Before you read this (or take in any information regarding current events) please take some time to find a place where you won’t be distracted. A quiet place, where you can reflect on what is being said and consider how it makes you feel.
If you need to,
close your eyes,
focus on the points of contact between your body and the ground or chair.
Observe your breathing: In through the nose, and slowly out through the nose.
Remember that in this moment, the one you find yourself reading this article - you are safe.
If you find yourself having difficulty managing your emotions and stress please, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I am here to talk with anyone that feels they need someone to listen to. There are many ways to make sure we stay healthy in mind and body during these times. You are not alone.
A little Anatomy + Physiology to begin…
I’d like to begin by reminding everyone that the individual human being interacts with external stimuli and responds, based on individual lived experiences that either support or inhibit the health of our nervous system.
Basically, it means that everyone responds differently to similar situations because we have lived different lives and what happens in these lives guide our nervous system and our behaviors. Our experiences are what let our nervous system know whether or not we are in danger. A nervous system under threat will respond in ways to ensure survival, first by seeking to escape the threat. If that doesn’t work, the nervous system will direct us to fight the threat. It might even react in such a way as to feign death in the hopes the threat will become bored and move on. The more a nervous system has to respond to a threat, the more heightened and sensitive that nervous system becomes. Sometimes, due to duration, intensity, and/or frequency of threat(s) a person will become “stuck” in an autonomic nervous system behavioral state. This means that a person eroded by trauma will have a nervous system attuned to detecting threats and usually will exist in and exhibit patterns of flight or fight (and in the case of some very traumatized people- freeze). Sometimes it is obvious and sometimes it is not. Modern society has conditioned us to be reactionary rather than contemplative, we exist on autopilot and it makes it really hard to see and hear other people. It makes it really hard to see and hear OURSELVES.
In order to connect with others, we first must deeply connect with ourselves. To travel through our own lived experiences and reflect on how they make us feel. Every experience contributes to our nervous system’s understanding of the world. Every experience helps shape who we are. Self-compassion allows us to reflect without judgement, on our experiences and our relationship with those experiences. Self-compassion embraces empathy and openness and acknowledges that we don’t know everything - and that is ok. To be comfortable being uncomfortable gives you the foundation to acknowledge another person’s lived experience, whether similar or different from your own.
How we communicate with ourselves and others affects how we think and feel. We communicate with others to feel heard and acknowledged. What we say and how it is said is an expression of our existence. What + how we say what we say, matters. For communication to be effective it has to be received. We have to be open to receive what is said. In order to do this we have to learn how to listen.
Listen, without judgement.
Listen, without planning our response.
Listen so that we hear.
In doing this, we may hear things that make us uncomfortable. We may not know what to say.
Acknowledging what was said allows the speaker to know that you are listening. I hear you. Your words, your experience, your existence is not unnoticed.
I hear you and I am here for you.
Remember the world is full of nervous systems interacting with other nervous systems, and every nervous system wants to feel safe, socially engaged, and supported. When we speak the nervous system responds. What is said, how it is said, and what/how we hear it matters.
Pandemic and Protests
Today in America, people are taking to the streets in protest of police brutality, specifically towards people of color. #BlackLivesMatter.
When we discuss what is happening, it is important that we are open. Open to understanding that every person has their own lived experience that shapes how we view and interpret the world. In being open to this idea, we can begin to explore the third space. In this space, we are aware that our interpretation comes from our experiences and we are open to listening to the observations of others, aware that they come from their experiences.
What is happening today is happening for many, many reasons that I would be happy to discuss in a group discourse but that I am not qualified to have my opinion be the only opinion that is out there. However, what I am qualified and comfortable addressing, is the humanity of the situation.
We have lived the past 2 months in isolation and fear. People are scared for the health of themselves and their families and for the security of their jobs and bank accounts. Without the distractions of modern society we fear the discomfort and loneliness that we feel. That fear turns to panic and anger very quickly, because it signals a threat to the autonomic nervous system and panic and anger are the response.
