My family’s vacations to Colorado were a bright spot in my childhood. As a result, although I am a Kansas girl, the beauty of the Colorado Rockies is never far from my mind.
A few weeks ago, my husband, our 18-month-old pup, and I spent a week in Colorado visiting friends and enjoying the beauty of the mountains. We stayed a few nights in an eclectic pet-friendly Airbnb in Creede. The Airbnb had a small room with east and south-facing windows which provided an amazing view of the sun rising over the mountains. For the three mornings we were there, the room became my yoga and meditation space.
But despite the beautiful and peaceful surroundings, I still found it hard to relax, and my anxiety was ever-present.
As I looked out at the lovely view, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was unworthy of being in such a beautiful place. It was as if my presence in this special place had enraged the voices in my head and unleashed the torrent of hurtful messages that I have been working so hard to silence.
In the midst of this, I was also thinking of the recent discussions I had with a friend in Colorado Springs concerning rising temperatures, water supply issues, and wildfires in the state. I felt overwhelmed and hopeless contemplating the impacts of climate change to this place that is so special to me.
Now that I am back home, the feelings are still with me, compounded by the resurgence of a new variant of COVID-19, the recent IPCC report, and political divisions that are hindering humanity’s ability to tackle these and other challenging problems.
Looking for hope
As I have been working through these feelings and looking for hope, I went back and listened to Dr. Edith Eger on Brene’ Brown’s “Unlocking Us” Podcast.
The title of the podcast is, “Recognizing the Choices and the Gifts in Our Lives.” Edith is a 93-year-old Holocaust Survivor and a practicing psychologist. She has written two amazing books, The Choice, Embrace the Possible, and The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life. The books chronicle her story and journey towards recovery, as well as challenges overcome by her patients, and provide concrete ways for all of us to overcome whatever it is that is keeping us “locked in our mental prisons.” Dr. Eger’s journey towards healing from the atrocities she suffered at Auschwitz has not been an easy path and is a journey that will never end. She experienced the worst of humanity, yet her books are powerful and so full of hope….they truly are a gift that she has given to the world.
The very first chapter in The Gift is called, The Prison of Victimhood. Dr. Eger states,
“Suffering is universal. But victimhood is optional. There is no way to escape being hurt or oppressed by other people or circumstances. The only guarantee is that no matter how kind we are or how hard we work, we’re going to have pain. We’re going to be affected by environmental and genetic factors over which we have little or no control. But we get to choose whether or not we stay a victim. We don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we do get to choose how we respond to our experience.”
“The foundation of freedom is the power to choose.”
Our power to choose
The idea that freedom comes from our power to choose how we respond to difficult and seemingly impossible situations is profound. However, choosing our response to a difficult situation versus just reacting in the moment is not an easy thing to do. I have been using my meditation practice to work on this.
Not long after I returned from Colorado, Tobi Holloway led The Resilient Activist Sunday Morning meditation class in a visualization meditation using the words, beauty, trust, joy, generosity, kindness, love, gratitude, and curiosity.
We were asked to visualize a time when we experienced each of the words. Although I often use visualization in my personal meditation practice, I have focused more on specific places in nature and not on specific words and the feelings that arise while visualizing a word such as “beauty.”
While overall I found the meditation to be calming and affirming, I was not able to create a positive visualization for “trust.” Over the past several weeks, I have been working on creating positive visualizations of “trust” during my meditation practice – specifically related to “trust” when it comes to my own internal messaging – visualizing affirming internal messages and accepting them rather than letting the negative messages take precedence. I am also working on visualizing “trust” of my fellow humans – that we will find a way to come together to address climate change and other challenges facing us.
I am also working on visualizing “trust” of my fellow humans – that we will find a way to come together to address climate change and other challenges facing us.
In addition, I added “hope” – developing thoughts and ideas as to what hope for the future looks like for me. During a recent meditation practice, I was reminded of a quote from Dr. Eger’s book, The Choice: Embrace the Possible. It was something her mother told her one dark night while they were on the train to Auschwitz before they knew exactly where they were going and what was happening.
“We don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Just remember, no one can take away from you what you put in your mind.”
Dr. Eger writes that to survive Auschwitz they conjured “an inner world, a haven,” even when their eyes were open. Although most of us have never experienced anything approaching the horrors of Auschwitz, there are times when the state of the world is beyond what we can bear in the moment. Understanding that we have freedom in how we choose to respond to our circumstances is powerful.
Creating a haven
Cultivating a meditation practice is allowing me to create a “haven” from the negative messages of my childhood and providing moments of respite from the heaviness of the world. It is also helping me work on choosing my response to circumstances rather than just reacting (or overreacting) in the moment. I am deeply grateful for Dr. Eger and others like her who have shared their stories which support others on their life journey.
For me, I have found that it takes a myriad of resources to develop and sustain the resilience necessary to become a “resilient activist.”