You must meet the outer world
with your inner world
or existence will crush you.
~ Mark Nepo
Two months after I published my post-election post (“Surviving Trump”) a reader wrote to complain that he found it inappropriate.
“Inappropriate in what way?” I asked.
As I listen to people on the news, in my neighborhood, at work or elsewhere on this island (Maui), I hear people expressing their fears with such certainty that “this or that” is going to happen. In your post it had a similar feel. Growing up in an alcoholic family has shown me this kind of uncertainty and therefore fear. At a time when I am seeking surrender and self-acceptance, your writing has helped me to see that my perception of myself has not been very kind or truthful. As I practice the 12 steps of ACA, I see that they very much mirror your teachings not only in your blog but in your book. The “Trump” piece just didn’t seem consistent with the teachings.
I recall a story a client told me about her childhood. (I’ve heard it from many clients, actually, different versions but all the same.) She described the anxiety that filled her every afternoon when she realized her alcoholic dad was on his way home. She never knew just what bad thing to expect, sarcasm or yelling or hitting or more drinking. The uncertainty itself was unbearable.
A kid like this faces two problems. How does she protect herself from Dad? And how does she defend herself against her own crippling anxiety?
I wrote “Surviving Trump” because people who hate or fear Trump face the same two problems.
How do we oppose what he represents and threatens to do to us and people we care about? And how do we defend against the anger, anxiety, confusion and sadness this man’s election creates inside us?
For many of us, Dad’s home.
Of course, these are the same problems everyone faces. We all face a scary world in which nothing is certain except that everything changes. And we all have to find a way, in the midst of this uncertainty, to create some peace of mind for ourselves.
These problems are especially acute for those of us who grew up in homes without a safe place we could internalize.
For us, recovery is all about creating our own safe place. Yes, we have a responsibility to do what we can to improve the external world, to participate in the life of our community. But we must also fortify our inner world, so we have somewhere to go when the external becomes too threatening.
“Surviving Trump” suggested three ways of doing that. Don’t eat garbage meant limit your exposure to emotional toxins. Throw the OFF switch meant reduce your projecting. And All politics are personal meant look inside for whatever old stuff is being triggered.
If I were writing it today I’d add another:
4. Use this for practice.
In my book I compared practice to walking.
You’re out for a walk and you come to a fork in the path. The right fork goes uphill and the left fork goes down. Why fight gravity? you ask yourself, and you take the left fork. Further on you come to another fork and the same choice: right fork uphill, left fork down. Again you take the path of least resistance. You bear left. You keep walking and making the same basic choice. At the end of the hour you find yourself deep in a valley. Now you have to climb out.
Given where we are as a nation, I have four years of practice ahead of me. I can (and probably will, sometimes) let my own fear, anger and craving for control drag me downhill. Or I can turn uphill and practice alternatives to control addiction: detaching from what’s beyond my control, listening to my animal body and its feelings, and being myself with other people. I can continue to work on being in the world but not of it. I can keep climbing out of the valley.
Take a walk with me.