Everyone is on edge and everyone disagrees with how to address the situation.
Leaders are supposed to be able to identify a goal and help motivate people to reach it. It requires communication skills, listening skills, and respect. A nation is made up of people, nervous systems relating to one another. The skills of a leader are necessary to help lead a scared nation towards hope and healing.
Trump is a businessman who views America as a business with a bottom line. There is no listening to hear and there is no speaking to connect. These are not qualities for good communication, but characteristics that incite and escalate situations rather than de-escalate and calm.
Trump’s speech is hateful towards others. He speaks derogatively towards people of other nations, people of color, and women. His speech allows those that fear similarly, to feel empowered to also speak and act hatefully. Fear that is unacknowledged and unaddressed leads to anger which can quickly turn to hate. It is impossible to have open communication when you exist in a place of hate and judgement. Your nervous system will not allow you to listen or hear, only react.
Black men and women have been trying to communicate their experience for close to 5 centuries. (A century is 100 years. The practice of enslaving men and women from Africa began in the 17th century. We are now living in the 21st century. 5 centuries = 500 years). 500 years of being treated with disrespect, with brutality, and with racism. Sometimes it has been overt and sometimes it is sneaky, but it has been persistent and it needs to end.
The protests that are happening today, are what happen when people are tired of being unheard and unacknowledged. Black fathers, husbands, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, friends, teachers, civilians, are being murdered, disproportionately and unjustly killed. #Blacklivesmatter, is a reminder that black people matter. That this has to be said is heartbreaking. It isn’t a coincidence that there are higher numbers of arrests and killings of black people - that’s racism. Systemic racism creates opportunities of oppression throughout daily life for black and brown people.
Black and brown people in America live with heightened nervous systems prepared to detect threats constantly, because for black and brown people life in America is dangerous. It can be deadly to do normal everyday things like jogging or sleeping in your own home. In America, there is no room for a non-white person to make a mistake or be anything less than perfect. Young children and teenagers are taught to watch what and how they speak to police officers if pulled over because it is far too easy for things to escalate into a deadly situation. This should not be normal - it has not been my experience as a white person and it should not be anyone’s experience.
Police officers are meant to protect and serve the nation’s citizens. A police officer holds a position of authority, and with any position of authority there comes a responsibility to not abuse the power of the position. They should be properly trained, psychologically evaluated, and educated in communicating and interacting with people to ensure they uphold the law and treat people with respect. Not all police officers are bad, but there should be no bad police officers, it is a job that due to our capitalist system, is too easy to corrupt.
Too many police officers have been accused, but acquitted, of violent acts towards black people. The numbers have risen and people cannot continue to ignore the blatant disregard to black people’s lives #BlackLivesMatter. These protests are going to continue. If your are someone concerned with the damage and looting associated with the protests consider the reason for the protests. Looting is a side effect of economic inequality when the atmosphere is full of uncertainty and fear (pandemic and protests). It is not the intention and can be viewed as another attempt for frustrated people and their existence to be acknowledged and heard. When attempts at communication continuously go unmet, the way we communicate changes. Protests are born out of a refusal to listen to hear.
In response to these protests, the American businessman directed state leaders to call in the national guard, to “dominate” the streets and put an end to the protests. His response to people peacefully protesting, (video evidence shows that most often any violence that erupted during these protests has been instigated by the police themselves. Police have attacked people in their homes, targeted members of the press, and used excessive force and tear gas to break up peaceful protestors), is to threaten to bring in more people with weapons, to use aggressive language (dominate has a tone of forcing submission, of taking away choice), and to ignore the cry of the people.
So, in a time of pandemic and protests, of upheaval and unrest, how do we find a way through to peace?
We listen. We acknowledge. We admit that we do not know everything and commit to learn, by listening and engaging. Remember we are all human beings. We are all nervous systems interacting in this world for the sole purpose of survival. We, as human beings, are social organisms that thrive in empathy and support. We all need to cultivate a practice of self-compassion and empathy and together we will not only survive, but thrive.
In health and hope,