” or “Harnessing the power that is your birthright.” And the basic principle is to be aware of what is happening right now without wishing that it were different. Lofty words, indeed. It doesn’t matter how what is happening feels. Look to what gives you comfort and solace until the feeling changes—which it will. Be with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way‚ because we all know it won’t. So simple, so profound.
Why is that important now? Due to the venom delivered by both parties during this election cycle, not matter where your allegiance lays, many of us are have been under duress. Unfortunately, our thinking and associated rationale are primed and ready to trigger our negativity bias. Negativity bias refers to the idea that, given two things of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on our thinking, feeling and acting than do neutral or positive things. In other words, something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person’s behavior and thinking than something equally emotional but negative. Knowing that about ourselves, it is easy to appreciate how being mindful is a viable key to keeping our heads and an indispensable tool to leverage when we need to find solutions when things seems like they are out of hand.
Having had to good fortune to receive both sage advice from one friend, hopeful advise from another and a truck load of research precisely about how our brains work when we are under stress from yet another, I’ve found clarity in the contrast between what I did want and what had occurred. That contrast reminded me of three things.
- We practice mindfulness because when the rubber hits the road we want clear thinking to be our habituated response. We want an already established and practiced way to get our heads into a place where we can think clearly and operated intelligently. Walking my dogs helps me clear my head. Samantha and Zachary have never been calmer as they have these last few days. I can imagine them thinking, “Another walk? They were fun in the beginning, but haven’t you had enough?” Yours way of grounding your body and releasing stress might be going for a swim, playing an instrument, taking a nap or any number of other things, but now is the time to look within and remember what makes you feel good, while not being tempted to eat, drink or use some other kind of drug to evade or suppress what ails you.
- If I really believe that everything happens for a reason, I need to let my friend Curiosity lead the way, explore the options and be open to all of the possibilities. I must keep an open mine. I can’t let Curiosity roam freely if I’m closed minded or I’ve already decided the outcome. I have to trust Ilona Simone, when she says, “There is a bigger picture, just step back from the canvas.” And when I calm down and stop my personal bias from running away with me—apparently one of the drawbacks of the highly develop human mind is our ability to consider a statement or another piece of information to be correct if it has any personal meaning or significance to us, and the better our reasoning ability the greater the chance we have of being deceived! I can then remember how time and time again my friend Experience has taught me that with the passage of time, things have an amazing way of working out. And I never see it coming when I’m too close to the canvas. I have to step back and let things unfold.
- The contrast between what I do want and the things I don’t want brings clarity to everyday things. It only took a hot minute for me to decide to steer clear of Facebook. Many of my friends periodically go off of Facebook, but when I moved to Europe it became one of my principle means of keeping in touch with my friends and family back home. But we’ve long since sorted ourselves out—some call, some Skype, some email—so I realized that staying on Facebook in general no longer serves me. Once it did, but no longer. It was a great place to start. For that I am forever grateful, but I need to move on. It feels good when I call and the choir responds! But Facebook is not a suitable replacement for real and personal connections. Those are the flashes of clarity I received as I woke up whirling from the bombardment of posts about Trump. Yes gratitude abounds.
The election, my response and me using Facebook may be only very loosely unrelated, but our minds have a funny way of finding correlations. While correlation doesn’t mean causation, these were all important things to consider. And it is a good thing that I did reconsider because I found that I needed to put my negativity bias in check, release the stress build up and give social media a break. Once all that done it was much easier for me to think clearly, rebound and find that happier, more solution oriented me.
I’ve said it a hundred time that in chaos there is opportunity. And mysteriously, as I type these words, I have received my daily email from Mike Dooley’s Notes from the Universe, which says, “These are the times, Pamela – when hopes are dashed and chaos abounds – that golden opportunities, prized ideas, and new friends emerge into the view of all, but at first are seen only by the few who look.” Yes, I’m shaken, but encouraged. Good things often come in the most unlikely forms. Now I am able to find clarity through calamity as my mind clears and I prepare for yet another day in this game called life.